Is smart thinking at the heart of your building?

June 04, 2018 by Andy Devine of Synapsys Solutions
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Is smart thinking at the heart of your building?

With the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) now upon us, Andy Devine of Synapsys Solutions warns of the dangers of being buried under huge amounts of useless data which is not contributing to the efficient running of the building. 

He explains the benefits of Smart Data over Big Data and how data analytics can hold the key to unlocking energy savings.

Since April 2018, MEES requires all commercial buildings to achieve a rating of E in order for them to be rented out. But with almost one in five buildings still failing to reach this target according to energy firm Arbnco. Tackling the lifetime energy costs of today’s commercial buildings is a must for any savvy building owner or manager to meet the requirements of MEES and contribute towards the Europe 2020 plan.

Many people believe that simply having a Building Management System (BMS) installed in your building, makes it easy to meet these targets as a well-designed and commissioned BMS provides excellent 24/7 control of a building as well as an abundance of data from various sources…

However, a BMS is not designed to analyse or deal with historical data. It can also be problematic to acquire data from a BMS as there are a number of different types of BMS operating on different platforms and the collection of data can therefore be a very complex operation. But perhaps more importantly, a BMS merely gives us data – it doesn’t have the ability to make decisions about how to use it.

Big vs Smart Data

As buildings change over time, it is not uncommon for the layout to change or the need to accommodate different occupancy patterns. Furthermore, it is quite common to find that individual pieces of building services plant (such as the boiler and air conditioning plant) each has its own set of controls which are connected to the BMS. If they weren’t commissioned to operate together, even if they are being centrally operated by the BMS, then the BMS will not operate at optimum efficiency and crucial savings will be missed.

A BMS is only the start of the journey, therefore, the question we must ask ourselves is what information do we need to collect from our BMS and what should we do with that data in order to make meaningful changes to a building? Over the past few years, we have become accustomed to using the phrase Big Data. The general consensus being that the more information collected the better. However, in reality, by just collecting Big Data, opportunities were being missed to reduce energy and costs and the purpose of collecting the data was often overlooked…

Big Data refers to your digital footprint such as using the GPS on your mobile to navigate your way to a meeting or making transactions on a tablet. It consists of a long list of numbers which have been collected over time. But if we consider this term in the commercial environment, collecting vast amounts of Big Data is not necessarily useful, practical or in many cases even possible as those numbers cannot be used to facilitate change alone since they make no real sense…

Smart thinking Therefore, we must think Smart and we can achieve this by targeting key points from a mass of Big Data to promote change. By taking Big Data and converting it into Smart Data, through analysis and interpretation of the same long list of numbers, the data can be used to pinpoint peaks and troughs in energy consumption, such as the number of empty meeting rooms with the air-conditioning left on after 5pm or knowing how many staff are using a particular floor.

Smart Data enables building owners and managers to make informed decisions and reliable predictions over the long-term as the data is actionable with a clear focus. Ultimately, this can be used to facilitate change.

Building Optimisation

So, how do we put Smart Data to practical use in the commercial built environment? Building performance optimisation is a two-part process which uses simple, data analytics to achieve optimal occupant comfort within a building with the minimum energy used. There has been a dramatic rise in the use of data analytics to optimise energy usage in commercial buildings as it enables us to extract the full potential of information available from a BMS to achieve reductions.

The first step of the building performance optimisation process is to ensure that all of the data is centralised in the BMS by integrating building systems such as HVAC and lighting with the information which is available from on-site meters. With all of the data feeding through the BMS, the next step is to acquire and export the data. By using a solution such as our SIPd, this offers simple, fast data acquisition to improve building performance.

It reads hundreds of points from on-site meters around a building or estate at 15-30 minute intervals, including measurement points for gas, electricity, humidity and temperature sensors, power usage meters and biomass etc.

Data Analytics

The data is then exported to a data analytics partner, for detailed analysis. This allows the building owner or manager to identify patterns and trends in energy consumption to unlock potential savings. The quantity of data gathered gives plenty of scope for meaningful analysis, allowing even the smallest fluctuations in building efficiency to be monitored, identified and adjusted.

Minor improvements can result in lower running costs, but over the longer term is where substantial savings can be achieved. This is because the BMS is used by data analytics providers to determine control strategies for improved efficiency and energy savings. These optimised control strategies can then be fed back into the building’s BMS automatically and form the basis for the controls strategy going forward.

There are endless opportunities to improve efficiency and performance in your building as data analysis can pinpoint underperforming plant and predict equipment failures, both of which save precious time and additional maintenance costs. The ongoing process of monitoring and adjustments also means that the control strategy constantly adapts to the changing conditions of the building throughout the year ensuring optimum efficiency is achieved at all times.

Motivating behavior change

To ensure your building operates at peak efficiency, data acquisition and ongoing analysis is critical. But equally important, is using the data to encourage behavior change of building occupants.

By harnessing Smart Data and using constant two-way communication between the BMS and an external data analytics partner, building occupants can take advantage of visual reminders, such as an energy dashboard. Access to real-time data via an energy dashboard provides the catalyst for behavioural change. This encourages occupants to take responsibility for their energy usage and to think twice before exiting a room without closing the window or turning the light off…

Therefore, by continually analysing and interpreting Smart Data, information will be visible, and this is when real change happens. So, in order to confidently tackle MEES and reduce running costs, take smart steps and think Smart to ensure your building is operating at optimum energy efficiency.

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