Facilities Management (Managing Assets)

IoT, Energy and Effectiveness

There is a lot being written currently about IoT (Internet of Things), including by me. It holds the promise of a future that will make the operation and management of buildings, and in fact the built environment in general, more effective. IoT is not just about energy management and conservation, however. A report published by Washington State University and E3T in 2014 identifies at least 20 types of “functions” that could be candidates for IoT. As one might expect, it includes detection points that could enable energy management, such as blind controls, electrical management, demand response, general lighting and more. That list also includes functions like fire detection and extinguishing, vertical transportation management, parking management, time and attendance, surveillance, A/V and security and more.

Critical thinking of the potential application of all that distributed control begs the investigation of several potential challenges.

Questions to Consider

What is the specific application: residential, industrial or commercial? Even though we work in a higher education environment, some of our campuses will have facilities that fit into any one or a combination of these classifications. Each one of these presents a specific situation that will mandate unique levels of attention. (Source: Echelon IIoT white paper: “Requirements for the Industrial Internet of Things,” 2013)

Is the individual application stand-alone, reporting to/through the cloud, or is it peer-to-peer, where each node is programmed to communicate with another node — without having to communicate through a host computer? An example that immediately comes to mind is the relationship between a chiller system and related cooling towers. In general today, that relationship is managed through a BAS, which may in turn may require the frequent involvement of a vendor to perform the essential programming and associated system maintenance.

Is a backup or some level of redundancy required? Can the nodes operate without relying on a programmed client server, or is that the primary backup resource for managing essential functions?

The nodes themselves are quite inexpensive, sometimes only a few dollars each. The installation, in most cases, is also not costprohibitive. Making sure that they continually provide the functions required of them can be significantly more of a challenge. To quote the above-referenced white paper: “…the consequences for communications failures are much worse...due to the investment returns expected from flawless operation.” In many situations, late or missing signals from one of these devices can lead to untenable results.

Applications for Our Campuses

Although the preceding comments apply to an industrial environment, I can certainly see them applying to some of our campus facilities. Hospitals, sophisticated research buildings and even sports arenas could be equally deserving of such advanced technologies. Think of climate control in an operating room, for instance, or a clean room. It is likely that we will be required to adapt to the introduction of IoT technologies into future projects. That thought leads me to ponder these questions.

How will the requirement for IoT in a new facility affect our ability to obtain effective (retro-, re-) commissioning of that facility? How effective will commissioning be if its success rate remains at today’s levels?

Will we have, develop or recruit the quality of staff needed to be able to manage and operate IoT systems at the level to which they were designed, to continue to meet/exceed design requirements?

Will many of us need to rely on outside expertise for system O&M?

This daunting prospect now knocking on our doors will require us to re-examine the way we manage our organizations. It will also require us to re-examine how our budgets are established. As this technology enhances the performance of building systems, will it impact our operating budgets?

In answer to that question, I need only think back to when rudimentary building automation systems were first made available. In our case, we were able to reduce the number of “technicians” that roamed the campus with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver, but instead we had to employ more costly staff. The institution realized a notable reduction in energy consumption (the benefit of which fell on one type of budget), with a proportionate increase in operating costs associated with the maintenance of more sophisticated technologies.

It is said that the latest form of an old technology is always superior to the initial form of a new technology… We need to know how deep that pool is before we plunge in.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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