Energy Manager

COLUMN – To Journey To Achieve “Automatically Smart”

September 6, 2013 - Lots of focus on the term “Smart Buildings” and what that might mean. Albert Einstein gives us good advice: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

September 6, 2013  By  Ken Sinclair

He goes on “creativity is intelligence having fun” and “imagination is more import than knowledge”, and my personal favourite, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

We need to think differently.

Our contributing editor Jim Sinopoli states: The “Defining a Smart Building” topic will probably end up being five to six articles; I’m trying to put some details around the abstraction of a smart building.

Yikes, five to six articles around the abstraction? This means defining “Smart Building” is huge or is a true smart building an automatic interaction with all we know?

Allan McHale, a regular contributor, states:
It can be achieved by interfacing smart buildings with the present “Smart Grid” and provide demand response and distributed energy capability through a combination of using advanced Buildings Energy Management Systems (BEMS) and Enterprise Energy Management Systems (EEM).

As an industry we need to evolve smarter; so that we are “Automatically Smart”, and include whatever the definition of smart and our interaction with all that is smart includes.

Understanding the abstraction and major components of smart is our new mission and is committed to helping you understand it well enough that you can explain smart building simply.. with Albert’s help we will all think differently… “smarter”.

In Jim’s second article, Defining a Smart Building: Part Two, he states;

We set forth to define a smart building by addressing the second group of smart building attributes: system integration, AV and water. Let’s start with system integration, which is one of the most important and fundamental parts of a smart building.

System Integration
System integration can have a significant impact on building operations and operational costs. Integration starts with the notion that building monitoring or control systems are really communication devices and that there is commonality in what looks like disparate building systems. Communications systems have components or “layers” that provide the functionality to get data from one place to another. There are opportunities to integrate systems on different “layers” or components of building systems. In the initial article of defining a smart building, we addressed the physical layer of a network and how cable and related pathways can be converged or integrated for multiple systems, resulting in efficiency in installation and reduction of capital costs and time. If you take a look at the other lower layers of a network you find similar opportunities; at the physical layer almost all the systems can use standard telecom cable, at the data link level its Ethernet, at the network layer it’s IP, and at the transport layer its TCP.

When considering long term operations, buildings can benefit from system integration by functionally linking two different building systems. This provides capabilities that neither system could do by itself. If the integration involves normalizing and standardizing multiple system databases that can be shared and analyzed, the benefit is a foundation for developing insightful building metrics and eventually better building management.

Allan McHale, of Memmori, provides this insight to his definition of smart and its market, The Global Market for Smart Building (BEMS) to Smart Grid Software Interfaces:

This has been practiced for some time but until recently only on a semi-automated basis. However as our report ( shows fully automated systems have only just started to get off the ground, despite the fact that the technical potential demand over the next 20 years amounts to $30 billion and could reach $1.7 billion by 2017.

This is therefore a sizeable business but is made much more attractive by the fact that by far the biggest component is the latent potential waiting to be realized in existing Smart Building stock. It may be a smaller market than Smart Grid but it delivers a solution now, to a problem that has to be solved. It does not have to wait for Smart Grid to be in place or Smart Buildings to have incorporated a fully comprehensive EEM.

By far the biggest share of this business will be spent by the owners and operators of Smart Buildings and this puts the BEMS companies in pole position followed by ESCO’s. These companies include Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Schneider, Siemens and ABB. They are the world’s leading suppliers across both businesses and the last four are also leading international suppliers of Smart Grid products and services. They are in daily contact with the owners of Smart Buildings who are existing clients both through installing their BEMS and also taking their ESCO service. This gives them a massive heritage estate to work on.

In this column, Is Your Building Smart Like Your Phone?, Andy McMillan, of BACnet International, provides this wisdom:

Smart Buildings
It seems to me that much of the current perspective on Smart Buildings is not ambitious enough. Many things promoted as part of “Smart Buildings” today would be akin to calling the first phone with downloadable ringtones a Smart Phone. The Smart Phone was a radical shift from traditional cell phones. So we need to think radically to get to a Smart Buildings concept, too. Several technologies are coming together in building controls that will drive truly radical change. LED lighting is one, wireless communications is a second and cloud-based applications and services is a third. Think about a world where every light source is a sensor and information node in a distributed network; where you have detailed geospatial information on temperature, occupancy, light and activity with a granular level of a couple of square meters; where all of that information is gathered and stored and analyzed with virtually unlimited computing resources;  where that processed information can be fed back to every light node to impact light intensity and colour temperature; and where any information can be encoded in the visible light emitted from those light nodes and thus accessible to any device or sensor with line-of-sight; and where anyone can design an app that aggregates, utilizes, leverages, builds on and/or rides along with that information in either direction. That is where the infrastructure will be in ten years. That will be the platform for Smart Buildings.

Of course the platform for Smart Buildings is not the end game, but just the starting point. There are presumably a lot of applications that can be deployed on the coming platform and many have already been conceptualized and even prototyped. In fact, I have met people who believe we have already thought of most of the relevant applications. But history would say that our imagination falls far short of the innovation potential of the “crowd.” So what exactly will a Smart Building look like? Well, even if I knew the answer I don’t suppose I would just publish it in this column. But I will say that I am confident it will start with ubiquitous connectivity and open innovation platforms and that it will roll out in conjunction with the rapid deployment of next generation LED lighting technology… and it will be industry-changing.

As you can see we have a journey ahead of us to achieve “Automatically Smart” but to achieve it we must start to think differently now.

Ken Sinclair is the publisher of and can be reached at

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