OPC: Standardizing Integration of Security and Energy Management

Oct. 14, 2010
OPC Standards Play a Major Role in Accessing and Integrating Energy Management Data
By Eric Murphy, columnist

Energy is the largest controllable operating expense in a building, and smart companies are looking to control it more securely and effectively. This includes industrial processes, building automation, data centers and network systems. These companies understand that all the components of energy and security are actually data--data that once historized and analyzed becomes information for making better business decisions. OPC standards play a major role in accessing and integrating this data.

OPC Brings Systems Together

Building, energy and security management are not new concepts. However, historically manufacturers would build silo systems, such as lighting, heating, elevator operations, card access, video surveillance, biometrics, all in different systems. The real value emerges once all systems are pulled together under a common platform. Many organizations are putting intelligent infrastructure networks in place that enable them to add systems to make their operations more efficient. The key to integrating these systems, including security and energy management, is the adoption of open standards such as OPC.

Integration offers Benefits

Having an integrated approach to building management and security makes both of these critical systems easier to manage and more cost-effective to own. Each system gains power and functionality by being part of a total approach to managing operations.

Integrating security and building management offers many benefits. For example: 

  • Appropriate temperatures, lighting and security levels can be set based on who enters or leaves areas or integrated security detectors. When there is an intrusion alarm, the building controls system can turn on the lights in the affected areas;
  • Window contacts can be used for security and energy management purposes. They provide security monitoring during off-hours and for zone control of heating, ventilation and cooling during business hours, improving energy management and increasing user comfort.
  • The access control data can be historized and analyzed to model building use, adjust occupancy and set points accordingly.

OPC Standardizes Connectivity and Security

Building automation systems and security applications have a wide range of proprietary protocols, plus several common interfaces such as BACnet, LonWorks, KNX, SNMP and Modbus.  OPC servers are available from trusted OPC vendors for all these protocols and more. They provide connectivity to OPC- based advanced applications, such as decision support systems, historical analysis, process optimizations and other added-value systems.  OPC specifications such as OPC Security 1.0, OPC Xi and OPC UA give vendors the ability to provide layers of security to OPC communication products through the use of identifying credentials. These security credentials provide access control to data in a similar manner as credentials used for building access. With each credential, a level of user authorization is assigned. For example, in addition to general building access, an assigned credential can be used for elevator control. Depending on the holder's level of authorization, he may have access to only certain floors. Using secure OPC products, the same credential could be used to identify different process operators and control which data is available to them or who is able to make critical control adjustments. If required, the credential can provide traceability of historical actions for auditing purposes. Some OPC vendors even provide the ability to configure user access on a per data item level, enabling full granularity for security and building control.

OPC Enables Integration

The ability to combine building management and security resources with one integrated solution is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative for organizations that want to reduce their costs and at the same time improve security and usability. This is especially true as companies form more relationships with partners, outsourcing companies and others with whom they need to securely share physical assets and data resources. In these circumstances, managing access becomes more complex, driving the need for an effective, secure, streamlined solution. OPC enables such solutions by providing secure, standardized communications.