A New Era of Energy Efficiency

Products and services for building automation systems that save energy are entering a new era as the technology evolves in performance and sophistication. But with so many offerings, the age-old problem of compatibility and integration can short circuit savings and efficiency gains. Yet, there is a solution that all building and facility managers should be aware of. It’s called BACnet, a data communication protocol for building automation and control networks. Essentially, we’re talking about software code, so what does that mean to the choice and use of building automation systems and related products? Well, about 75 words on BACnet’s history should lay the groundwork, and then we’ll talk to some industry experts to see how you can benefit from this standard and why it’s so important to maximizing energy savings and efficiency.

BACnet is an American national standard, a European standard, a national standard in more than 30 countries, and an ISO global standard. Developed under the auspices of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the protocol is supported and maintained by ASHRAE, and supported by BACnet International, an organization that encourages the use of BACnet in building automation and control systems (BAS) through interoperability testing, educational programs, and promotional activities.

BACnet International gained more than 15 new corporate members in 2013, and according to the organization’s president, Andy McMillan, the momentum continues to grow because there’s a surge of automation systems and peripherals hitting the marketplace.

“Building owners, operators, and facility managers want to see all the devices coming into the system on a standard communications network,” says McMillan. “In the earlier days, the focus was on companies that built control systems for building automation, but now we’re seeing an expansion of the companies that make devices for these control systems.”

Accommodating the wide variety of automation devices is advantageous for BAS providers, according to Ben H. Dorsey III, Sr. VP of marketing, LEED Green Associate KMC Controls, New Paris, IN. “BACnet has emerged as the predominant communication protocol among all the manufacturers of automation systems, and that has tremendous benefits for building owners and facility professionals,” says Dorsey. “It’s an open interoperable standard, so if you install devices from different manufactures that work with BACnet, they can all communicate with one another and are visible under a user interface. Now building owners can have any number of manufacturers or contractors and service providers.”

Interoperability allows BAS to move beyond simple standalone operations such as controlling equipment with routines that turn things on and off. “When we start to connect those devices together we enter the realm of automation,” explains Dorsey. “By automating an entire system such as the HVAC we gain certain efficiencies in energy and operational costs. The next level is integration of systems where you’re taking those automated systems and integrating them with a lighting system, or security, or a life safety system. And the last level is data analytics and data information that can be added to an automated and integrated system to show a building owner this valuable data for analysis.”

The value of that data can be impressive. In the case of Headway Technologies, a TDK subsidiary located in Silicon Valley, CA, senior facility manager, Dan Burris, reports that working with KMC Controls’ systems resulted in a direct cost savings that topped $800,000 per year, and achieved a return on investment (ROI) in 10 months. The project focused primarily on the facility’s air handling units, composed of 20 standard and 52 recirculating units that supply and recirculate air at the disk drive manufacturing plant. A secondary issue concerned water usage and conditioning for chilled water, hot water, and steam, needed for domestic and production purposes. These issues were addressed with variable frequency drives for appropriate motors and valve changes for higher control levels. All told, electricity usage dropped more than 10%, from a continuous demand of 5.4 MW to 4.7 MW.

Reducing electricity usage more than 10% garnered the attention of Pacific Gas & Electric, and the utility awarded Headway’s efforts with a rebate check that exceeded $633,000. It was noted as the largest of such rebates given within Silicon Valley to date.

Many utilities are offering incentives to encourage energy efficiency, but they’re also imposing financial penalties to discourage consumption, and this can be critical to the economics of businesses, especially those that need high megawatts, such as data centers that typically require electricity of 10 MW and higher (some exceed 100 MW). According to Mike DeNamur, former vice president of sales and marketing, Automated Logic Corp., Kennesaw, GA, and current VP of Sales and Marketing at AdvanTE3C, a newly formed sister company of Automated Logic, “The dynamics of energy have grown from 10 or 20 years ago. So the decisions are much more complex and the opportunities are greater, but so are the penalties. You can influence your energy consumption to drive revenues or protect yourself from some of the more oppressive utility rate structures and challenges. But if you don’t understand it and don’t prepare, the penalties can be very large.”

Credit: Aircuity
Intelligent measurement solutions offer real-time sensing and continuous analysis.

To manage consumption, Automated Logic offers a powerful front-end building control software product with a graphical user interface and features that include hierarchical scheduling, thermographic color floor plans, trending, alarm management, and reporting. For detailed reporting, the company’s EnergyReports product enables facility managers to produce a wide array of reports showing a building’s energy consumption. Users can compare energy consumption or demand over different periods with simple drop-down menus and calendar control options.

The new High-Performance Computing Research Center (HPCRC) at Princeton University installed Automated Logic’s WebCTRL Building Automation System to manage energy consumption. The facility is one of only nine high-performance data centers in the world to achieve US Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. The 47,000 square-foot facility is home to Princeton’s Terascale Infrastructure for Groundbreaking Research in Science and Engineering, and contains nearly 1,800 computers.

