Get Smart


Buildings are getting smarter and this has transformed the energy management business thanks to artificial intelligence. Reducing energy use through automation saves hours of manpower and makes the drudgery of energy audits and spreadsheets a thing of the past. Digitalization has made all of this possible.

In the past decade, businesses and industry giants have begun to offer automated building management systems. The companies profiled here all have one thing in common—they each have created an automation platform that brings together all of the data a building generates in its lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and security systems and places the data in the cloud where it can be translated into charts, illustrations, and recommendations. What differentiates all of these companies is the type of clientele they serve and how they interact with them.

The venerable Hubbell Lighting has its Hubbell Control Solutions brand. The company has developed NX Distributed Intelligence to offer wired and wireless lighting control options for customers. It recently introduced the new NX SimpleTouch full-color, touchscreen wall station. The attractive and easy-to-use NX SimpleTouch is designed for customers using NX Distributed Intelligence devices for code-compliant lighting control. It also recently launched PowerHUBB, an enterprise-level “Power over Ethernet” lighting and control platform that seamlessly integrates luminaires, sensors, user interfaces, and software for a scalable intelligent building control solution.

The advantage of a PoE solution is its ability to simplify lighting and control installations by reducing the time, specialized resources, and materials needed when compared to traditional line voltage installations. The installation of PoE lighting solutions reduces material and labor costs by using a single Cat5e/6 connection for power and communication. By using a low-voltage cabling approach, the installation process is simplified. Facility owners, like those in healthcare, see tremendous advantage in having the flexibility to make infrastructure changes to support the evolving needs of the real estate. Adding to the cost savings, PowerHUBB can be installed by low voltage installers and it can be easily configured and reconfigured through software by IT personnel.

Hubbell Control has also introduced its new Bluetooth Bridge with Real Time Clock (“NXBTC”) with a real-time clock for instantaneous wireless configuration and true downloadable scheduling. It easily pairs with smartphones.

EnTouch Controls, headquartered in Richardson, TX, offers smart building solutions to multisite retail and commercial businesses, including everything from restaurants to healthcare facilities using cloud-based wireless technology. Educational and worship institutions come to the company through partners, says James Walton, vice president of technology.

“We don’t consider ourselves an energy management systems (EMS) company; we are an analytics company,” says Walton. When beginning work at a facility, EnTouch sets up an energy management system platform and integrates all utility bills into it. It also installs the controls for the lighting, refrigeration, heating, and ventilating and air conditioning systems in the platform and stores the data in the cloud.

If a facility already has an EMS, EnTouch transfers that data to the cloud where it is accessed in EnTouch’s EMS platform. “All the data streamed to the cloud allows us to have access to the energy management system,” says Walton. Transmission can be handled either by Gigabit Ethernet or by WiFi.

Walton describes the EnTouch 1 platform as the dashboard where all information is accessed via the hardware and software. EnTouch 360 provides a 360-degree view of a building’s ecosystem. It is the tool that wraps around everything, he says, and helps the building manager find the information he or she is looking for at any given facility location.

EnTouch 360 is accessed through the cloud and streams data from the company’s multiple locations. The tool can present the information in high level enterprise graphs, says Walton. “Let the system find the problem and visualize it in graphs,” he emphasizes.

Walton says the system “is all about continuously driving savings—how to use data to drive efficiencies and optimization out of the portfolio as seen from the dashboard.” The building manager may view individual aspects of the data and see high run-time usage, for example. If everything is running well, the EnTouch manager might suggest the building has an insulation problem and the owner or manager might consider bringing the building up to code.

Walton says the system can always find 15% to 20% in utility savings, and another 10% savings on operations and maintenance by showing staff the data on how to be more efficient.

A lot of people had poor experiences with their building energy management systems or what they did have was never utilized, says Walton. Now people are saying they want a dashboard on the wall where they can access the different building systems themselves, he adds.

EnTouch has been awarded two patents according to an August 20, 2018, press release. One is for redundant and selectable gateway and control elements for wireless remote connected thermostats. The second patent is for system and method of data reduction for cellular machine-to-machine transmissions from energy management systems.

De1901 22
Credit: Stock/gorodenkoff

Abundant Power, headquartered in Charlotte, NC, has created and sells an analytics platform that commercial businesses and institutions can use. Abundant Power’s focus is on improving comfort first, then asset management and energy efficiency.

