Systems integration the key to green buildings, experts say

To achieve real energy efficiency and higher performance in federal buildings, officials need to integrate all of the systems that control or affect the day-to-day operations of their buildings into the enterprise network for better visibility and for better communications between devices, industry experts say.

Connected buildings will lead to smarter, greener buildings, whether they are older edifices being retrofitted or newly designed buildings, according experts attending the "Designing Government Buildings for the 21st Century” event held in Washington on Dec. 9.

“As of now, buildings are 'dumb,' ” said Shannon Sentman, board member of the U.S. Green Building Council, National Capitol Region Chapter. Currently, they exist as concrete and wires with nothing being connected, he said.

“People don’t know about energy use until they get their power bill at the end of the month,” Sentman said. This is not a viable way to manage energy usage, especially since buildings account for about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption, experts said.

Moreover, the federal government has mandated a ZeroNet Building Strategy in which the goal of federal building managers is to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030.

With presidential Executive Order 13514, the Obama administration is looking at an integrated approach to achieve energy efficiency, focusing on the environment, energy and economics, Sentman said.

The way to make buildings smarter is to focus on technology, he said, adding that there is technology to automate and monitor systems within a building, as well as across multiple buildings.

All systems can be bundled into a common set; it starts with the network that runs the building, said Darryl Benson, global solutions manager with Panduit Corp., a company that develops technology that connects, manages and automates communications, computing, power, control and security systems.

Most systems fall into five categories: communications, computing, control, power and security, Benson said. Panduit’s approach, which is called unified physical infrastructure, starts with how systems are physically connected to one another and how they drive the information that is going to enable them to communicate, Benson said.

Typically, whether managers are retrofitting a building or constructing a new one, they are adding six to 12 types of server devices to run and manage the lighting, cooling, power and/or security systems. And in most cases these various systems do not communicate with one another.

To align systems so they can become smarter, IT and facilities managers must adopt open standards and technology, converge the physical and logical networks, and normalize and manage data, Benson said.

As a result, technology such as power-over-Ethernet is emerging as a key vehicle for distributing local electricity to devices. For example, if an organization is putting in copper cable to connect the network, it can distribute power and data over the same cable, he said.

Convergence of systems not only helps them run more efficiently but also allows for better communication, said John Schlabach, solutions business development manager with Cisco Systems.

For instance, let's assume a facilities manager sees a reading on a meter in a building in Wichita, Kan., that indicates a spike in energy. If he has access to information coming from heating/ventilation/air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and sees that somebody has changed the set points on the energy rating in that building -- causing the energy spike -- he has the information to not only see what happened but to take action.

Cisco has partnered with Panduit and others to provide technology that lets users deploy power-over-Ethernet to change how they are using power in their organizations, he said.

Tridium, a developer of the Niagara software framework, is also working with Cisco and Panduit to automate operations and make buildings smarter. Niagara normalizes the data and behavior of diverse devices, regardless of manufacturer or communication protocol, to enable the implementation of seamless, Internet-connected, web-based systems.

Tridium software has been deployed in Panduit’s new headquarters in Tinley Park, Ill., slated to open in about three months. However, the General Services Administration has deployed the software in three older buildings in Chicago, said Marc Petock, global marketing and communications vice president with Tridium.

GSA officials wanted a centralized facility management system that anyone with authorized credentials could access. The buildings have 14 different manufacturers’ products, five different contractors, three different network management tools, two building automation packages and myriad cooling and power devices, Petock noted.

By deploying Tridium software, GSA now has an intelligent connected infrastructure and is saving 10 to 15 percent on energy consumption, maintenance has been cut by a third and the agency has increased the performance of all systems, Petock noted.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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