The centralized computing facility features sophisticated heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology, monitored and controlled by ALC’s WebCTRL system. Three chillers maintain water temperature at approximately 45°F to air-cool the computers, which generate excessive heat; the system can switch to outside air during colder months. A natural gas-driven generator, switched on when electricity prices spike, features a cogeneration function that captures expelled heat as a source of energy to chill water. The WebCTRL system provides multiple levels of redundant (N+1) control, backed by extensive trend reporting capabilities.

“You could imagine a scenario where it’s the middle of August and extremely hot, and therefore the electric grid is taxed and there is limited generation capacity, so prices are very high to motivate people to use less energy,” says DeNamur. “What if you could choose not to use energy during those times, and instead pre-cool the building in the morning so it uses less energy in the afternoon, or deploy thermal storage? Temperature control and environmental control is one thing, but is just the tip of the iceberg. You can think about a building as being a place to conduct business, but it’s also a strategic asset that needs to be managed to drive revenues, and reduce costs. But you can’t just put it out there and let the building run in the same operating mode 24/7.”

As building owners seek to gain full control of their energy consumption, the requirements for operating in a dynamic mode have challenged BAS manufacturers and the daily management tasks of their customers, but new solutions are easing the burden. For example, Distech Controls, Brossard, QC, offers its BACnet certified, Integrated Room Control (IRC) Solution for the control of HVAC room terminal equipment, lighting, and shades. It’s a modular solution designed for easy configuration to define operating cost savings for local or room applications, such as offices, patient rooms, dorms, military housing, and more.

Credit: Lutron
Automated window shades are coordinated with lighting controls.
Credit: Distech
Users can quickly view, edit, and configure HVAC and other systems.

For facility managers, Distech recently upgraded its ECB and ECL 50 Series BACnet controllers with integrated LCD operator interfaces. Interface design has a significant impact on ease of use, and the 50 Series controllers provide users with the ability to quickly view, edit, and configure an HVAC system’s operating parameters, while color-coded icons and highlights provide at-a-glance indication of alarms and override conditions. The display serves as a local HMI, facilitating system troubleshooting and diagnostics without the need for a laptop, offering maximum convenience and efficiency.

“These controllers are extremely handy,” says Caroline Cadieux, marketing and communications director at Distech. “This controller typically would be installed in a mechanical room to control terminal unit equipment or central plant equipment so most of the time it can be a panel mounted board attached directly to the terminal equipment itself. That makes the LCD even more practical because you have a local HMI regardless of where you are in the building. So, rather than having to unplug your laptop and go down to the mechanical room trying to find an Internet connection, you have access to all the functions of the actual controller.”

The functions allow quick access to operating parameters, and Cadieux notes that because the controllers are fully programmable, they’re not limited to HVAC. “It could be lighting, temperature, humidity, CO2, or anything you want to control. Today, more people are looking to get a fully integrated building automation or unified building automation system, because that’s how you get the most out of your automation—when you can actually make sure your lighting and HVAC and comfort parameters are responding from one central control system.”

Controls and systems such as Distech’s will be handling many new specialized components and the BACnet protocol has accelerated the introduction of these new products, according to BACnet’s McMillan. “There are people and companies that can now enter the market without having to supply complete systems and they can use BACnet as the interface and connect to the other systems. It’s very much like the days of the PC where now you can just make a printer and be OK.”

With HVAC typically accounting for about 30% of a building’s energy consumption, many companies such as Aircuity, Newton, MA, are focusing on airside efficiency. The company provides building owners with sustained energy savings through intelligent measurement solutions that combine real-time sensing and continuous analysis of indoor environments.

Recently, Aircuity was awarded an energy retrofit contract to provide its laboratory ventilation optimization solution for the Lazare Medical Research Facility on the University of Massachusetts Medical School campus in Worcester, MA. The project is expected to significantly lower the energy usage throughout the facility while maintaining a comfortable and productive workspace by continually monitoring the building’s indoor environmental quality.

The Lazare energy project will involve the installation of Aircuity in the lab areas on all floors of the facility, to provide smart signals to the facility’s building management system to adjust the ventilation rates according to the actual conditions of the space. The data collected is then analyzed to provide actionable information to facility and energy managers on overall building performance, and to give environmental health and safety personnel better insight to lab operations.

The next big thing in energy efficiency is airside control, according to Aircuity’s vice-president of marketing, Chuck McKinney. “An airside energy project is not as simple as calculating a retrofit for lighting, but you get really significant results,” says McKinney. “And the more sophisticated self-sufficient customers can use our energy simulation tools that are written to compare different energy-saving approaches. So a commercial office building could use these energy tools to compare doing main control ventilation with Aircuity solutions versus doing nothing, or compare our controls to discrete CO2 sensing, or mix and match. We use BACnet, because we gather information and partner with building automation systems, and you want them to work well. It’s typically less than two years for a return on investment in lab environments. At Beth Israel, they renovated six floors and cut their utility bill about $640,000, and paid for their system in six months.”

