High expectations for high-performance buildings: automation and controls

High-performance buildings are intricate, complex projects that require attention—qualified, expert consulting-specifying engineers apply their knowledge on such projects specifically within the building automation and controls segment.



CSE: When working on automation and control systems in high-performance buildings, what factors do you consider?

Clute: There are many factors to consider when working on the automation and control systems, but perhaps most important is the requirement for open-protocol communications supported by the service-integration layer. Where the system natively communicates using an open protocol supported by a service-integration layer, the subsystem controller, devices, etc. will be configured to expose all data and control points (hardware and software) from the system.

A nighttime view of the Los Angeles Community College District’s Pierce College Near Net Zero Maintenance and Operations Facility, which features extensive solar photovoltaic and solar thermal arrays used to produce electricity and hot water for space heating and to drive the absorption chillers that use heat energy to produce cooling. Courtesy: Southland IndustriesKuhlman: I want to know to what level the control system will be integrated with the information technology (IT) network. Whether the controls system network will be completely isolated or use the IT network and Wi-Fi systems to transport data.

CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome in such facilities, and how did you do so?

Kuhlman: I designed the cabling infrastructure for a manufacturing facility where the design criteria were for all networks to use the telecom backbone cabling infrastructure. This included the building management system (BMS). The telecom rooms were designed with additional space for BMS network equipment, and the fiber-optic backbone was sized for additional capacity so they could have a dedicated fiber strand. The owner decided the BMS would be a performance specification under the mechanical subcontractor. The BMS contractor rightfully excluded the backbone cable. However, the BMS contractor assumed a ring configuration for their connectivity while the telecom backbone was actually designed in a star configuration. After they were awarded the contract, the RFIs started pouring in about how there was no point-to-point connectivity between the telecom rooms to establish the fiber ring they were expecting.

Clute: The most important issue was not so much a technical issue as an economic, organizational, and governance issue. To successfully integrate multiple systems within a high-performance building, the business case that justifies the investment must clearly identify, document, and communicate the cost benefits and expected financial returns within a reasonable payback period, usually 3 to 5 years.

CSE: What unique tools are the owners of such projects including in their automation and controls systems?

Erickson: We are seeing in increased interest in fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) and performance analytics. In many cases, no additional software is needed. However, an intentional approach is necessary to harness the commonly unused capabilities of the BAS that owners are already purchasing. This can be done by specifying during the design phase that they would like the data to be open to them and they’d like additional interface graphics to distill the data. Competitive bidding also means this can be done with little to no added cost.

Clute: They are not as unique as they used to be, but the use of digital dashboards deployed on mobile devices is becoming more prevalent in the design, construction, and operations of high-performance buildings. Owners and operators of today’s buildings expect their end users, tenants, and building managers to be able to access the building’s automation and control systems from within the building, whether they are on the road or working from home.

CSE: Define how you are working with clients (building owners, etc.) with regard to Internet of Things (IoT) products and systems.

Clute: IoT may be the newest way in which we describe, catalog, and connect the various parts and pieces of a building together, but the importance of how we define, design, and deliver a high-performance building still depends on people, process, and tools, in that order. The IPD process referenced above is an excellent way to achieve the desired outcome for an IoT project.

CSE: What does IoT mean to you? How do you define the concept of IoT in high-performance buildings?

Clute: The way we explain IoT in high-performance buildings is best described by our process to define, design, and deliver using a model roadmap illustrated in Figure 1.

Kuhlman: I look at IoT as the “networking of things.” We see more devices becoming intelligent (automated, controllable, or communicative), but this is of little value if they can’t reach the network. The file server the IoT device wants to talk to could be on the local network or somewhere in the cloud. They could be wired or wireless. Either way, to make IoT work, there has to be a network present to support it.

CSE: Describe how you work with product manufacturers and their IoT-compatible products.

Kuhlman: I need to know from the product manufacturers how their product needs to communicate. Is it a hard-wired Ethernet connection? How will it be powered? Does it need in-building Wi-Fi? Can it communicate over a cellular phone network?

Clute: We have developed a catalog of solutions or initiatives that describe more than 130 unique use cases or scenarios within a high-performance building. We try to identify at least three different manufacturers that satisfy the functional and technical requirements in each use case to deliver the economic, environmental, and experiential outcomes. With more than 2,500 IoT solutions on the market, it is near impossible for clients to understand the possibilities of all these available technologies and what is appropriate for their needs. We guide our clients through the noise/confusion and lead them to identify and achieve their high-performance building goals and objectives.

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