As we talk about defining a smart building, our approach from a design point of view has been, what problems are we solving with this? If we buy technology just for the sake of it, it’s just a wasted investment in many ways. We start by understanding what problems are we solving. And having done this work for 20 plus years now, we’ve been asking our clients, what are your top problems? What are the top challenges that you’re solving?
Outside of not having enough money to operate their facilities, these are some of the examples that they give us: too much data, not enough information. It feels like in many instances that we are swimming in data lake, but all we are seeking is information.
Staff is retiring and we are not replacing the level of experience that is moving away from our facilities. The constant goal for doing more with less is still there. We are designing complex buildings. A lot of times we are not able to translate their them into high-performance operations because of the complexity of the systems that we are designing to meet our clients’ goals for sustainability or energy code requirement and some amongst others. Once we understand the challenge, we can then use the definition of a smart building, unique to that particular client to solve that. Traditionally, a smart building definition from an outcomes point of view has been centered around three things. And the top three things in this list here. Energy efficiency, operational efficiency and that’s doing more with less and user experience. Those are the traditional goals outcomes that we would try to achieve through a smart building strategy.
However, what we’ve been finding is, especially with a smart building and campuses that have been around for several years, the data that we’re collecting from them is able to drive operations, drive design and financial outcome for doing that it’s tremendous. It’s quantified by a few of our clients. We’ve written some papers and that topic. And in many cases, it outweighs the traditional goals of how we had defined a smart building for them.
To give you one quick example, one of our health care clients was expanding one of their areas in an existing building and the consulting engineer wanted to add a new air handling unit equipment. However, the client had eight years of data to show that some of the existing units could serve the space and had plenty of capacity. Having that luxury or assurance of eight years of data helped us prevent adding and investing. In this case, spending that money to buy equipment and the money to operate it further wouldn’t have been investment.
At the same time, defining a smart building can be looked at from different perspectives. For a technician, smart building may mean something different. For example, they are inundated with hot calls, cold calls, problems that they are supposed to fix. They need solutions. For them, a potential definition of a smart building could be answers to solving the problems that they’re facing energy manager, for example, for them, they may want tools from their smart building that could predict the energy consumption and using whether other factors, such as occupancy that would give them more opportunities to manage their demand and to reduce their demand charge. They could look at disparate fuel mix if they have that option and have some algorithms in place that could help them optimize the fuel mix that they had in place to use.
From a facility manager’s perspective, the definition of a smart building could be financially driven. They are responsible for cost of operation, cost of expansion. One example is we were working on a control’s retrofit project and we had an architecture put in place that allowed for a multiple bid environment instead of sole sourcing. And that helped save money from a first point of view. The facility manager’s perspective could include financial as well as getting some of their newer folks trained and good to go. Again, to summarize a definition of a smart building could be based on outcomes, could be based on disparate perspectives, but as long as we are solving problems and measuring some outcomes, smart building strategies are very valid investments.
Industry expert Sanjyot V. Bhusari, PE, CEM, LEED AP, Principal, Intelligent Buildings Practice Leader, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Gainesville, Florida, discusses smart building design and problems they solve. This transcript is from a May 2020 webcast and has been edited for clarity.