The goal of a high-performance building is to optimize its performance and energy use at all times, in all conditions. And, trends in smart controls and system integration are making this goal more achievable than ever before.

“I’m seeing a tremendous amount of advancement in high-performance buildings,” said Marc Petock, vice president, marketing, Lynxspring Inc. “Technologies and solutions have matured to enable facility optimization through the convergence of information technology, operational technology, and building automation.”

Advanced Detection and Analytics

Today’s high-performance buildings are increasingly relying on smart controls to detect faults and predict problems before they occur.

“Fault detection and diagnostics and predictive analysis are not new,” said Petock. “They’ve been around for several years. What is new is the increased use of them.”

He explained, the trend of taking advantage of fault detection and analytic capabilities is being driven in part by corporate and operational executives who are gaining interest in their buildings’ energy consumption metrics.

According to Kevin Callahan, product owner and evangelist, Alerton: “A well-equipped building automation system provides the analysis, fault detection, and diagnostics that inform building owners or operators on where systems are underperforming, over-performing, or not performing. Pinpointing these faults early helps reduce energy costs and equipment wear-and-tear.”

Going beyond this, advanced systems can even allow for attaching a monetary value to fault detection, Callahan said.

“This enables the control system to prioritize the response, which enables facilities personnel to focus on those faults that have the biggest negative impact to system operations and budgets,” he explained.

As an example, Callahan cited a school district in Arkansas that uses a building automation system (BAS) to monitor food and beverage freezers and coolers in all of its schools.

“The system sets off an alarm if temperatures begin to go out of range, which enables the facility staff to take prompt action to prevent costly and wasteful spoilage,” he said.

Trevor Palmer, vice president, products and marketing, Distech Controls Inc., noted advanced fault detection can be used for both simple and more complex approaches to energy optimization.

“Advanced fault detection can be used to actively optimize energy usage through data analytic options with pre-determined rule sets. A basic example of this would be for a building management system to be programmed so as to not allow both heating and air conditioning to run at the same time. The BMS would, as a rule, prevent such a scenario from happening and would raise an alarm should an issue arise,” he explained.

Another way to optimize energy usage, Palmer pointed out, is to implement demand-response programs that optimize energy usage by avoiding peak demand.

“At times identified as having peak demand, load shedding within a commercial building would adjust settings to a predetermined energy-efficient mode,” he said.

The IoT Effect

Another driver behind the advances in high-performance buildings is the trend toward connecting everyday objects to each other and to the Internet, referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). Smart, Internet-enabled objects ranging from light bulbs to HVAC equipment are being connected to the Internet so that they can communicate and share data with each other.

According to Palmer, high-performance buildings are already being impacted by the shift toward IoT.

“There is a definitive move toward convergence and the Internet of Things,” he said. “The industry is increasingly leveraging IT infrastructure to deliver a building management system. By converging building management systems with IT infrastructures onto a single backbone, we are able to minimize the impact on the building envelope, reduce installation costs, and deliver additional benefits and services for truly connected real estate.”

Plus, he noted, the IoT trend is changing the level of interaction occupants have previously had with their building management system.

“This trend is strongly contributing to making BMS [building management systems] a part of occupants’ everyday lives,” Palmer said.

Challenges Remain

Yet, even as the technology progresses, challenges remain for high-performance building projects. One common challenge is that building owners and operators still do not fully grasp the value of a high-performance building. According to Petock, contractors must communicate the value propositions to the end users.

And, not only do contractors need to educate their clients, but they also need to educate themselves. “Gone are the days where an integrator’s sole focus is that of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning,” Palmer said. “The industry now asks that these same professionals be well versed in areas such as lighting, blinds, and access control. In addition, these HVAC contractors are also largely expected to go beyond the traditional building management system to understanding and offering solutions that converge with the IT infrastructure of a building. The best way to overcome this challenge is through increased departmental coordination as well as the appropriate skill development. Training sessions and webinars are dynamic, cost-effective ways to keep contractors up to date on the latest trends and technologies that impact work on high-performance building projects.”

Despite the challenges, there is tremendous potential for contractors who are willing to invest in training and get involved in high-performance projects.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in building retrofits, which typically have a very short payback period, since older buildings are notoriously inefficient for energy use,” Callahan said, adding that large data centers are also presenting opportunities for sophisticated energy management.

Moreover, Petock said the trend toward high performance is expanding beyond commercial office buildings to hospitals, schools, universities, and manufacturing facilities, providing ample opportunities for contractors willing to tackle the challenges in this niche.

Publication date: 2/16/2015

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!