Until recently, Abundant Power worked directly with clients. It is now refocusing its business to work with partners such as energy or facilities engineers for client companies, according to Derek McGarry, the company’s chief engineer. “It is common to manage services for clients when technology is new. Now that the technology is more user-friendly, [we feel comfortable] refocusing to partner services,” he says.

With the movement toward open contracts using BACnet and cloud-based intelligence, and away from proprietary control systems, the competition has reduced prices, he says. “We can use artificial intelligence and machine learning, not possible where buildings have controls hardware and not as smart as controls connected to the cloud,” he says. He also points out that with technology advancing as fast as it is, hardwired controls cannot take advantage of it. But a cloud-based controls system can take advantage of new technologies.

Continuing, McGarry says that advanced algorithms inside a building analytics platform look at yesterday’s data, then look at the data in the cloud 365 days ago and can make strong recommendations for building temperatures or even alert the facilities engineer to an irregularity. Hardwired controls cannot do that, he says.

Abundant Power is agnostic when it comes to controls systems. Regardless of the brand, its analytics platform can access the data in a building’s energy management system.

Abundant Power is now using SkySpark, by Sky Foundry, as a fault detection platform to process a building’s data produced by its control system. McGarry says the goal is to produce actionable recommendations. But it still requires a human to review the data, he says.

McGarry says the company has partners, such as mechanical contractors, controls contractors and commissioning agents that use its platform. Abundant Power interacts with buildings when their facilities managers don’t have the time to deal with complicated analytics. “Or we can deal directly with an owner,” he says. “If the portfolio manager doesn’t have in-house expertise, we can provide that expertise.”

One of the biggest problems in the industry is that there are more building or facilities engineers over 60 than there are under 30, according to McGarry. “We have building engineers for every eight to ten 30,000-square-foot buildings and no one to take their place. This is an opportunity for technology to fill the gap created by an inadequate work force,” he argues.

McGarry believes the real estate industry is slow to adopt new technology. When they do use it, they see the value it adds to portfolios. Property management companies use ratios of engineers handling buildings to estimate their ability to maintain them. McGarry believes technology can improve that statistic.

Abundant Power offers different levels of control system analytics, pricing them based on the levels. A building owner may choose to install smart meters to monitor each incoming utility service for the lowest cost. Or circuits with 100 data points or 1,000 data points can be monitored for higher prices.

De1901 23
Credit: iStock/rom2015

Lincoln Harris, headquartered in Charlotte, NC, owns commercial properties throughout the country. Patrick Stark, vice president and director of energy and sustainability at Lincoln Harris, says the company installed an Abundant Power analytics platform in a newly constructed 250,000 square-foot building about a year ago. Stark and his staff are responsible for and maintain the platform.

Stark says the analytics platform ties into the building’s air handling system. “The platform pulls out all the data and analyzes it by comparing operational dates, temperature ranges, and how it should work according to established rules and schedules.” The analytics platform watches every day, every second, and it tells you what the system is doing, Stark says. It will notice if the heat is running during a warm day. “We found equipment running after hours when it shouldn’t have been.”

“The platform takes us to an entirely new level,” continues Stark. He regularly checks the system’s analysis and looks for problems. “Once the analytics identifies unusual things, this is where the human starts working. Then you dig in and find out why the equipment is running all night, or why there are high temperatures.”

Stark explains that in the case of the equipment running at night, controls were trying to turn the HVAC system off according to the schedule but a contractor had turned the equipment to the on position instead of the automatic position, thereby overriding the schedule. There were no alarms and the building is unoccupied at night. “The Abundant platform told us,” says Stark.

Stark talked about the importance of having an engineering staff “who understands how the systems work” and how to interpret the data produced by the platform. “Ideally, if we continue to add more buildings, we will have them.” The tradition has been to have a building engineer in each building to maintain and check on all the heating and cooling equipment. With the Abundant platform, he says, “we don’t need one person per building. An expert can overlook a dozen buildings.”

Stark says that the plan is to expand and install Abundant platforms in more of its portfolio of buildings. In fact, they are adding one to an existing 300,000-square-foot building and will install the platform in seven more buildings at the beginning of 2019.

Stark says that there are no documented energy savings on the building where the Abundant Platform has already been installed since it is new. Based on averages, this building is using $80,000 less than what he would expect of a commercial building with the same square footage. It is using 25% to 30% less energy than this type of building would expect to use, he concludes.

