The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a more common phrase. But, that doesn’t mean it’s commonly understood.

According to Paul Rauker, vice president of systems and controls for Daikin Applied, “The Internet of Things describes a scenario where everyday objects are connecting to the Internet to allow the sharing of data.”

These everyday objects include everything from light bulbs to HVAC equipment and systems. When these devices are connected to each other and to the Internet, the resulting communication and data will help enable buildings to operate at peak efficiency.

But a significant shift in thinking is required to understand and take advantage of IoT capabilities.

“Today, most people think of the Internet as a way to connect computers, smart phones, and people. The Internet of Things is about using that same basic technology to connect things to each other,” explained Dave Robin, senior research engineer at Automated Logic, which is part of United Technologies Corp.’s Building and Industrial Systems unit.

Jim Schwartz, director, products, Johnson Controls Inc., also said that understanding the IoT involves a change in mindset.

“The Internet was made by people for people,” Schwartz said. “But, now, it has become the Internet of Things. Experts predict in a few years there could be 100 billion devices — actual physical things — connected to the Web. Some of these devices are online today. More — many more — are coming soon.

“In the IoT, devices equipped with sensors, hardware, and software are networked together through the Internet, where they can communicate with one another, machine to machine. Intelligent devices are changing the way we eat, drive, communicate, receive medical care, light our cities, and consume energy.”

What’s Different About the IoT?

HVAC systems in commercial buildings are already connected via building automation systems (BAS). So, how is the IoT different? According to Robin, the IoT entails a shift to more open communication and connection between all devices and systems within a building.

“HVAC systems are already made up of many ‘things.’ But, from a connectivity perspective, those things are almost always ‘owned’ by some bigger thing that tends to contain them,” he said. “For example, a sensor is owned by a controller. If another system wants to access that sensor, it would have to ask the controller — and that might not work. The Internet of Things is all about freeing little things like sensors to communicate to every other thing out there. This can lead to sharing of input-oriented things like occupancy sensors, outdoor air sensors, and solar radiation sensors, as examples.”

Robin elaborated on this by illustrating how the IoT could impact the occupancy sensors in a building.

“Right now, the HVAC, lighting, and security systems in a building may all have their own, independent occupancy sensors. Under the Internet of Things, those systems could all rely on one set of occupancy sensors. And, while the occupancy sensors are connected, the fire control panel in the building lobby may also want to communicate with them, to notify responders to where there are people in the building if there’s an emergency,” he said.

Raj Hiremath, director of marketing, ClimateMaster Inc., further explained how the IoT differs from the conventional approach to BAS.

“In the past, HVAC systems have been integrated together within the building using protocols like BACnet and LON. They have been expensive to install and maintain and, generally, have not provided convenience of access and control to the system over the Internet,” he said. “IoT, when implemented correctly, allows lower first-cost networking of the units and monitor-control-diagnose units over the Internet, a convenience not cost-effectively available today. It also potentially allows for remote commissioning, further reducing first cost.”

In addition to lowered first costs, Hiremath noted the IoT also enables lower ongoing maintenance and repair costs. For example, he said, IoT-enabled buildings can alert facility managers with early warnings of abnormal equipment operation and allow for remote diagnosis and adjustment of units.

Dane Taival, vice president of building services for Trane, a brand of Ingersoll Rand, expanded on this concept. Taival shared an example of how money can be saved through the IoT’s early identification of broken systems.

“Take the example of using outdoor air for cooling when the conditions are appropriate. A broken damper linkage can cause that control strategy to not operate, and the building owner pays for the problem with increased energy costs,” Taival said. “Without IoT, the broken linkage needs to be physically seen in order to have the potential problem diagnosed. With IoT applied to the HVAC system, data can be collected to see the problem within minutes of it occurring, and the repair can be made before the energy costs dramatically increase or before a maintenance person observes the failed component.”

What’s Driving the IoT?

