Building Automation

Controls & Automation Solution Summary*

Buildings are complex systems in the guise of static structures. Energy flows through them – in air-conditioning, heating and ventilating systems, water heating, refrigeration, lighting, information and communication systems, security and access systems, fire alarm and evacuation systems, lifts, and appliances.

A building automation system (BAS) is a building´s brain. Equipped with sensors, automation systems are constantly scanning and rebalancing systems for greatest efficiency and effectiveness. Lights switch off when no one´s around, for example, and windows vent to improve air quality and temperature. New buildings can be equipped with BAS from the start; older ones can be retrofitted to incorporate it and reap its benefits.

Owner project requirements for BAS are expanding. It is fueled by growing appreciation of the impact automated systems have on occupants well-being and productivity, as well as energy savings and reduced operations and maintenance costs. Automation systems can help to improve thermal and lighting comfort and indoor air quality, which directly impact occupant satisfaction.

For building operators, BAS makes it easier to see when something is going wrong and to fix it fast. Less work is required when management of all systems is centralised and simplified through automation. BAS can measure and verify key building metrics to ensure and maintain efficiency, which can be compromised by human and other factors. Green buildings can have high efficiency ratings, but they are only efficient if ratings match their actual operation.

Barriers to successful adoption exist. Energy expenditures are typically a small cost driver for businesses, not a place to seek significant savings. Landlord-tenant arrangements are another challenge. When a building`s owner and its occupants are distinct actors, the incentive to maximise efficiency is muted: the former makes decisions about the building`s systems, while the latter bears the cost of energy use. Occupant comfort and health is an aspiration they are more likely to share, given its impact on tenant satisfaction and thus retention.

Building automation systems are one powerful solution for reducing energy. Critically they circumvent individual behaviours such as adjusting thermostats, making a step change in efficiency possible. BAS is becoming increasingly necessary to meet local and national building-efficiency requirements, and as buildings become more complex – with distributed energy generation and storage, exterior shading, switchable glass, and the like – BAS sophistication must also grow.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown. Edited by Paul Hawken. New York Times Bestseller