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(This article was originally published in ISHRAE Journal (May-June 2022 edition)

Building Management Systems (BMS) have been in place for almost three decades, performing automation of equipment in buildings. However, this space has seen major innovation over the years and better products and systems have been introduced to augment the capabilities. Over the last few years, several new IoT technologies have emerged, leading to modular, low cost, intelligent and cloud-connected systems that can leverage large volumes of data collected from within the buildings. It delivers next-generation IoT powered automation in a wireless, and cost-effective manner.

Beyond being technologically advanced, IoT powered automation opens new opportunities from business development perspective. IoT powered wireless connectivity, enables the building operators to deploy the automation in a staged manner. This allows investment in smaller installments. Building owners can reap the benefits from initial investments and based on their experience decide to expand further. Retrofitting such an automation in an already operational building is also very easy, further allowing the decision of automation to be taken in stages rather than whole investment being done upfront. With cloud connectivity, new business models are emerging allowing the vendors to deeply engage with the customer, giving greater value and enabling a sustained recurring revenue stream from the customer too. Beyond the end customer, IoT powered automation is enabling the OEMs to connect the assets that they otherwise used to sell with little or no clue of how they are being operated. Data from these assets are giving the OEMs real time view into how the assets are being operated upon, provide valuable inputs on where to do improvements for the next generation of products and also allow them to build a service-oriented recurring model on top of one-time sale of assets. Before going deep-dive into the differences between IoT and BMS, let’s first understand the basics of IoT.

What is Internet of Things (IoT) & how does it work?

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a system of interrelated, internet-connected devices that are able to collect and transfer data and/or perform control actions over a network without human intervention. A complete IoT system usually has five aspects – sensors/actuators, connectivity, data processing, user interface and closed loop actuation/ticketing.

  1. Sensors/Actuators: These are the physical devices that can collect data and/or that can act as per instructions. A very basic example of a sensor can be a temperature sensor that collects and sends the temperature data of an area. Similarly, a thermostat is an actuator that can control an air conditioner.
  2. Connectivity: The devices either directly connect to the cloud (and hence have in-built IP communication such as Ethernet/WiFi/Cellular) or connect with an on-site gateway over wired (e.g. Modbus/BACnet) or wireless (e.g. Zigbee, OpenThread) protocols and the gateway then connects to internet with its own IP communication.
  3. Data Processing: The data sent to the cloud is then processed to make sense of it. It can be as simple as processing the temperature data collected from the sensors to check whether it’s in the compiance range or not.
  4. Dashboard: The processed data is then presented on dashboard that is used by a user. It provides centralized visibility & can be used to take corrective actions. Now, what happens if the ambient temperature of an area is not in the permissible range? Such an anomaly can lead to automated closed loop action either in the form of a ticket that also gets displayed on the dashboard or a closed loop control as explained next.
  5. Closed loop actuation: It involves intelligent and automated response of devices to the changes in environmental characteristics. As an example, actuating the control of lighting based on motion in a space.

It’s safe to say that IoT is going to have its root in almost every aspect of our lives and businesses, if not already. The abundant scope of IoT applications is the reason enough. Let’s explore the IoT interventions in the HVAC systems and their applications with respective benefits.

How IoT is making HVAC energy efficient?

Within the building itself, HVAC systems have always been dubbed “energy guzzler” for obvious reasons. Also, the energy demand in HVAC systems is constantly rising. It is also contributing to high electricity costs. The HVAC industry is now looking for ways to increase its energy efficiency and provide solutions for its customers to better monitor and control their energy consumption in buildings. As a result, the concept of smart HVAC was introduced, and it has now evolved even further with the advent of IoT. HVAC systems have advanced beyond simple thermostat programming to include a variety of sensors. These systems now collect a wide variety of sensor information, deliver the same to the cloud, process it to derive insights and automated control rules eventually resulting in energy savings and optimal occupant comfort through automation, predictive maintenance, digital ticketing workflows, and remote asset monitoring. With IoT intervention in your HVAC systems, you can save up to 10% on your energy costs while increasing occupant comfort.

Applications of IoT in HVAC

While there has been a lot of talk about NetZero and Energy Sustainability Goals, the reality is that many organizations struggle to achieve their aggressive sustainability goals. Moreover, we also know that buildings consume ~40% of global energy consumption, and within a building, the HVAC system alone accounts for ~60% of energy consumption. This makes the HVAC systems accountable for ~25% of global energy consumption, which is a significant share and a matter of concern. Therefore, it becomes vital for organizations to monitor & automate their HVAC systems to reduce their energy consumption by ~20% & hence achieve their sustainability goals by contributing to a significant reduction of ~5% in global energy consumption.

