Connect Your Data To Unlock Opportunities

The data to enable you to control building environments is out there. You need to link it up to bring it in and use it. ENGIE's Head of Smart Buildings Operations, Richard Chant, helps to make the connection.

Creating smart buildings that control and regulate their energy and operational systems to provide comfortable, efficient, high-performance environments is the ultimate objective for energy and facilities managers today. However, before any attempt can be made to introduce smart building operations or to achieve any degree of smart building control, you need data. Most importantly, you need connected data.


What do we mean by connected data?

All buildings contain systems, technology and sensors that generate data. This can include data on utility consumption, building management systems, space utilisation, weather conditions, access control, room bookings, production output, air quality and much more. The meters or sensors that collect this data are usually discrete from each other. They produce data in isolation on a specific element of building performance or operation.

The first step towards creating a smart building is to connect all of this data. It first needs to be normalised into a structured format and brought together onto a single platform for objective analysis. Analysing this data will enable you to better understand the relationships between different activities in your building. You will be able to see how data in one area is influenced by activities in another area. For example, the relationship between room occupancy and air quality to optimise ventilation rates and therefore better manage energy consumption and comfort conditions.


Why is connected data important?

Connecting your data and analysing it on a single platform provides a whole host of insights and benefits that can help you to optimise resources, save time and money, increase operational efficiency and reduce environmental impacts.

Firstly, it allows you to see whether assets are working in harmony or in conflict. Resolving these conflicts through control improvements and timing adjustments can quickly achieve significant savings.

By monitoring data from key assets such as air-handling units, pumps, chillers and other mechanical and electrical equipment, you can ensure maintenance and servicing interventions are timed appropriately and efficiently. So, for example, rather than simply changing air filters every month, you can do so when the data indicates that they need to be changed. Similarly, if any fault is identified, engineers can be directed straight to the problem with an indication of the type of fault, so that interventions can be targeted more accurately and effectively. These insights into the condition and efficiency of your assets help to optimise engineering and maintenance resources, and ensure servicing decisions are based on facts about the condition of your equipment. Data monitoring can also minimise the impact of inefficient equipment operation, by quickly identifying when inefficiencies or faults occur and enabling rapid rectification.

In a recent example from one of our own clients, we introduced a change to a building control strategy which achieved 18% energy savings. Soon afterwards, data analysis showed that the control strategy had reverted to its original settings, which we were able to rectify quickly. Without data monitoring this could easily have been missed, resulting in the savings being rapidly eroded.

Having accurate, integrated data is also essential to provide the evidence for effective business cases, which are required for any investment in new plant, equipment or systems. Once investments or operational changes are made, the same data can be used to immediately demonstrate the impact. Real-time data can also help you to fine tune and adapt any changes to achieve optimum efficiencies. Over the longer term, the data can be used to measure and report on your return on investment.

Beyond energy and operational efficiency, connected data can help to improve the comfort and quality of the environment provided to occupants of a building. Smart buildings are ones in which the health and well-being of people is managed alongside operational and energy efficiency. That means monitoring and controlling air quality, space utilisation, room occupancy and other factors that affect the comfort and performance of building users.


How do we connect data?

Data from the diverse systems and sensors on your site needs to be transmitted to a central data analysis tool, via data acquisition hardware and software. Once the data is validated it is transmitted remotely to the analytics tool. Here, machine-learning algorithms are applied to the data to effectively model patterns of usage and behaviour, so that opportunities for improvements can be identified. This intelligent analytics technology needs to be combined with the knowledge and expertise of energy and facilities specialists who can provide advice, guidance and recommended actions based on accurate data analysis.


Consider your objectives

Of course, the purpose of collecting data to create smarter buildings is to help organisations achieve their specific objectives. Data cannot be summoned on demand, without the necessary technology and sensors in the right places to gather it. The objectives for building management will vary for different types of organisation. Each organisation will need to consider the data pre-requisites for achieving their objectives. For example, hospital buildings may need to comply with reporting requirements on air quality. To gather the data required, sensors will need to be fitted in the right places to measure air exchange rates and air quality. The positioning of these will need to be determined by specialists and the equipment installed before any data can be gathered for analysis.


Data is the critical enabler for smart buildings

It is clear that connected data is the critical enabler for effective smart building operations. By connecting data via a single intelligent analytics portal, buildings can be managed more efficiently and effectively to achieve cost, resource and time savings, and to extend asset life. What’s more, data analysis will ensure that anomalies or inefficiencies are detected quickly, so that appropriate actions are taken to rectify them.

Connecting data via a single portal also enables central reporting of all building performance indicators – giving your organization a single version of the truth. It enables you to make informed decisions based on accurate data, so that operational changes and capital investments can be implemented effectively based on a clear understanding of how your building works.

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