De1901 24
Credit: iStock/JuSun

Echelon, newly acquired by and now a division of Adesto Technologies, does not manufacture end products like controllers. Instead, it makes technology that goes inside the products and it sells this technology to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), energy management applications developers, and integrators, says Apurba Pradhan, vice president of product management for Adesto’s Embedded Systems Division.

The technology is an open-standard protocol that everyone can use, says Pradhan. And it is interoperable, able to work alongside other technologies like BACnet, Modbus, and emerging Internet of Things (IoT) protocols allowing different companies’ products to work together.

Rich Blomseth, Echelon’s principal product manager, says typical buildings have many different systems. HVAC systems have one set of controls, lighting another, and security a third. It is important that these devices work together and be controlled by a single building automation system, like Echelon’s technologies, to provide additional value to the building owner and operator.

Echelon’s network management system uses LonWorks, a full, end-to-end open protocol for buildings and industrial systems. Its IzoT platform uses LonWorks to connect to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)—in contrast to the consumer version of the IoT—and to cloud services.

De1901 26
Credit: iStock/JuSun

LonWorks communicates with edge devices such as sensors, meters, and controllers with gateways above them and to management systems whether they are installed locally or remotely in private or public clouds. Echelon’s open system means the user has choices at all three levels.

Echelon provides the following technologies for building automation solutions: smart transceivers for OEMs, edge servers or segment controllers, and networking platform and commissioning software for OEMs and system integrators (who are hired by an owner or general contractor to install the systems in new or retrofitted buildings).

Software such as IzoT Net Server (an operating system for a controls network and IzoT Commissioning Tool, a network design and provisioning tool) is also available for software developers and system integrators. The operating systems and tools support plug-in applications from leading building automation system (BAS) manufacturers. These systems allow third parties such as OEMs and integrators to develop their own tools for building owners that are available as hosted or server-based configurations from Echelon partners.

Echelon has recently announced a new product, the SmartServer IoT—an open and programmable edge server—that can control and manage devices that communicate over LonWorks, BACnet, Modbus, or any number of building protocols, so that the data can be accessed by remote clients and cloud services to produce web-based applications and analytics.

Echelon says that commercial buildings that have incorporated its technologies into their building automation systems have seen up to a 50% reduction in energy consumption, lowered capital and operating costs, increased tenant satisfaction, and reduced maintenance time and expense, among other results.

Minibars in hotels offer an easy-to-grasp example of IIoT. Without automation, an employee can spend eight hours systematically checking minibars in 120 rooms to make sure they are well-stocked, an amenity hotels find valuable in attracting visitors. However, this is a high labor cost for the hotel. By installing LED lights inside the small refrigerator, and connecting them to the hotel’s Ethernet network, an employee can instead spend the eight hours reading a tablet to inventory 400 rooms, a big labor savings.

Furthermore, with a combination of Echelon controllers and plugins on programmable logic controllers, hotels can now create a network of communicating devices for minibars throughout its chain of hotels. A Maryland-based company called Minibar Systems created the technology.

In another example, New Jersey-based I.D. Systems patented a wireless asset tracking management technology called Wireless Asset Net, which has used Echelon’s LonWorks technology for over a decade. Echelon’s iLON internet server helps a network of connected devices to monitor cars. The cars are equipped with network-connected devices linking Wireless Asset Net and Echelon technology.

Thus, the company can systematically gather data on the locations of their vehicles and their use statistics. I.D. Systems notes that there are other industrial applications for its Wireless Asset Net, such as a machine on a production line automatically ordering raw materials to be delivered to the machine for just-in-time replenishment.

Echelon’s iLON server and its LonWorks technology are also being used in elevator systems to allow the elevator to operate remotely using far fewer wires, and also allowing communications between various linked systems with an architecture called Pyxos where many devices report to one controller. Echelon says this system eliminates the need for a full-time maintenance employee to be on duty at all times. The company also says this system eliminates the need for an elevator control office, thus saving space and contributing to a more energy-efficient building.

Installed in the City of Orlando’s operations center profiled below, Lucid’s facility management building data and analytics platform, known as BuildingOS, centralizes a building’s historical utility, real-time, and field data while integrating its building automation system to identify unnecessary resource costs and performance issues and to prioritize projects. Its intuitive dashboards have over 180 pre-built integrations to data sources.

