Energy Manager

COLUMN – Defining Smart Buildings – a moving target

September 7, 2012 - The rapid evolution and expectation of what is a smart building continues to unfold. This 2008 definition holds a good general definition of the elements of and sets the base for what you might expect to find as part of a smart building.

September 7, 2012  By  Ken Sinclair

“The use of networked technology, embedded within architecture to monitor and control elements of the architecture for exchange of information between users, systems and buildings.”

But each of our articles since then explores new ways to add to a building’s smartness and of course the ability of what can be done has been greatly amplified by the cloud. We now understand that with the power of the cloud comes growing concern about security and our September issue has some great discussions about that as well.

In addition to buildings being smart they must also be part of several active connection communities to keep connected so they can keep getting smarter.

Get comfortable with your favourite digital device and give this column a read and increase your understanding in defining what you think a smart building is and could be.


Our lead article speaks to combining real and static data in a smarter interaction:
Integrating Asset Management and Analytics Delivers Smarter Buildings – John Petze of SkyFoundry, Harshad Shah of Eagle Technology

There are many terms that float around that don’t have a clear definition, and one of those terms is “Smart Buildings”. Just because a building has a Building Management System (BMS) doesn’t mean that building is “smart”. A smart building is a high functioning building where technology and human interface combine data and actions to keep occupants and building owners comfortable and productive at the lowest possible cost.

Buildings contain a lot of systems, including HVAC, security, plumbing, fire alarm, and lighting systems to name a few. These systems generate a tremendous amount of data which can be stored in an asset management system to enable it to be used to improve overall operations. An asset management system is a repository for all of the information related to the assets of a building, from boilers to water fountains. Work order histories, preventive maintenance schedules, and vendor data are just some of the data contained in an asset management system.

Smart buildings use the data in an asset management system to drive improved performance. For example, this information can be used to automatically schedule a preventive maintenance activity for an asset based on a number of run hours. Similarly, alarms or abnormal conditions detected by the BMS can trigger a work order automatically from within the asset management system. Truly intelligent buildings go beyond responding to simple “out-of-state” or limit-based conditions or runtime notifications to actually look at patterns and correlations in the data from the various systems. For example, intelligent buildings combine real-time data from energy meters, heating and cooling systems, etc. to identify operational issues that represent inefficiency and waste. This is called “Analytics”.

This article explains how smart buildings can make the electrical grid smarter:
Why Make Smart Buildings Smart Grid Compatible – Allan McHale of Memoori

Over the last 20 years many billions of dollars have been invested throughout the world in making commercial and industrial buildings energy efficient. Much of this has been spent on more efficient HVAC hardware and further improving efficiency through DDC control systems. Initially the driver was to reduce operating costs through minimising energy consumption but making the building environment more comfortable and more recently legislation to meet new standards have been active drivers. The Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) that are now installed provide the interface with Smart Grid to deliver further energy cost reductions through Smart Grid load management programs that can reduce operational costs for both the utility companies and building owners. The rationale for interfacing demand and supply goes much further because without it the primary goal for Smart Grid to play a major role in reducing CO2 emissions in the low carbon economy of the 21st century cannot be achieved. But to make this market move forward there also has to be a commercial gain and a viable return on the investment.

This article gives us insight on how to create a smarter building:
Eight Smart Building System Integration Tips – Jim Sinopoli & Andres Szmulewicz of Smart Buildings

Building system integration has potential benefits for enhanced functionality and automation as well as more focused and meaningful information to monitor and manage building performance. The origin of system integration or interfacing started with fire systems triggering reactions from other related building systems; HVAC, access control, elevators, etc. Today system integration includes all of the control systems in a building, but also encompasses facility management systems, business systems, and eventually utility grids. Despite where the industry is now and moving towards, there seems to be precious little in the way of structured education or training for the implementation of building system integration (we’re working on it). So much of what we learn is through the process or experience of integrating systems: actively being involved in system integration projects exposes the real life integration issues with data, clients, the client’s contractors, the BAS network, etc. Collectively the industry has many “lessons learned”, and by acknowledging and sharing these lessons, the industry benefits. What follows are a few experiences, perspectives and contributions to the effort.

And the article closes with

Building systems integration continues to demonstrate a significant impact on building life cycle cost, primarily impacting operations and energy consumption. As the process for implementing integration projects continues to develop and improve, and as buildings become more complex, Owners and facility management will more readily adopt the integrated approach. With that will be a rise in structured education for system integration as well as enhanced solutions.

Defining and creating smart buildings will continue to be a moving target, but if we understand what has been achieved to date, plus how we can increase the intelligence utilizing all our available tools we can all help provide the definition of our latest smart building.

Ken Sinclair is the publisher of and can be reached at

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