Such fast returns make a persuasive argument, but calculating ROI and savings requires accurate energy audits, and according to Cynthia A. Boyd, director of sales, Continental Control Systems, Boulder, CO, certifications must be met if “revenue grade” data is needed for utilities or regulatory agencies. Continental recently announced that its WattNode Electric Power Meters now offer ANSI C12.1 accuracy, and support Modbus, BACnet, or LonTalk communications protocols or pulse output.

“The WattNode is a submeter, rather than the utility meter, and if you have energy production or sell energy that you might be producing from an alternative source like solar or wind, you have to have a certified or compliant high accuracy meter in order to verify your readings,” says Boyd. “In other cases, there are states that require accurate monitoring where you are connecting with BACnet to a building automation system and monitoring other tenants or spaces within the building, allocating costs to them for their energy usage.”

The WattNode BACnet meter, supports full self-discovery of the meter and all of its objects, plus more than 50 electric power-related measurements. According to Nathaniel Crutcher, director of engineering and a founder of Continental Control Systems, energy is obviously the number one measurement, but there are several variations, such as net energy; for those businesses consuming and generating in a situation such as having on site solar panels, it [the meter] can count up and down.

“We also provide energy measurements on a per-phase basis because most buildings use three phase power and you can look at those independently, or look at the sum of all three phases,” says Crutcher. “Next on the list would be power because energy is your accumulated total, whereas power is what you’re using at a particular moment, sort of like the speedometer on a car, and that’s very useful if you want to avoid hitting a demand peak because it lets you know on a minute-by-minute basis what’s happening. People also use it [the meter] to monitor voltage and current, or the power factor, which is important to bigger energy customers because they are billed on the power factor of their load. And, we have a demand measurement, which lets you essentially track and see if your measurements match what the utility is reporting.”

With so much data available from meters and other devices such as lighting and HVAC controls, the opportunity for data analytics is growing, says Brent Protzman, a lead architectural engineer in Energy Solutions at Lutron Electronics, Coopersburg, PA. “We’re talking about the collection of data as intelligence, but there’s so much data and a lot more that needs to be done in managing it optimally for the long-term,” he explains. “At Lutron we’ve been collecting lighting controls data for years, but until now building managers generally weren’t that interested in seeing this data, in part because there wasn’t the ability to see multiple systems simultaneously without being overwhelmed by the information.”

Credit: Continental Control Systems

When managers can see the data in a comprehensible format, the efficiency gains are impressive. “In the lighting world we have automated window shades that can let light in which reduces the power needed for lighting,” says Protzman, “and with the right intelligence, instead of separately optimizing HVAC at the plant and separately optimizing the lighting with daylight harvesting and personal control, it should be done all together.”

Along the lines of BACnet and interoperability, Protzman notes that it’s important to consider ongoing performance and how the systems integrate to each other, along with the fact that these are not static technologies.

“Lighting is usually considered as secondary to the HVAC system in terms of advanced technology,” he says, “but now we’re understanding that by bringing the other systems into an overall encompassing energy and operational management system, we’re going to start to see some useful, intelligent buildings as we move forward. However, things are always changing and the technology must be designed to be easy to use, because the turnover in facility management is very high. The new management comes in and doesn’t know what to do, because certain systems have been disabled or sensors aren’t working.”

The advances in LED lighting technology will contribute to both energy efficiency and simplified BAS controls, according to Scott Roos, Vice President of Product Design for Juno Lighting Group, Des Plaines, IL. “This technology has just scratched the surface in terms of its evolution,” says Roos. “We went through a phase where there were very large gains in the efficiency of the LED light source and also in terms of the quality of light, and in general, we see that the LED source is getting more efficient and the light-emitting surface of the source is getting, in some cases, smaller. The smaller the light-emitting surface, the better opportunity to precisely control and distribute the light what you want.”

Roos notes that controls are advancing to a new field of lighting that’s called “human centric lighting.”

“If you go back to 2002, there was a whole new set of photoreceptors discovered in the eye that we didn’t know about before,” he says. “These have nothing to do with vision and everything to do with regulating our circadian system in our body, and this is based on how lighting makes us feel rather than just how it looks. So far, there’s been enough research to start documenting certain things like exposure to bluish lighting at night and how that can negatively impact your sleep cycle. Also, [there are] links to cancer and breast cancer for shift workers, such as nurses working the night shift. Then [there is] depression of the immune system, anxiety, and all sorts of problems that we’re just beginning to understand. So the ability to have a light fixture that can control the light and change during different times of day will impact our health and well-being.”

With benefits to health and well-being, plus energy savings and efficiency, the BAS industry looks poised to make a substantial impact beyond the simple task of reducing energy consumption. And the role of the BACnet standard is obvious to BACnet’s McMillan. “It speaks to a larger issue, which is the growing importance of information and information infrastructure in the building automation world,” says McMillan. “In the past, building automation was about control, and information was a side issue. But now it’s migrating rapidly to the point where building automation is about information and control is a necessary tool of that process.”

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