So, why is the IoT suddenly so hot? As technology has continued to evolve and improve, it has enabled this shift toward connecting all items in a building, according to Robin. “This ability to start thinking about ‘putting a light bulb on the Internet’ has really been brought about in two ways: reduced cost of small, but capable, computers; and standards organizations creating reduced-bandwidth requirements for communicating across the Internet,” he said.

Taival agreed that continued cost reductions in connectivity and data storage are making the IoT possible. He also pointed to other larger trends that are driving the adoption of the IoT, including big data analysis, cloud computing, mobile access, and sustainability.

Rauker added that the energy savings made possible by the IoT are propelling this trend forward.

“Today, utilities are rebating for high-efficiency equipment, and the expectation is that equipment will maintain this high level of efficiency for the life of the equipment. By using intelligent systems and extracting energy data, we’re able to allow the utility to understand that we’re maintaining that equipment that they’ve given a rebate on,” he said.

What’s Slowing the IoT Down?

Despite the positive trends that are driving the adoption of the IoT, there are challenges ahead. According to Robin, integrating all of the systems and devices in a building into an Internet Protocol (IP) network will not happen overnight.

“There are still facilities where the IT folks don’t want the building equipment on their network. IP-based phones have paved the way, but there will still be some resistance based on the scale of what the Internet of Things will mean for most existing IT infrastructures,” he said.

Robin added: “An additional challenge is the management of security because one of the goals of the Internet of Things is to allow the ‘things’ to all talk to each other. Of course, this means more opportunities for that ‘talk’ to go wrong, either by accident or intention.”

He noted that the Internet Engineering Task Force, a nonprofit open standards organization, and others in the industry are “working earnestly on solving these issues, but that work is still ongoing.”

Taival added that getting older legacy systems to “talk” with the new IoT also poses difficulties.

“While it is certainly possible, integration has the potential to be time consuming, complex, and expensive,” he said.

Additionally, Taival noted, there are many challenges associated with adapting newer technology to buildings. Electronics have a much shorter life cycle than HVAC assets and buildings, he said, so building owners and contractors must take this into consideration as they seek to find long-term IoT solutions.

The overwhelming amount of data generated by the IoT will also be a challenge contractors and owners must find a way to manage. According to Rauker, big data poses a great challenge — and a great opportunity.

“Smart buildings tend to use the data and information available within the building,” he said. “We believe the greatest opportunity is with intelligent buildings where one understands not only how it’s operating, but how it’s operating in comparison to other like buildings, within the grid and for the owners and occupants of those buildings.”

Yet, he noted, “Creating actionable recommendations from such huge amounts of data require new concepts for managing information.”

What Lies Ahead?

Ultimately, connecting all the devices and systems within a building through the IoT will be a game changer for the industry, Rauker said.

“It is transforming the commercial HVAC industry and enabling new business models to the point that many well-established companies will reconsider what business they are in,” he said. “Companies like Daikin Applied, known for the manufacturing of HVAC equipment for commercial applications, will expand their footprints into the controls and ‘software as a service’ markets.”

Contractors, too, will face changes to their business models as they help clients set up and maintain IoT-connected buildings.

“Technicians will change their service models from a reactive to a preventive service model,” Rauker said. “They will be armed with real-time 24/7 actionable data so they can quickly adjust inefficient systems.”

Schwartz also said the shift to the IoT will redefine the industry.

“When everything works to-gether, everything works better, more efficiently, and lasts longer than ever before,” he said. “And it doesn’t stop with making buildings more efficient because the IoT makes us humans work better and more efficiently, too.”

SIDEBAR: Preparing for the IoT

According to Dane Taival, vice president of building services for Trane, commercial HVAC contractors can prepare for the IoT shift by taking the following steps: Become more familiar with underlying building automation technologies; become more tech savvy in the areas of Internet connectivity, data and access security, etc.; evaluate the various technology companies with products and services that enable remote connectivity to buildings and value added services; and survey the wide variety of HVAC-related apps that are available to keep current and be able to provide advice to clients.

Publication date: 12/15/2014

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