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    Intelligent buildings: a magic wand for sustainability and efficiency?

    Geraldine Chua

    Even if statistics don’t typically get your blood racing, those surrounding so-called ‘intelligent buildings’ are remarkable.

    According to a report by Technavio in December 2016, the global Integrated Building Management Systems (BMS) market is expected to record a global compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.47 percent between 2017 and 2021. Meanwhile, a more recent and related analysis predicts the Global Home Energy Management Systems market will grow from $1.12 billion in 2016 to $2.64 billion in 2021. Simply put, that’s a CAGR rate of 19 percent over five years.

    Impressive as the forecasts may be, the Australian building and property industry still has a way to go to reach a future in which BMS is the norm rather than the exception. For many projects, sophisticated building and automation systems remain an afterthought in the design process instead of a clear priority.

    “Australia is not pioneering the evolution of BMS, but it isn’t behind on the uptake either,” Azheem Haseeb, from Siemens’ Building Technologies division, notes.

    “All major or infrastructure buildings will have a building management system, such as hospitals, where the BMS ensures specific temperature requirements are met, areas are properly pressurised and bacteria doesn’t spread.”

    “You can’t do those things manually.”

    Building automation and management systems, however, are less commonplace and may even be resisted in middle- or lower-tier buildings. In these instances, owners may not see the financial benefits of installing a piece of software or system that comes with a hefty price tag.

    It is also often the case to have a legacy asset ill-equipped to for BMS installation. In these cases, building owners don’t even consider implementing control systems until the building falls apart.

    BMS: A WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT?

    The BMS goes by many names – Building Automation Systems (BAS), Building Controls, and Building Management and Control Systems (BMCS). No matter which acronym you prefer, these all refer to “smart” controller networks installed to monitor and manage a building’s technical systems and services.

    Today’s available solutions have evolved from the earliest versions introduced 20 to 30 years ago. Since the thermostat – the basic building control system in the 80’s – current systems have digitised, and many are now Web-enabled and based on open communication protocols. These are the key to smart buildings. As Schneider Electric puts it, “buildings need a brain to intelligently control the many systems and thousands of data points they can generate. Building management systems provide that brain.”

    From air conditioning and ventilation, to lifts, fire control, and lighting, BMS is capable of integrating individual building equipment into one single front-end interface. This offers several operational and sustainability benefits for building developers, managers and occupants.

    “When a building has been completed, the impact of its structure on its energy consumption performance is normally fixed until refurbishment occurs,” explains a 2010 Building Management Systems paper from the Australian government.

    “Base Building and Tenant Light and Power energy consumption can, however, be increased or decreased by the performance of both building systems and tenants.”

    In a simplistic model, this may look like scheduling times for building services and equipment to be turned on and off based on when spaces are occupied and in use.  A more complex way of understanding the benefits of BMS lies in the actual control strategies in place: by monitoring real-time conditions and recording trends, BMS can help management identify energy-intensity improvement opportunities.

    For example, it is standard practice today for building teams and consultants to calculate fresh air delivery requirements based on the maximum number of people a space can hold. A well-operated and strategised BMS can minimise loads where there is no demand by stemming the flow of fresh air when there are less people in a space, and increasing it when there are more occupants.

    “Why should we be delivering space conditioning for 100 people when we only have 30 people in a room?” Haseeb rightly asks.

    Apart from maximising operational efficiency and providing occupants with more comfortable work and living spaces, an automated management and control system allows building managers and owners to be more ‘proactive’ with their projects. Instead of having to play ‘catch-up’ when a system fails or something goes wrong, managers can now be automatically notified of any faults, therefore minimising downtime. Some automation systems can even organise an automated changeover whenever a system or equipment fails.

    “A correctly configured BMS with an adequate number of correctly located monitoring points is the only way a building manager can be quickly alerted to problems which could otherwise remain undetected until annual inspections or external audits are undertaken,” the 2010 government paper points out.

    By giving managers the information they need to rectify issues through consultation or engineering solutions, maintenance and capital costs of equipment and systems may be reduced. Avoiding or delaying equipment replacement and upgrades also means less embedded energy will be consumed down the road.

    CASE STUDY: MUSEUMS VICTORIA GOES GREEN WITH BMS

    MELBOURNE-MUSEUM_DENTONCORKERMARSHALL.jpg
    Image: Denton Corker Marshall

    Australia’s largest public museum organisation has entered into an innovative energy partnership with Siemens to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35 per cent, electricity costs by 32 per cent, and water usage by six per cent.

    The new energy management program – financed in part by the Victorian government – includes the installation of a new BMS to ensure energy, heating and lighting are all used more efficiently.

    MELBOURNE-MUSEUM-VISITMELBOURNE.jpg
    Image: Visit Melbourne 

    Siemens is currently rolling out the Desigo CC, its latest building management and control solution, at both Melbourne Museum and the Immigration Museum. This software component sits across the BMS and integrates with security and fire systems to create a holistic control centre on one platform.

    Part of the control strategy employed at these buildings is ventilation demand control optimisation and an optimised chiller plant strategy. Within this system, heating and cooling plants are managed so that they are not fighting each other. Another component of Siemens’ strategy is ensuring all space condition requirements are met and don’t drift – a critical component in facilities that house some of the largest exhibitions in Australia.

    A MAGIC WAND SOLUTION?

    The danger of playing up the virute of BMS is that it may promote the false belief that smart systems are a sustainability ‘cure’ for buildings. It is important to remember that building management systems are only as good as the way they are operated and maintained. Implementing the wrong strategy will negate the effects of even the most sophisticated system.

    “Building owners first need to know how they want to control the facility – what is critical infrastructure, and what isn’t,” Haseeb cautions.

    “Rather than having a consultant write the spec and strategy for your BMS, clients should work directly with their BMS providers, who will know the latest and greatest control strategies and know how to adapt them to the needs of each building.”

    BMS tuning is also critical to ensuring that equipment operates in a stable, predictable and repeatable manner. Then there is BMS optimisation, which focuses on operating the equipment in the most energy-efficient manner without affecting controlled variables.

    System maintenance is another factor that building owners and managers must take into consideration. All critical components should be identified and checked at regular intervals, and any strategies put in place should continually be updated according to the needs of a building.

    CASE STUDY: HINDMARSH SHIRE COUNCIL CORPORATE OFFICES

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    Image: Hindmarsh Shire Council 

    The award-winning Hindmarsh Shire Council Corporate Offices by K20 Architecture is a great example of how building monitoring systems may be used to promote sustainability.

    “The purpose of the system was to raise awareness of the building’s ability to minimise energy and water consumption, as well as [to] provide information about the low levels of contaminants […] otherwise typically found in office buildings,” the project architects explain.

    Completed in 2014, the Hindmarsh Council Offices use 60 per cent less electricity than the building they replaced – this, despite the fact the new offices are twice the size.

    The BMS installed at Hindmarsh highlights the project’s ESD innovations. For instance, its high-performing air displacement system. The building draws in fresh air from the exterior – the temperature of which is naturally regulated by the earth – which is then redistributed throughout the building via plenums and air displacement floor grills.

    Not only does this system reduce the heating and cooling loads of the building, it also enables fresh air supply. This is a major contributor to enhanced internal work environments and productivity, and is delivered directly to occupants.

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