Cleantech Market Intelligence
Building Automation Meets Optimization
An interesting question has come up in my recent conversations with building controls suppliers and facilities managers: What’s the difference between “building automation” and “building optimization?” Optimization, of course, is the new industry buzzword. The question hints at an underlying sense of broken promises associated with the complex building automation systems that have been marketed for many years, raising a second question: Weren’t these systems already supposed to provide optimization?
Pike Research defines automation as the ability to remotely and automatically perform tasks that were previously performed locally and/or manually, such as monitoring and control of HVAC, lighting, fire and safety, and security and access systems. Modern building automation systems (BASs) generally assume the use of digital technologies to accomplish these tasks. Merriam-Webster defines optimization as “an act, process, or methodology of making something (as a design, system, or decision) as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible.” In commercial building terms, this is implemented in building commissioning services and functions. Strong BAS capabilities are generally required to implement good optimization and enduring commissioning benefits.
Embedded or Not
However, a new level of optimization capabilities has emerged, one that’s embedded within, or dependent upon, BASs. Good BAS implementations provide abundant data regarding a building’s real-time operation, and advanced data analytic functions derive real, actionable, and often real-time information that can take optimization to a new level. Are these new levels of optimization just new BAS features or something wholly new? I think the answer is “both.” Deep optimization is new, but it may or may not need to be implemented within the heart of BAS products, depending on the breadth and depth of the function being optimized.
Some new optimization technologies focus on maximizing the energy efficiency of specific subsystems – as with some emerging retrofit rooftop unit (RTU) controllers. These are clearly embedded within the devices or within the BAS itself. Other optimization strategies still focus on a single system (such as HVAC), but across a much larger portion of the plant. Much broader capabilities under the building energy management system (BEMS) umbrella may look beyond single systems toward whole building or enterprisewide optimization.
The key distinctions between traditional BAS capabilities and newer forms of building optimization may be distilled to two key attributes: continuous adaptation and real-time operation. True optimization adapts to, or even anticipates, changes in the building environment over both short (hours/days) and long (months/years) time periods. And implementation must happen in real time – within minutes or at least hours. Optimization aims to produce truly self-commissioning buildings that maximize energy, occupant comfort, and business operations.
(Source: Pike Research)
Interestingly, the same “automation versus optimization” discussion is happening in the smart grid world around distribution networks: How and when does a distribution automation system actually optimize grid operation? These advanced building and grid optimization systems will start to blend as building-to-grid functions mature. But we’ll leave that discussion for another time.