Lucid’s growing pre-built library of data analytics and data visualization cards enable users to customize charts, graphs, and reports. Users can create their own dashboards with simple drag-and-drop design tools. The centralized building data platform automates compliance reporting with the centralized performance data, including managing utility bill data collection for analysis.

With the launch of the Green Works Orlando program in 2007, the City of Orlando began a journey toward a sustainable and healthy economy for the city. This effort led to the adoption of the Green Works Municipal Operations Sustainability Action Plan in 2012. It focused on actions that the city and its employees could take on to create goals and strategies that address social equity, climate resiliency, smart technology, and innovation.

A Community Sustainability Action Plan was adopted in 2013 and updated in 2018. It outlined ambitious goals, strategies, and initiatives in seven focus areas: energy and green buildings, food systems, green economy, livability, water, solid waste, and transportation.

Ian Lahiff, the city’s Energy Project Manager and an engineer, says Orlando is the most visited city in the US and a major hospitality hub. The city itself has a population of 275,000, but the greater Orlando area claims a population of 2.2 million.

In light of this, Lahiff says, the city’s goal is to maintain itself at its highest level for the more than 72 million annual visitors who visit Disney World, Sea World, and the Amway Center, home to two major league sports teams and several other sports teams. Thus, the city has made major investments in public works, the police and fire departments, sports arenas, and community centers. Furthermore, Lahiff says, “When we make investments we try to build social equity to make strategic investments for all citizens of the city.”

In terms of its 7.2 million square feet of city buildings, including the 875,000-square-foot Amway Center, the city needed to “determine the full costs to operate those buildings and the resources that went into maintaining them,” says Lahiff. He calls them holistic costs.

Lahiff says, “As part of our effort for transparency, the city council enacted an ordinance to disclose energy and water consumption,” which are often the second-highest costs associated with renting or owning a building. The engineering team dove deep into buildings to determine the costs to operate them, including the resources coming into the buildings, he says.

Costs included operations and maintenance—filling out work orders, fuel for trucks, and costs and savings for LED lighting. Savings on operating and maintenance reductions were also collected. All this to answer the question, “Will this building provide the services the city needs now and in the future?”

This was a large job since the 160 buildings include those in parks, the city hall, three large wastewater treatment plants, 17 fire stations, police headquarters and local stations, and the Amway Center.

Lahiff says all the analytics data from each of the 160 buildings’ energy management systems have been installed on Lucid’s BuildingOS platform. “It is most important to measure all metrics. You can’t manage when you don’t measure,” he says. Having access to each building’s metrics and visualizing it on the platform helped the staff determine the total costs of ownership.

Lucid works as an integrator, Lahiff says, by bringing all utility bills and other data into the BuildingOS cloud. “For me, I can make a business case on new equipment, for example a new chiller, by justifying the replacement of equipment if I can show the whole cost, including the cost to maintain it,” argues Lahiff.

Lahiff says the staff is not yet using smartphones to access the control system remotely but the department is working to get hardened tablets—which don’t shatter when dropped—for field work.

The Amway Center is used 300 days a year and also hosts large meetings. When it was built, sports lighting LED technology was too expensive and was excluded during construction. The lighting system was retrofitted beginning in 2016 when 400 1,500-watt lights were replaced with 196 LEDs.

The original lights were a mixture of styles because each sport required a separate lighting scheme in addition to lighting requirements for TV broadcasts. An agreement with TV stations required the lights be replaced every three to five years since a slight dimming could be picked up. The LEDs, which have an expected lifetime of 10 years, eliminated the need for those lighting requirements.

The first phase lighting retrofit is saving $89,000 annually, including eliminated maintenance costs. The second phase retrofit will save $230,000 annually. The lighting conversion will be paid back in 5.9 years, Lahiff says.

Also, Lahiff’s engineering staff is responsible for maintaining a 40,000-square-foot community center with a gym, pool, and multipurpose room. Using the BuildingOS platform, they were able to reduce the electricity usage by 30%. The platform will allow the spaces to be heated and cooled automatically only when needed. Lighting was also retrofitted.

Community members wanted to use the multipurpose room for various activities and engineering staff worked with them to design the lighting system to be more flexible for different activities. The multipurpose room is now providing improved use for the community, Lahiff says.

Lahiff says the city will be seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for all new building construction. The Amway Center achieved a LEED Gold rating in 2010. The city has also joined the Department of Energy’s Better Building Challenge Program. Lahiff says, “So far, we are tracking 18% savings over our entire portfolio.” De Bug Web

More in Building Automation