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Helping to meet zero carbon emission targets through controls integration

Author : Karl Walker, marketing group chair, Building Controls Industry Association

21 October 2019

Buildings use 41% of all the world’s produced energy. That’s 10% more than its nearest rival, industry, and 13% more than all combined forms of transport.

It seems strange, therefore, that the transport industry is strictly regulated regarding emissions and efficiency, yet nothing similar really exists for buildings.

Even the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) doesn’t set a particularly high bar for the energy performance of buildings and, furthermore, only affects the rental sector. However, it is relatively simple to significantly improve the energy efficiency of a building through the effective integration of existing plant and control systems.

The BS EN15232 Standard outlines the methodologies for this and quantifies the resulting energy savings based on the building’s type. Major culprit Lack of integration and poor levels of control have long been identified as a major culprit of wasted energy.

The white paper, “A Review of the Energy Performance Gap and Its Underlying Causes in Non-Domestic Buildings” (, identifies some of the major reasons behind this often-huge energy performance gap.

The paper states: “During building design and construction, often products or changes are value engineered, affecting building performance, while not being fed back to the design team for evaluation against the required performance standard (ZCH, 2014a,b).

These changes can occur due to site constraints, not well thought of integration of design modules, problems with detailing and budget issues…” It goes on to state that: "Good communication and coordination by the contractor are essential to prevent changes in design changes to influence the energy performance.”

It seems ironic that the contractor who should be responsible for this “good communication and coordination” that strives to prevent changes in design that could influence energy performance is often the same person who will “value engineer” essential equipment out of a project that will impact this very same performance.

Of course, “well thought of integration of design modules” is the crux of an effective and efficient building control system; it is fairly certain that any modern building will (hopefully) contain effective controls for its constituent plant and services – such as heating, air conditioning, ventilation and shading – but who is responsible for integrating these controls together and overseeing their effective implementation?

Secondly, are there many people out there who truly understand the requirements for integration? An M&E specification might state that all equipment must have the ability to communicate via a common protocol, perhaps BACnet or Modbus, but will the installer of the heating system really consider what information is needed from his system by, say, the cooling control system? Probably not.

Integration of data

The results of poor integration will invariably be felt by those working in the building and those having to maintain it. For an FM, often the first they know about a problem is when someone complains.

As well as wasting energy, a poorly integrated system impacts upon the comfort of the occupants; a small change made to, say, the heating in one area could have a serious impact on other parts of the building. In this example, a problem caused by a system whose data is not made available to other systems will typically go undetected.

There are plenty of software systems available that can process data from assets and plant and quickly identify – and even predict – problems. The proliferation of network-connectable and IoT-ready devices has resulted in the ability to monitor the performance of nearly every control and sensing item that you might find in a building.

The premium for a digital valve actuator versus a traditional 0-10V controlled one is the matter of a few pounds. Such an actuator might make available the flow and return temperatures, the actual valve position or the estimated percentage of its operational lifetime.

When used as part of an intelligent and integrated system, the data from this device might allow higher level software to make decisions about the efficiency of the controlled process and continually optimise the flow rate. For the FM, problems such as blockages or out-of-range parameters can be instantly flagged-up.

However, capital cost versus lifetime cost and that product’s value to the wider system is probably never considered, with “value engineering” coming into play once again. It need not cost a lot of money to properly integrate a system, but it does require thought and understanding.

This is where the role of a multi-discipline systems integrator or master systems integrator is required. These people do not necessarily need to be involved in the equipment installations themselves; they just need to understand the interconnectivity requirements, coordinate all involved parties and ensure that systems are implemented “as designed”.

Net zero target

With the recent announcement that the UK will eradicate its net contribution to climate change by 2050, the effective use of smart building controls will begin to take on even greater importance.

Investing in smart building technology might have seemed like an experiment for some building managers in the past and something to be abandoned if they felt it was too complicated.

But with the net-zero carbon emissions target in place, as well as the MEES that was brought into play in the UK in April 2018, wasting the technology that can make your building more energy efficient is not a smart move.

For a building management system (BMS) to work most efficiently, all aspects of control must be closely integrated with one another and its decisions should be based on interactions between subsystems.

For example, heating can be interlocked with cooling, or shading can be controlled by sensors that are part of a lighting system; proper integration should guarantee the visibility of data from any device, irrespective of what it is connected to and how it is physically connected, so that it is freely available for use by others.

The equipment selected should also provide the correct physical interface and support open protocols to facilitate integration between systems and subsystems. An open protocol is vital to a successful integrated system as it allows equipment from different manufacturers to communicate with each other.

It also means new technologies can easily be added to the BMS individually, without having to replace an entire system, thus extending the lifecycle of equipment.

Flexibility is key

Where once HVAC was the prime focus of a BMS, flexibility is key for the modern tenant and the buildings they occupy have more systems to integrate.

The services a BMS can offer to its users now goes far beyond just the HVAC; security, lighting and emergency lighting are all “common sense” additions to any smart system, but we can also add a range of modular components to industry-specific environments.

As long as the control platform offers open communication, things like digital signage and audio-visual equipment, prevalent in places such as airports, stations, stadia, museums and theatres, can also be closely integrated.

The opportunities offered by smart technology are seemingly endless and we now have the technology available to allow buildings to become more energy efficient, productive and even fun places to be.

It is how effectively all these systems are integrated that will define how smart a ‘smart’ building really is.

Karl Walker is marketing group chair of the Building Controls Industry Association

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