The mechanical system that controls heating, ventilation and air conditioning consumes roughly 40 percent of the energy used in an average commercial building. Maintenance ensures this equipment operates properly and at its peak efficiency, an essential part of any successful building management strategy.
But without constant attention, HVAC systems can cost more to run and increasingly put building owners and managers at risk for expensive downtime, emergency repairs and uncomfortable occupants. Remote monitoring not only tracks the performance of HVAC equipment but also provides insights critical to troubleshoot issues before they become costly burdens.
Stream of information
A traditional building management system (BMS) accesses a limited set of data points to control mechanical and electrical equipment; however, the ability to embed software and sensors in physical objects and create a network of connected devices and data exchanges (also known as the Internet of Things) has enabled building managers to achieve greater value and service with their HVAC hardware.
“The biggest piece of the opportunity is getting access to all of the information and data,” says Paul Rauker, vice president of systems and controls for Daikin Applied, which produces commercial HVAC systems. “A traditional BMS would access 50 to 60 points of data simplistically to manage a building, [but] what we’ve done is accessed all 4,000 BACnet points within the equipment.”
These intelligent monitoring systems extract real-time information from HVAC hardware and send all of the data to the cloud, where software programs run analytics, algorithms and logic to formulate recommendations. An interface presents the suggested actions to building managers and service personnel regardless of their physical location.
“You can see more information on your tablet, phone or laptop than you could standing in front of the equipment,” Rauker says. “We’re enabling service individuals so they get an instantaneous notification when there’s an issue. They can go online and look at everything from discharge air temperature to energy usage.”
Ease of use
Usability remains a key consideration for remote HVAC monitoring technology because many buildings do not have a full-time engineer to oversee operations. In fact, about 20 percent of structures in the market for building controls — extremely large facilities such as a stadium, campus or corporate headquarters — requires professional supervision, Rauker says.
“Those programs by design are very complex, and they’re essentially run by engineers,” he says. “The 80 percent of buildings that are left, which are typically 50,000 square feet or less, they’re not going to have or want a full-time engineer trying to get everything to work in the right way.”
A simple interface ensures building managers and service personnel without an engineering background can interpret the information correctly. The monitoring system notifies users when HVAC equipment breaks down, but it also leverages trending data and analytics to deliver an alert if components such as a compressor begin to falter.
“Most large energy management systems have alarms if something malfunctions, and that’s been standard for years,” says Dennis Landsberg, a professional engineer and the president of L&S Energy Services.
“[An intelligent system] sends up a red flag for trends and situations other than crashes that you wouldn’t see unless you were looking for it, or unless you had built a dashboard on your energy management system to watch for it,” he adds.
Tons of possibilities
Remote monitoring quantifies HVAC data to building managers so they know when their equipment performs effectively and how much money they lose once the system fails to operate efficiently. The capability to retrieve real-time analytics also allows building managers to move away from a time-based maintenance model.
“We’re able to tell you when service needs to be done based on how your equipment is running,” Rauker says. “So you can avoid unnecessary service if you don’t need it, and your equipment is running efficiently.”
A detailed record of HVAC performance becomes even more valuable in determining the total energy consumption of a building. Many major U.S. cities now require building owners to track, verify and report their energy usage so municipalities can benchmark their consumption against other similar properties.
“You’re reaching a point where if you sell a large building, you have to disclose how efficient the building is to the buyer,” Landsberg says. “That’s going to impact the value of the building. If you’re not watching how the building is using energy over time, you’re not going to have an efficient building.”
Points of optimization
Building managers who do their homework and understand the environment they want to provide increase the benefits of remote HVAC monitoring.
The comfort index, a standard developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) that assesses a person's satisfaction with the thermal environment, assists in reaching a desired balance of temperature and humidity.
“The [HVAC] equipment can then determine [a comfort point] for you and execute what it needs to do to maintain that level of temperature and humidity in the most efficient way possible,” Rauker says. “Having that specificity gives you a solid baseline.”
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