IoT in HVAC

Let’s discuss a few applications of deploying IoT powered solutions on your HVAC systems:

1. Automation of HVAC operations

HVAC systems are energy-intensive as they contribute massively to overall building energy consumption. Outdated HVAC systems cannot offer the expected air quality in today’s environment. Additionally, they add to the excessive energy consumption that leaves a deteriorating environmental impact. IoT is capable of automating HVAC operations using multiple IoT sensors, that collect data from various data points, including ambient temperature, humidity, air quality; chiller’s return & leaving water temperature etc. This data is then communicated via a gateway to the cloud. Collected data on the cloud side is then processed to derive actionable insights that either result in a ticket being created or a control action that is delivered back to the devices such as VFDs, Valve cards and Relays (retrofitted at several points of an existing HVAC system) as instructions. These devices then apply these instructions to modulate various HVAC system components like the chilled water valve, secondary pump, condenser pump, etc. The complete cycle may seem like a long & complex process but it all happens within seconds without any manual intervention.

Let’s look at a real-world use case: Guest comfort is a concern in places like hotels, as is maximizing business efficiency by avoiding unnecessary costs. As per the process mentioned above, IoT powered HVAC system automatically maintains optimum guest comfort while minimizing unnecessary runtime. For instance, there’s no point in keeping the HVAC running when there’s no occupancy, or when the ideal ambient temperature has been achieved.

2. Predictive maintenance

Nobody wants to be in the position of a hotel owner whose HVAC system fails on a hot summer day. That’s why maintenance of such key equipment is critical to ensure that the operation of such equipment and the value/services derived from these operations remain uninterrupted.
Traditional maintenance or preventive maintenance is where equipment services are done based on reactive indicators like when a piece of equipment has stopped working, or time-based indicators like when a certain period has elapsed. A much more effective approach is predictive maintenance, which is a proactive approach. As the name implies, it predicts when a piece of equipment needs maintenance work to prevent unexpected equipment failure. It relies on parameters like the actual condition of assets and equipment rather than a time-based or reactive approach.

IoT interventions in HVAC system allows for such smart maintenance. It uses a variety of sensors such as vibration sensor (measuring the change in vibration characteristics as the equipment’s operation deteriorates) or energy meters (that analyze voltage unbalance and power factor anomalies) keep an eye out for early fault detection. In case of any abnormalities, the maintenance team is alerted via digital ticketing workflows with the exact problem in the system to be rectified & who is responsible for solving it. It’s a very powerful technique as it results in a seamless experience for the occupants, no sudden surprises for the hotel management, better return on your equipment investment, and overall reduced cost to your business.

3. Remote HVAC (Asset) monitoring

The “User Interface” aspect of IoT technology allows you to have centralized visibility throughout your property’s assets at a single platform which can be accessed via your smartphone or laptop. Dynamic and automated asset monitoring systems provide real-time data and visibility into operating status. This enables your staff to respond rapidly to critical situations. It manages operational efficiency, monitors electrical parameters, and keeps track of assets from anywhere, at any time, on any device.

Rather than developing multiple databases, an IoT solution creates a centralized, cloud-based environment that allows for automated data collection, updating, and maintenance on a single platform. Now you and your team have the time and capacity to evaluate the quality of operational processes, eliminate waste, and avoid unexpected equipment failure to keep a cost-effective system running. This is how asset management with IoT yields the best outcomes. Now, let’s understand the key architectural differences between IoT & BMS.

Architectural differences between BMS and IoT powered automation

BMS enables sensing and control of core operational systems within a facility. It also, to an extent, enables the management to optimize the building performance from a control room. But when IoT enters the building systems, the optimization takes place on a much larger scale than BMS. Instead of local control room, data is saved on cloud and building can be monitored and controlled remotely from anywhere from the world, while keeping the same security levels that your banking transactions involve.

BMS centrally controls and monitors the building equipment such as ventilation, lighting, power systems, fire systems, security systems, etc. In the context of large buildings, the value which BMS provides is “simplified management of numerous building equipment”. And that’s what it’s limited to and because of which, a lot of opportunities like energy savings, remote asset management, smart maintenance, etc. are lost.

Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a system of interrelated, internet-connected objects that can collect and transfer data over a network without human intervention. With respect to BMS, the interconnectivity of hardware and software via the internet is a major leap in technological advancement. IoT has opened a new horizon of possibilities & advantages.

Comprehensive BMS vs ROI based IoT system

Difference between IoT and BMS

The 80-20 rule to improve!

The 80-20 rule states that 20% intervention by IoT-based automation will bring 80% of the benefits in terms of energy savings. Then why should we spend our time and money on the remaining 80% of the interventions which is done by the comprehensive BMS contributing to just 20% of the benefits?

For instance, IoT’s intervention in the low side of the HVAC system enables modulation of variable frequency drives (VFDs) & chilled water valves, and scheduling & duty cycling of the AHUs based on the temperature sensor. On the high side, it enables modulation of the chiller and the secondary pump based on leaving water temperature (LWT) and pressure sensors, respectively. Both low & high side interventions are done to cut down unnecessary runtime of HVAC equipment to save energy while maintaining the optimum ambient environment for the occupants. This HVAC intervention will result in up to 20% energy savings (~80% of the benefits with only ~20% intervention). Other use cases like ventilation control, monitoring of lifts, fire-alarm etc. fall in the remaining 80% category which can be taken up based on specific interests and in a phased manner given the wireless connectivity in the IoT based systems.

Are there any security threats in IoT powered automation?

