Intelligent Buildings (Facility Systems and Efficiency)

Data-Driven Facility Management

The operational data from control and equipment systems have become a valuable resource. A resource that, when used effectively, can reduce energy and maintenance costs, and enhance overall operational efficiency and occupant satisfaction. Access to building system data is only the first step, however. In order to derive benefit from our data we need to be able to efficiently analyze it to find issues of importance to our facilities. The rapid advances in analytics software provides a powerful tool that can produce dramatic results for facility managers.

Deriving Value From Operational Data

If facility staffs had the time, resources, expertise, and tools to study every piece of data produced by their building systems every minute of the day, they would find numerous opportunities to improve performance. Manually analyzing all of our operational data is simply not viable, however, so we need tools to help us. Analytics is that tool.

The concept behind analytics is actually very simple: to detect patterns that represent things that matter. Analytics software applies rules and algorithms to the data coming from meters, building control systems, sensors, and other equipment to identify patterns that represent issues, faults, deviations, and trends—all of which present opportunities for savings and improved performance.

Some real-world examples of issues detected by analytics include:

  • Buildings where occupancy schedules are manually overridden.
  • Buildings starting too early or running too late.
  • Broken sensors that cause energy waste. Think of a broken pressure sensor that causes a variable air volume system to always operate at maximum airflow. Everyone in the building will likely be comfortable, but this condition will waste a huge amount of energy.
  • Improper temperature reset strategies, or missing temperature deadbands, resulting in energy waste, equipment cycling, and comfort issues.
  • Economizers that stay open when they should be closed (or stay closed when they should be open), resulting in energy waste.
  • Degradation of heating and cooling performance. Think of loss of temperature drop across a coil. It may be possible to maintain space temperatures on a mild day, but that may not be possible when weather conditions become severe.
  • Simultaneous heating and cooling due to defective valves, dampers, sensors, or improper control sequences.
  • Energy consumption anomalies and demand peaks which could be avoided with changes to operating procedures or control sequences if they were visible and fully understood.

Impacts to Life-Cycle Operating Costs

By detecting issues in a timely and consistent manner, analytics enables facility staffs to take action, reduce costs, set priorities, and plan and justify expenditures.

When we design and implement building systems we take our best understanding of those systems and implement control sequences based on design data, specification requirements, and other information available at the time. This leaves a number of important questions:

  • Are the control sequences doing the “right” things?
  • Were the assumptions correct?
  • Are systems still running as expected? Have they been interfered with or overridden by operators?
  • Have sensors or other equipment degraded over time?

Answering these questions effectively, consistently, and reliably is a challenge. Facilities are too complex for this to be done solely by humans. There are too many devices and too much data.

Making Analytic Results Clear and Actionable

One of the most important benefits of analytics is in the “data visualization” they provide. Analytics software goes beyond simply identifying issues to automatically generating informative displays and reports that clearly show performance patterns, issues, costs, correlations and, in many cases, the root cause and recommended actions. These visualizations enable technicians to minimize the time and expense needed to research and resolve the issues.

Virtually all buildings—old and new—have operational issues. The wealth of data produced by modern automation systems, equipment systems, meters, and a new generation of IoT devices, combined with the power of analytics software, enables owners and operators to identify opportunities to enhance performance and validate investments in energy savings measures, and know how their facilities are really operating.

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

John Petze is a partner in SkyFoundry (https://skyfoundry.com). John has over 30 years of experience in building automation, energy management, and M2M.

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