By Eric Murphy, ControlGlobal.com Columnist
The key part of the term Building Information Technology (BIT) is information, and how it is used in optimization and energy savings. Often when OPC is used in reference to building automation or management systems, it is in terms of being a protocol. OPC and OPC UA offer the potential for much more. OPC provides the advantages of standardized data connectivity among many isolated systems, and industry-proven applications to turn that data into information, and hence into cost and energy savings.
Building IT is more than HVAC
All too often people think of building systems as just HVAC systems, but a truly integrated system covers much more. Modern building management monitors and operates all technical facilities: heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, security and surveillance, lighting, fire and safety systems and other equipment. Managing these data sources ensures optimal building performance by enabling control of building systems in an integrated manner. Fully integrating the enterprise also involves information from the systems within the building: plant-floor manufacturing systems, energy and power monitoring equipment, utility operations and industrial control systems. There is a symbiotic relationship between the systems controlling the environment, and the people and systems contained within it. Integration of the systems is needed to fully realize optimization possibilities.
What’s the impact?
There have been numerous studies on the benefits of integration of building systems. Recurring conclusions include improved monitoring, alarming, diagnostics and initial troubleshooting, as well as lower maintenance costs, optimized energy usage and improved safety and security measures.
In the current world of high oil prices, political instability, and concerns on climate change the key benefits are those associated with energy savings. What is the potential in this area? The following is an excerpt from the testimony of the American Institute of Architects President RK Stewart, FAIA, before the Subcommittee on Energy of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources1 on the issue of energy efficiency in buildings.
“According to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, buildings and their construction are responsible for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions produced in the U.S. every year.“
An essential part of reducing emissions is optimizing the way energy is used today, and building systems are a signification portion of overall energy consumption. In order to improve the use of existing systems, timely access to data is required to determine how best to control energy usage. Ultimately it’s all about connecting the assets in the enterprise. There is a lot of overlap between managing building systems and controlling industrial automation systems, and therefore much in common with the energy usage solutions.
OPC provides the ways and the means
In the industrial automation world, OPC has long been recognized and utilized for providing standardized, real-time data access to disparate systems. Industrial processes and manufacturing sites produce tremendous amounts of real-time data, which requires transformation into useful information. In terms of using OPC to connect systems, building controls, HVAC, lighting and security devices are all assets as well. As with other industry verticals, building automation systems have a wide range of proprietary protocols, as well as several emerging common interfaces such as BACnet, LonWorks® and Modbus. OPC servers are available for all these protocols, and provide connectivity to OPC-based advanced applications, such as decision support systems, historical analysis, process optimizations, energy calculations and other high-level information processing systems. Getting the raw data into the system is the first step in translating data into energy savings. Simplified access to real-time data and enterprise connectivity enables applications to provide optimizations such as:
- Centralized management systems for maintenance and energy monitoring.
- Historical data analysis of peak demand usage and optimizations of utility costs.
- Unified data processing and troubleshooting of real-time systems.
- Standardized connectivity to cross-platform and multiple-vendor products.
OPC UA – Next evolution in transforming data into information
Currently OPC can provide the standard for collecting and presenting real-time information from various building systems. Truly powerful systems integration will require higher-level abstraction of building automation data, and presentation in a format that simplifies communications with other systems. OPC UA can standardize the integration of existing facility management systems, building automaton systems and business management applications to perform the complex task of enterprise energy management. Such solutions allow organizations to use existing systems to document, track and control the use of energy. OPC UA provides a rich information model and standardized messaging which will provide interoperability between the various event processing and automated analysis applications. As a service-based technology, OPC UA provides a truly open and systematic method for monitoring and controlling energy consumption and for coordinating the use of energy-consuming equipment.
Go for the green
System integration means more ‘green’ in terms of economic savings, as well as the obvious energy usage and environmental impacts. Organizations can use OPC to integrate real-time and historic energy information into existing business applications to improve the balance between people, infrastructure, facilities and their overall impact on the enterprise energy usage bottom line. In order to truly manage energy needs and combat greenhouse gas emissions, a balanced portfolio of remedies is needed, including a focus on energy efficiency in building systems.
 The American Institute of Architects, Statement of RK Stewart, President. “Energy Efficient Federal Buildings” before the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on energy.
Eric Murphy, BSc, PEng (Alberta), is a chemical engineer with a process control specialization and an OPC expert. Eric has been a part of the OPC community since its early beginnings in the mid-1990s. He is heavily involved with the OPC Foundation and currently acts as the chair for the OPC Historical Data Access (HDA) working group. Eric is also a member of the OPC Technical Steering Committee (TSC) and an active member of the OPC Unified Architecture (UA) working group. Visit Eric at his Blog, the OPC Exchange, to follow the latest trends and discussions about OPC technology, or click here for free downloads.