With wireless technology now being used in nearly every business, it goes without saying that hackers are always on the lookout for methods to breach your security and steal your confidential data. But the question is, what would someone gain by taking the energy and temperature data from your building? Practically speaking, there is no benefit to putting forth the effort. Also, why wouldn’t someone who is technically capable, try to steal your bank data rather than your building’s? Furthermore, today’s solution designers are already aware of such vulnerabilities and are addressing data security concerns. As a result, if you can trust your bank for online transactions, there’s no reason to be concerned about the data security of your building.

IoT powered automation Security

When it comes to control actions, several ways ensure that the security is appropriately addressed in the control actions being performed. These include:

  1. Any real time or critical control action is acted upon on-site through the closed loop control acting on the device (rather than being controlled from cloud) with enough security checks in place (to ensure that the control does not happen beyond the acceptable limits)
  2. Cloud communication is typical done over a secured channel (using HTTPs or MQTTs). An additional layer of security is often added by performing this communication on a private VPN.
  3. Appropriate authentications are put in place such that only genuine devices become part of the network.

Unleashing the Power of data by leveraging IoT powered automation system

Data is only used in a limited way by traditional BMS systems. The data collected from various systems are isolated and difficult to integrate. Hence, it’s difficult to get a holistic view of the property’s operational efficiency. Moreover, data analytics, if any, is performed manually as these systems were designed to gather data only for purposes of automating operations, not for performance optimization. Manually conducting such an analysis takes time and expertise—things most facilities teams lack. Therefore, much of the data goes to waste.

IoT powered automation, on the other hand, makes data collection and analysis simple and cost-effective. These systems enable remote monitoring of data, collect data from disparate sources together, and analyze the data for actionable insights. This enables building managers to respond to changing situations and keep costs under control in a more fluid and agile manner.

1. Greater savings can be achieved by measuring data on a more granular level.

By setting up IoT sensors into all the building’s equipment, you can measure the characteristics of your building in greater details than ever possible. All the traditional sensors (those connecting over standard Modbus or MBus etc.) can still flow into the IoT powered automation systems. Additionally, battery powered wireless sensors allow BMS to measure the efficacy of HVAC operation in occupied areas, even in a retrofit manner, without affecting the aesthetics of the area. This can uncover real comfort levels of building occupant rather than using a common return air temperature as a proxy (as is commonly done in the BMS today)

2. Integration of external data for a customized overview

Integration with external data is possible with IoT. As an example, business metrics can be integrated to give hotel owners a better understanding of their energy consumption like energy consumed per occupied room per night. This is vital business insight. Moreover, this principle also extends to capturing external data for better asset optimization & cost-cutting. For instance, weather data can be integrated with HVAC operational data to assist in strategizing strategies to cut operating expenses, like cutting power for HVAC more frequently on a cold day or controlling ventilation of the building areas based on the occupancy of respective areas.

3. Automated control & smart maintenance of building assets

IoT solutions include advanced software that leverages machine learning to detect exceptions, anomalies, or aberrant behavior in the performance of building assets. Such optimizations lead to equipment & assets functioning at their peak efficiency, ensuring that you get the most out of your investment.

4. Roadmap to net-zero emissions

Commitment to achieving net-zero is the right action to combat climate change. Businesses play a vital role in the fight against climate change with focused sustainability and increased regulatory requirements. Carbon emissions are considered as one of the major contributors to climate change. Therefore, there is a need for solutions that can reduce overall carbon emissions. The technology that tops the list is The Internet of Things (IoT). It has become a vital part of our everyday lives. From smart buildings to driverless cars, IoT sensors and devices takes the building connectivity to the most efficient and optimized level.

The IoT-powered solutions can detect and adjust for changes in energy consumption, providing numerous green and sustainable benefits. It can constructively optimize the performance of zero-carbon buildings by improving the flow of people, energy, goods, and information.

How IoT powered automation works

Real World Use-Cases of IoT powered automation for Buildings

1. Centralized Dashboard

The customized dashboard allows you to monitor and analyze data exactly the way you want-from any device. With this customized approach to data analysis, you can visually represent the data in a way that makes sense for your business, so that you can make smart decisions quicker than ever before.

Centralized Dashboard for remote asset management in IoT powered automation system

2. Integrating Business Metrics

Energy consumption is a substantial cost of conducting business in the hotel industry. Hotel operators can monitor and maintain a good variable cost ratio by measuring energy use and comparing it to room occupancy data. This allows them to maximise earnings and gain competitive advantages.

Integrating business metrics for energy efficiency

3. Electrical Health and Energy Compliance

IoT based BMS system allows you to monitor, improve and enhance the electrical health of critical assets. Keeping a close eye on your assets and their electrical health allows you to be energy compliant and anticipate & resolve issues before they become a major problem.

Electrical health and energy compliance

In a nutshell, traditional building management systems are not exactly as good as they could be. Many are built on outdated technology and do not meet the needs of today’s world. IoT-based automation is a quintessential alternative to such outdated systems, as it integrates real-time data to help you make smarter business decisions. Businesses that can take advantage of this technology will surely reap its benefits.