The Evolution of Building Automation Systems (BAS)

The Evolution of Building Automation Systems (BAS)

By Kevin Callahan

Building managers owe thanks to a Dutch inventor of the 1600s. Cornelius Drebbel found a better way to keep eggs warm and hatch them into baby chicks. Building automation systems (BAS) trace back to his incubator thermostat.

In the past century, building controls advanced rapidly. From the 1950s to 1990s alone, they evolved from pneumatics to electronics to open protocols like BACnet.

Now, BAS can save $0.20 to $0.40 in energy costs per sq. ft., reports the Metropolitan Energy Policy Coalition. For a 200,000 sq. ft. building, that means up to $80,000 yearly savings.

BAS are getting more powerful and easy to use all the time. Key features and benefits to look for this year include BAS software, control modules and wall sensors are set forth below.

Software
As users connect to a BAS via software, a quality program will help owners get the most from their buildings.

The best software offers an intuitive, 3D graphical interface. Clear schematics let users interact with the system their first time out. This saves on training costs and time.

With online connections, some programs provide the power to monitor and control facilities from anywhere, at any time. Remote operation reduces crew time in the field. Facility managers can also resolve problems faster for building occupants.

One BAS introduced this year offers HTML 5 – the latest format. With this capability, users can access the system on a wide range of desktop computers and tablets, without third-party plug-ins.

Dan Abel, director of engineering for the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, describes how software helps his facility save money. “Once we put the load-shedding in, I can review the past year and find out how many days and the exact times I went over our demand. I can show quantifiable savings,” he said.

Control module
The control module is the central brains of a BAS. Many controllers rely on the industry standard BACnet protocol. Some of the many systems BACnet integrates are:

  • Heating and cooling
  • Lighting
  • Security
  • Access control
  • Fire and life safety
  • Elevators and escalators

For simpler monitoring and control of building systems, one controller available in 2014 will combine BACnet capability with Tridium’s Niagara Framework. Such open protocols also offer the ability to expand the BAS as facility needs change and new technologies arise. Dan Abel is a fan of flexibility. “I’ve worked with systems that are proprietary, and you are simply restricted in expansion capabilities,” he said. “When I work with vendors, the first question I ask is, ‘Is your system BACnet compatible?’”

The benefits of a powerful control module go beyond cost savings from managing building systems. A properly equipped BAS can also assist with tenant billing for leased spaces. The result is more accurate billing and better tracking of rent revenues.

Wall sensors
For building occupants, wall sensors are their touch point to the BAS. In 2014, look for sleek, attractive sensor designs. One new “microset” will have a simple touch interface like today’s easy-to-use smart phones. Its easy-to-interpret icons enable building occupants to understand at-a-glance multiple environmental readings and building systems status. Displayed data can include room and outside air temperatures, relative humidity and CO2 levels. Color LED lights on the unit’s bottom will show occupants from across the room if the equipment is in heating or cooling mode.
 

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