Get Your Building Working Smarter, Not Harder
Change is constant in the HVAC industry, reflected in disruptive innovations and ongoing evolution of products, technology and methodologies. As we invest resources in saving money, cutting emissions and improving overall efficiency, the common thread for buildings and ourselves is working smarter, not harder. One key trend to keep up with is our ever-more-connected built environment. New technologies and connections are continually delivering greater efficiencies, system performance, cost savings and sustainability.
Front and center this year is the emphasis on smart buildings, the smart grid and smart cities. Thanks to increased automation and smarter appliances, buildings are gaining more data points from connected devices, becoming more efficient while allowing cities’ power grids to better limit waste. Consider the sporadic nature of wind-created energy: Because it cannot be stored, cities may have excess energy at non-peak hours that would go to waste.
Some power grid systems already have the capability to communicate this energy availability with building systems and appliances, enabling HVAC equipment to tap it at lower energy costs. At the city and utility level, the aim is to program HVAC systems and other high-energy-consuming equipment to operate at times when usage will not stress area power grids. As cities become truly “smart,” such communication among systems will drive investment and change.
Smarter building controls at work
A variety of dynamic control systems already monitor, manage and adjust building environments and performance. Smart building controls offer additional functionality through a computerized, intelligent network of electronic devices designed to control, monitor and optimize building services, such as heating, air conditioning and ventilation; lighting; access control and CCTV; electrical plug-loads; audio-visual; and occupancy-related systems. The advanced technology often reduces operational and maintenance demands, as well as energy consumption.
The basic control system monitors field devices and sensors that are connected to controllers or directly to a system headend. If input data from field devices and sensors falls outside of an acceptable range, the control system issues commands to change the status of the controlled device. For example, if a room temperature registers higher or lower than the temperature setpoint, the smart control system manages the equipment (i.e. fans and dampers) to get the room temperature back to the setpoint. However, the most recent trend is data analytics – essentially managing and analyzing the data from control systems. Notable among the real-time analytic software applications for building control systems are those that can identify faults within a HVAC system and provide diagnostic information.
Connecting smart buildings to smart grids
Demand response platforms connect utility “smart grid” systems to building power loads that can be turned down in near-real time to avoid overloading distribution lines or forcing rolling blackouts. Through automated demand response and predictive controls, your building’s energy consumption is continuously adjusted to reduce demand at critical times of the day in response to hourly pricing signals from the grid.
Further, commercial buildings are developing a need to communicate directly with the utility grid. Utility companies have been using smart grid technologies to modernize their systems and provide greater reliability. In addition, when commercial building owners start seeing a high cost of energy at peak usage times, there will be an incentive for two-way communication with smart grids to avoid high costs.
However, it’s not just about minimizing a building’s electricity bill. Commercial building owner/operators are becoming increasingly less satisfied with the economy, reliability, security, service quality, and sustainability of the legacy grid. We see this reflected in an accelerating trend: Smart buildings are increasingly deploying their own generation, storage and energy management systems. For this, building owners receive compensation from the utility provider. Imagine the possibilities: Not only could your building use less energy, lowering your energy bill – it could actually make money for you. In this way, buildings are becoming an integral part of the smart grid, not just being served by it.
What exactly does a smart grid do?
On its own, a smart grid has three jobs:
- It modernizes power systems through self-healing designs, automation, remote monitoring and control, and establishment of microgrids.
- It informs and educates consumers about their energy usage, costs and alternative options, enabling them to decide how and when to use electricity and fuels.
- It provides safe, secure and reliable integration of distributed and renewable energy resources.
The net? An energy infrastructure that is more reliable, more sustainable and more resilient, providing the beating heart of the smart city.
From smart grids to smart cities
The smart city is all about how the city “organism” works together as an integrated whole. Energy, water, transportation, public health and safety, and other aspects of a smart city are managed in concert to support smooth operation of critical infrastructure while providing for a clean, economic and safe environment in which to live, work and play. The technology base supporting a city’s infrastructure, buildings, industry and consumers are becoming more flexible, compatible, automated and intelligent platforms.
Smart cities, like the smart grid, will evolve slowly but surely over the next two decades. In the future, smart cities will be fully connected infrastructures that apply big data, analytics, and cloud-based predictive energy optimization technology to proactively manage resources.
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