Monday, May 30, 2016

The Internet of Things for Commercial Real Estate

Do you manage buildings?

Any of this look familiar?

We make it stop!

How Does Your Energy Management System Make You Feel?

Monitoring and controlling energy and water usage in buildings is an extremely hot topic these days.  As costs continue to rise for electricity, gas, and water most organizations are looking for ways to reduce these costs – automated ways that really work.

One conventional approach may be as simple as conducting an energy audit of the facility and then implementing policies designed to reduce usage on an ongoing basis.  Checking the utility bill each month should confirm that the measures are still working.  But what if they are not?  If one or more of the reduction methods did not occur as planned it may be too late, the money has been spent, the resources wasted.  Mistakes will happen, so a certain amount of contingency may already be in the budget to cover overruns.  But does it have to be that way?  Shouldn’t there be a way to put affordable checks and balances in place which give us confidence that the plan is working?

Another method, for buildings which have a computerized control system, an energy management or a building management system (EMS or BMS), would be to have out of compliance conditions texted or emailed to key personnel.  Automated warnings or alarms could be sent out automatically and early enough so personnel can correct problems and maintain savings or minimize excess usage.

But what about automation, automation that really works?  Shouldn’t today’s EMS be sophisticated enough to do all this without human intervention?  The simple answer is yes, however the right level of system design, installation and maintenance must be in place.

This is where it begins to get complicated.  The majority of installed EMS are not necessarily “hardened”.  Companies will budget a significant amount of both capital and operational dollars to ensure that their information technology (IT) systems are both redundant (for reliability) and hardened (for security).  Many of the IT systems are monitored 24x7 whether by personnel or automated methods to ensure proper functionality.  But what about the EMS?

The EMS is often one of the last systems to be installed at a facility.  It most likely came with the HVAC equipment and was designed by an engineering firm to use the proper amount of energy in order to keep the occupants comfortable during typical weather patterns for the area.  So it should be able to automatically adjust itself as needed to make this happen, forever.  What happens if something goes wrong?  What if the building’s occupancy or use changes?  Is there sufficient staff to react if alarms or warnings are annunciated from the EMS?

Our experience shows that most buildings do not have personnel dedicated to monitoring their EMS.  Or if they do these people are also responsible for many other building operations from janitorial and landscaping, to security and IT.  There is too much on their “plates” to analyze the daily operation of the EMS.  Their focus tends to driven by hot and cold complaints from occupants rather than ensuring the system as a whole is operating as efficiently as possible.

So what is the answer?  You’ve invested in a computer controlled EMS for your building.  Some months your energy and water usage is right where you expect it to be; but every once in a while you still see excessive use and higher bills.  What are you missing?  How can you get the peace of mind you deserve?

The answer is BMS Assurance™ from energy etc.

BMS Assurance is a subscription based service from energy etc that will give you confidence that your systems are performing as you intend them to be.
Customers choose from a menu of services that our automation engineers will perform so you can be assured that your EMS is lowering your energy bills while increasing customer satisfaction.

Sign up for energy etc’s BMS Assurance program and gain the peace of mind you deserve.

Choose Your Level of Assurance

       Base service:
            Once daily system review, priority access to Help Desk
            includes 2 hours of support per month.

       Additional Help Desk hours:
            Purchase extra 1 hour blocks of support.
       Manage server operating system software:
            Stay up to date with patches and updates, hardware checks.

       Manage server BMS application software:
            Patches and updates, backups, database management

       Additional daily checks:
            Morning and afternoon, weekends, holidays.

       Active system management:
            Energy management, critical system tuning, fault analysis.

       Many customizable options to fit your situation:
Contact to design and price your BMS Assurance plan (Brochure)

What Will Small and Medium Businesses Do to Take Advantage of Automated Demand Response Programs?

Small and medium business (SMB) owners have traditionally not been able to curtail, and sustain reduced energy usage on demand.

Note: This has not changed much in 4 years!

Let’s think about how SMBs in the 1,000 to 10,000 square foot range, run their businesses.
Typically these are retail, medical, light commercial, office, or light industrial spaces. Each tenant is most likely responsible for paying their electrical bill to the utility (separately metered). SMBs either run their operations extremely lean to reduce their overhead, or have a predetermined load requirement due to refrigeration, manufacturing, lighting, etc. These types of businesses operate their businesses on a regular schedule with little variation.

What choices do SMBs really have when the call to curtail energy usage occurs? We know from participating in an ADR pilot by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ( ) that simply raising set points for air conditioning systems will only prove fruitful for short periods of time.
Pre-cooling is usually not an option because HVAC units typically run full out during these hot summer days already. The units are rarely oversized for this class of buildings.

Demand Response events typically occur in the summer time during the afternoon, when the weather is hottest.

So the call is made to reduce your energy usage, you reset your thermostat to allow your HVAC unit to shut down, or at least throttle back. Now as the interior of your building’s temperature begins to rise, approaching the new set point, what choices do you have? Shut the unit off and let the temperature continue to climb. How high will it go? How uncomfortable are you or our customers and/or staff willing to become?
In reality, the HVAC unit, probably your biggest energy hog, will only get you through the first 15-30 minutes of the event before it has to go back to work (events typically last 2 to 4 hours). When your HVAC unit kicks back on to maintain the newer and higher set point it will soon be running full out again. It may cycle more often, but are we really achieving the savings the ADR event requires?
It is time to start looking for other loads to curtail. What do we have control over that can reduce our energy usage and sustain that reduction during the entire event?
Lighting is a good candidate, depending on the type of business. Retail or medical may require certain minimum light levels at all times (really these minimum levels should be what the lights are set to the majority of the time; if not there is already excess energy usage at the site).
Lighting can be dimmed if the appropriate controls are in place, or shut off in areas that are not critical. Ideally the light fixtures are “zoned” so that the customer has the ability to leave fixtures on where required.
What about plug loads? Could a refrigerator(s) in a break room be shut down for 2 hours? The employees would need to know that keeping the fridge door closed during the event would be in their best interest. Could employees go without printers, copiers, or fax machines for a few of hours? Perhaps shut them down, and only allow them to be used when absolutely necessary. The story is becoming clear, the smaller the business the tougher it will be to make a significant contribution to reduce electrical demand.
To participate in even a trivial way SMBs will need a programmable thermostat capable of interpreting an ADR signal and reacting to that signal in an intelligent manner. As discussed above, this will only provide a minimal curtailment. Therefore, plug and lighting loads will also need to be capable of interpreting and reacting to ADR signals with predisposed routines.
Will the costs savings and incentives doled out by the utilities be enough to recover the costs of these smart devices? Will these new devices be easy to install and easy enough to maintain for the typical SMB owner? If the answer to these questions is no, ADR for SMBs will not be a reality.
Fortunately, with the advent of wirelessly connected programmable thermostats, plug loads, and lighting controllers things begin looking rosier. Throw in firmware for interpreting ADR signals and a straight forward way to program actionable events…even better. If kept simple and easy to use this could be a means for under served SMB owners to take charge of their energy usage year ‘round.