The need for smarter buildings

The term intelligent building has been banded around for many years, but actual examples of the implementation of a true intelligent building system are still rare. However, the instances of integrated buildings have increased dramatically – and that is the first stage to building intelligence.  


When I say “integrated building”, I mean many disparate services sharing the same infrastructure – typically utilising the ubiquitous IP protocol. It took many years for Voice over IP to really gain the momentum to be deployed as the standard for voice communications. Well now we are seeing the same with CCTV surveillance, door access control systems, heating ventilation and air conditioning systems, with everything being IP enabled so the investment in the resilient infrastructure which has been made is maximised.
I see many organisations, from hospitals, to schools, and central government, all using an IP infrastructure to interconnect systems and services which historically would use separate, proprietary cabling systems and connectivity methods. This is great, but it is only the first step towards an intelligent building.

To move a building from an integrated to an intelligent building takes knowledge and experience to achieve, but the payback can provide more efficient facilities management, reduced carbon footprint, lower energy bills, and a better and more productive working environment for the potentially decreased number of staff. Even a simple thing such as enabling meeting room booking to be completed by staff themselves – then automatically turning lighting and heating off when rooms are not in use – saves energy and reduces the overhead of admin staff managing the process.
Best of all, moving from an integrated to an intelligent building can be modular and structured, and doesn’t have to be a ‘one hit, one cost’ effort. And the actual investment in the products to achieve this can be surprisingly low. 

But what about the “Green” issue too? An Intelligent Building uses Information Technology (IT). Information Technology uses energy. The more technology you use, the more energy you need. The more powerful your technology, the more energy you use to run it. Can technology therefore never be ‘green’? Not exactly.
Of course buying more power efficient PCs, printers and networking devices is a good thing. Using the power management facilities of these is also a good thing. But this alone is not enough.
In most organisations today, technology is critical to succeed. There aren’t many desk jobs which don’t need a computer. Voice communications now utilise IP Telephony – meaning that even our phones are ‘computer’ based and more intelligent. Collaboration technology makes it all easier to keep working whilst on the move, or remote from an office, but it all needs power to operate or recharge.

So is that it? Can technology, and the infrastructure it uses, only increase your energy bills and carbon footprint? Well, no, not if you are smart.  
We are told that 25 per cent of the energy use within a typical building is for IT equipment. Significant yes, and modern IT equipment with power saving features will help reduce this figure a little. But that still means that 75 per cent of energy use is for everything else – typically keeping workers warm or cool, safe, and with enough light to operate without stapling their finger to a desk. The smart thing to do would be to use the IT infrastructure that you absolutely need to function as an organisation, to interconnect and automatically manage the whole energy use of your domain. By doing this the management processes and controls for lighting, heating, door access control, CCTV, power of desktop PCs and IP Phones, printers, cashless vending and catering, and digital signage can all be managed automatically by a single resilient common data platform, and based on policies set to synergise energy efficiency and your organisation’s operation.
If you get this right, it reduces energy bills, reduces your carbon footprint, allows you to promote how ethical your energy practices are, and gets you closer to the government Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) targets for the future – keeping you further away from potentially expensive carbon trading legislation too.
The legacy way of implementing Building Management Systems is to install multiple, separate, disparate systems to control and manage all the necessary elements to operate a safe environment, and none of those elements collaborating with each other or even talking the same language. These disparate systems would then be ‘programmed’ to act individually, not caring about any of the other systems with a building, what they were doing, or what was going on around them.  
However, now you can put the control of all these systems over a single, common, robust, data infrastructure – which you’ve already deployed for your computer and voice communications anyway – and implement policies and ‘cause and effect’ actions to manage the use of everything from a low-powered IP Telephone to the most power hungry Air Handling Unit.  

Thresholds can be set based on time, calendar, temperature and movement, meaning that if in your building one of its floors or even a single room isn’t being used then it can be placed in a hibernation state. The hibernation can mean no lights on, minimal heating/cooling, no power to the telephony, all AV and IT equipment off. But this won’t change until a policy rule you have set, or an action from something you know about, changes – be it a specified time, swipe of an access control card, or even recognition of an automated number plate system seeing a specific car enter a car park.
Not only that, but chances are that you won’t need to move buildings, or rip out all of your legacy building controllers, or even do an early upgrade to existing IT equipment. There are many choices for legacy to IP converters to allow older equipment to gain many, if not all, of the benefit of automation.
Buying energy efficient IT equipment is a sensible and responsible thing to do. But it merely scratches the surface of what can be achieved by making a building intelligent to reduce your carbon footprint, energy bills, and allow you to promote your organisation as energy efficient.

Written by Peter Williams, Design Manager/ITC Solutions, Redstone Converged Solutions

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