High-efficiency buildings – both new and old – are the future. The Internet of Things (IoT) has arrived in our everyday lives and, with it, in our buildings, too. Integrating elements in buildings into a universal, digital network can save a great deal of energy. Everyday processes inside and outside buildings can thus be efficiently linked together via a central control unit. Intelligent scheduling of the underground in Tokyo, for instance, balances the rush hour, so that pedestrians and vehicles do not cross each other’s paths unnecessarily, thus helping people get to the relevant transport in a relaxed manner.
‘Intelligent buildings’, also called ‘smart buildings’, are equipped with interfaces to other smart buildings and relevant infrastructure, as well as to the ‘smart grid’, i.e. ‘intelligent’ electricity supplies. They are capable of communicating bilaterally via all of these interfaces. The aim is to optimise individual consumption without sacrificing comfort, as well as to stabilise the ‘smart grid’. The focus, here, is also on reducing negative impact on the environment through the various possibilities for energy storage. And it does not matter whether the energy is stored thermally or electrically. The use of flexible electricity tariffs, on-site energy generation and advance forecasts of consumption are further typical features of such a system. ‘Smart’ building automation involves optimisation that is dependent on the number of people in the building itself. Smart buildings also help people find their way around, using new technologies such as an in-house positioning system.
The smaller units involved in smart building automation systems, the ‘smart spaces’, provide office and work spaces, together with the necessary infrastructure, including for example, network, printers, scanners, telephones, digital projectors, consultation rooms, heating, cooling, ventilation and light as required. The focus here is on efficiency. Operators of ‘smart spaces’ are very often contractors who plan, build and run them from the word go. As a result, and contrary to normal planning procedures involving different trades, the various functions such as heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, light and shade, as well as access control are seen – and planned – as part of a complete system. This means that it is possible to adapt the work spaces to the individual requirements of each user and consequently to increase efficiency as a result of a greater sense of well-being.
One widely accepted definition of the IoT talks of a “technical vision for integrating appliances of all kinds into a universal digital network.” According to this, everyday objects will get a unique identifier, with which they can be represented and addressed on the internet. That way, the world of things will be linked to the world of data. As a result, the Internet of Things will demonstrate three properties: it is omni-present, the things that are in it are largely invisible – yet they each behave autonomously.
With all activities concerning smart buildings and the IoT, the security of the investment is a priority. An important feature – to ensure that a smart building remains efficient throughout its entire life cycle – is the monitoring of the building’s data. This is done, first and foremost, through the building services technology itself, but also needs to be checked by experts on a cyclical basis.
As a general rule, buildings are constantly being used for different purposes, extended or modernised. Over a period of several decades, that makes enormous demands on building services engineering. To that extent, the triumph of the IoT does not change the functional requirements, but it does indeed change the technology which yields that functionality.
Open communication protocols
From the many existing communication protocols over the last 25 years, only a few have been constantly updated and developed, so that today they command the largest market shares for non-residential buildings worldwide. What we are now experiencing, as far as IoT is concerned, is that these protocols are being focussed on functions and applications. Pretty well everyone is now involved in bringing things together on the network (transport level), just as happened with smart phones and the internet itself.
In today’s buildings, it is often a problem to get the various trades involved to implement the plan. Although they all wish to use the same network, there is often very little agreement and harmonisation. This will no longer be a possible state of affairs with the IoT and the corresponding IT security that will be required.
Only with joint planning and suitable harmonisation can a smart building actually become ‘smart’ in reality. The services and skills that are necessary are already being specified in specialist working parties and, to a certain extent, worked into the relevant standards.
IT security and semantics
The joint use of the IP infrastructure, as well as joint service provision, makes it possible – and necessary – for operators of buildings, in future, to use the same security solution for all areas of the building’s automation system. This can occur independently of the applications protocol that is used, since the current commonly used data protocols – BACnet, KNX and also Zigbee – now have appropriate set-ups. Even little battery-driven appliances can use the same security solutions. And the result is: end-to-end security from the sensor to the cloud.
In all this, gateways are a state-of-the-art way of linking all the different applications. Such gateways are either stand-alone units or integrated into other appliances. And there will, in principle, be some necessary investment of time and effort involved in keeping such a gateway operational and in maintaining it over a number of years. In the IoT, on the other hand, the linking of the various appliances will be done in the application itself via semantic information. That way, use of data becomes possible, irrespective of the communications protocol.
Building operators will find it easier to keep the technology in their buildings up to date, using this digital network, and thus to ensure that the building remains energy-efficient in the long term. Monitoring and analysis require more sensors, which can, however, be integrated into the existing network and IT security systems where necessary, using wireless and battery-powered units. Digitalisation begins already at the planning stage and on the building site and, through the use of BIM, continues throughout the entire lifecycle of the building.
You can obtain further information on these topics at ISH, the world’s leading trade fair for HVAC and Water, from 11 to 15 March 2019. The issues covered by ‘Smart Building & Spaces, IoT’ can be experienced first-hand at ISH in the Building Forum in Hall 10.3, as well as in the special display: BIM@ISH.