A sensory enhancement to building intelligence

Jim Curran, Vice-President of Enterprise Sales for CommScope MEA, offers a viable solution to curb power consumption

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management, CommScope MEA

With energy efficiency becoming an increasingly difficult challenge in building management, Jim Curran, Vice-President of Enterprise Sales for CommScope MEA, offers a viable solution to curb power consumption

Everyone recognises a high-performance car or a high-performance computing system. But what is a high-performance building? Like a fast car or a powerful computer, a high performance building is a finely-tuned environment that is constantly collecting data about current and changing conditions, automatically adapting to that data and providing a sophisticated degree of control to the operator.

One reason “high-performance building” has not entered the vernacular is because there simply aren’t that many of them. While computers and cars have entered the digital age with thousands of parameters for command and control, buildings have remained trapped in an analogue age.

Buildings lack a central and control mechanism that can provide real-time and historical data. That information could enable one to use automation to make smart decisions about energy usage, HVAC capacity, space allocation and work patterns.

GCC countries are among the highest electricity consumers in the world. According to The National, at the beginning of this year, the UAE has started implementing a set of 79 new compulsory specifications for construction projects. The new specifications all concern improving the energy efficiency and carbon footprint of buildings.

With a breakthrough combination of affordable distributed sensor network and controls, an efficient low-voltage DC power system, and a powerful software “brain” to manage building data and performance, we now have the makings of the requisite central nervous system that can drive enhanced building efficiency.

These systems drive ongoing energy savings, optimise facility resources by keeping building operators fully aware about how their spaces are being utilised and operated, and ultimately maximise occupant productivity.

High performing buildings typically possess three unique features. First, operating costs in high performing buildings are minimised. This means a high degree of energy efficiency from top consuming functions like lighting and HVAC. Maintenance issues are proactively brought to management’s attention. And in general, costs are correlated to presence (e.g. lighting goes off and HVAC is reduced based on occupancy).

Second, facility resources are fully optimised. Using data from occupancy sensors, building managers and facilities teams can understand and optimise if there is the right number and type of conference rooms, how offices and common spaces are utilised and how spaces are trafficked.

This real-time and historical data can also supplement safety and security systems to locate occupants in an emergency or determine where and when there is unauthorised occupancy.

Third, they provide individualised control to maximise personal productivity. For high-performance buildings, this means having the right amount of light for whichever individuals are working and personalised control of temperature for individual workspaces.

High-performance buildings automatically keep facility management fully apprised of how their space is being utilised and operated. Because high-performance buildings constantly collect fine-grained data about occupancy and temperature, the facility management function now has the data and insights to better utilise space and positively impact employee productivity.

A new paradigm also lies with enhancing building performance through lighting. In the built environment, lighting is ubiquitous in all interior spaces, wired for power delivery, and often deployed in a pervasive, grid-like pattern. It is the most logical platform and cost-effective place to integrate a pervasive sensor network.

The goal of such a network is to implement an intelligent lighting network solution that uses the lighting system to intelligently control illumination at all levels, from building wide to intra-zone or intra-room.

What’s more, this system can be extended to sense, report and optimise many other environmental management parameters including HVAC usage, space utilisation and planning. Using the lighting system as a way of enhancing building-performance opens up a whole host of applications.

One of the key architectural underpinnings of intelligent lighting network solutions is the deployment of high densities of sensors in a building. There are several factors required to achieving pervasive sensing.

A key issue is maximising sensor density. Due to the decreasing costs of sensors and embedded microprocessors, it is now possible to combine multiple sensors for motion, lighting, energy metering and temperature in a single device.

This supersensor can be deployed at each and every light, creating a dense grid with coverage for every four to nine square meters of building space. This density provides an infrastructure capable of comprehensive sensing, reporting and environmental monitoring.

Beyond lighting controls, this density of coverage can provide substantially deeper insights into temperature flows and thermal comfort, energy and lighting performance of the fixture, space utilisation, space trafficking and fixture performance monitoring.

Another important factor lies with the setup of the sensor and confirmation. An intelligent lighting network solution reduces sensor configuration complexities by quite literally “blanketing” a space with sensors. Since coverage is so comprehensive (at a per-fixture density), design and setup of these sensor networks is far easier.

With automatic centralised commissioning of sensors, the process is literally drag-and-drop in a Web browser. The simplicity allows the building operator to make system modifications themselves, quickly and without disruption to the built environment and without incurring significant cost.

Finally, power management is equally as important. Historically, most standalone sensors are not themselves energy-optimised and can consume non-trivial amounts of power (3-5 watts per hour each). With a single sensor controlling an open area of 371m2, that wattage expenditure is acceptable.

But to achieve deep visibility with high-density sensing, a building operator would need to deploy 40-80 legacy sensors that would collectively consume 240-480 watts per hour.

By reducing requisite power draw for sensors, combining multiple sensors in a single device and by focusing on a highly efficient sensor design and enabling those sensors to run off low voltage DC power that eliminates costly conversion stages, buildings deploying cutting edge sensors, reduce sensor power consumption to less than one-third watt per sensor, a 10x to 30x improvement over legacy technologies.

Over time, practically every device and application in our lives adds advanced “digital” technologies to improve their performance, reduce costs or deliver new features.

Remember the dial phone, the mercury thermometer or the days when you could service a new car without computer diagnostics? Yet in the built environment, some of the most important, critical systems in commercial buildings — power delivery and lighting — have remained utterly analogue in nature. Power delivery is considered “analogue” because power either flows or doesn’t, and the lights are either on or off.

There is now the opportunity to fundamentally rethink and potentially redesign the lighting system to take advantage of these digital capabilities. In fact, by replacing the traditional electrical AC wiring to low-voltage networking cables for DC applications, these power cables can do double duty, delivering both DC power and two-way communications for digital applications.

Combine this power and communication system with pervasive sensing to literally “see” comprehensively what’s happening inside a building, and we arrive at a truly intelligent lighting network.

Taken all together, these capabilities raise building control and management to an entirely new level. They empower building operators not only to manage their buildings for efficient energy use, but also for better employee and company productivity in multiple areas.

Like a fine automobile or a high-performance computer, a building equipped with these capabilities will become a responsive, high-performance built environment, more responsive to the needs of employees, municipalities, utilities and the organisations that lease or own the building.

What an intelligent lighting network solution can do in an office space
Energy efficiency – Lighting, plug load, and HVACs in unused rooms are automatically turned off.
Occupancy health and comfort – Ventilation system responds to changes in temperature to maintain comfort levels.
Space utilisation – Utilisation data shows room available; reports show how full a room is typically.
Flexibility – Re-configure spaces easily
Individual control – Employees are able to adjust light level for detail work.
Smart grid aware – Demand response or peak time pricing event turns non-critical lights off.
Maintenance – Alert sent when light fixture out. 

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