Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
Bringing the Internet of Things to the Built Environment via Building Systems Integration
The evolution of commercial buildings over the past 100 years may be compared in scale to that of the airplane.
Air-conditioning was first devised for industrial applications in New York in 1902. Over the next 30 years, cooling technology trickled into home and office buildings, allowing higher occupant densities and increased comfort. Fluorescent lighting began to replace incandescent lighting in the 1930s, following the introduction of the first pneumatic control systems used to control basic devices such as space temperature and mechanical actuators in air handlers.
Through the subsequent decades, the building industry made numerous advances, both targeting occupant comfort, reliability, and reduced energy savings. Systems that are now employed include demand controlled ventilation, radiant heating and cooling, and daylight- and occupant-sensing lighting systems. Often, equipment and devices are Internet-connected, allowing for remote activation and the leveraging of cloud-based applications. The precise control of these systems has been enabled by the introduction of direct digital control building automation systems.
However, as the complexity of these systems increases, and as design tolerances decrease, a higher degree of control must be afforded. For example, chilled-beam systems require constant indoor relative-humidity control to avoid condensation forming on interior surfaces, while destination dispatch elevators queue up passengers to avoid unnecessary trips.
High-security critical environments, such as pharmaceutical labs require logging of all instances of access. Fire protection systems have evolved as well, with high-rise buildings, such as the awe-inspiring Burj Khalifa, adopting a “defend-in-place” fire strategy, using ventilation fans to evacuate smoke and provide air-conditioned refuge areas during a fire event while the 35,000 occupants remain in the building.
Despite their sophistication, systems such as lighting; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC); and security often operate in silos. Products now exist that can tie them together, through building systems integration (BSI). This integration leverages “big data” and provides benefits to operations, maintenance, and data acquistion.
Lux Research defines BSI as the interconnection of primary building systems through controllers which are connected, allowing centralized monitoring, acquisition of data, and device control. This architecture has demonstrable benefits in terms of simplicity of operation, maintenance cost reduction, and comprehensive data acquisition, but represents just a tiny fraction of the overall commercial building market at present – 1% of the total U.S. building stock.
Why has BSI adoption continued to lag?
Complexity abounds in the world of BSI. Inside buildings is a tangled web of both open and proprietary communication protocols, which means systems may not be able to communicate with each other.
For example, in an office, the data and lighting systems should share input from occupancy sensors to know when a space is being used – however, this is not possible in many buildings because the lighting system and HVAC controllers don’t speak the same language. It is not that the building industry lacks standardization, it is that there are often too many standards, with new companies developing proprietary standards all the time.
Getting meaningful data output from building systems is usually very effort-intensive, but certain standards such as oBIX have made inroads. A building can be analogous to a gathering of UN delegates – communication is possible, but much translation is needed.
Budget is everything. The management of commercial real estate is extremely cost sensitive. While operations people often focus on energy costs, there are many other components that make up the cost of running a building. Some of these costs are fixed year-over-year (such as property taxes and insurance), while some are variable.
On average, building operators are spending 34% annually on fixed costs, with the remaining 66% covering administrative, security, maintenance, and utility costs. These variable costs – utilities, security, and maintenance – present an opportunity for cost reductions, both in reduced energy and full-time equivalent personnel (FTE) savings.
Full integration of building systems has promised building owners a finer level of control over all of these variables, such as proactive maintenance to minimize downtime, or making feasible the reduction in security staff from three people to one person. The issue is that these tangible benefits are not accounted for at the time of design and construction, as project design teams are often disconnected from operational teams within organizations that develop and manage real estate. This prevents stakeholders from clearly defining performance goals for a building, and focusing narrowly on first costs – which usually cut building systems integration out of the picture.
BSI is not just about energy cost savings. A common misconception related to the BSI business case is that it is of one of economics. Strictly speaking, it is not. The nuances of the benefits, while lowering costs in some respects, are not easily quantified.
While some vendors of BSI solutions have been drawn into such a proving exercise, quantifying “loose” variables such as occupant comfort, reduced downtime, and increased safety attributed solely to BSI are difficult to measure and largely case-study based. Energy savings for an individual primary system, such as lighting, are not necessarily any greater than savings realized by having a dedicated advanced lighting control system.
For example, emergency event notifications (such as calls and emails) can be generated using fire-panel output signals; university campuses are already leveraging this for use of mass notification emergency communication (MNEC) during an event. Collecting multiple data streams allows for improved contextual analysis of operating conditions.
In effect, it allows a property manager to establish baselines for resource consumption (even related to water, waste), and track performance based on occupancy. A nascent niche is that of the service of data analytics; specifically the generation of useful “rules” to correlate multiple data streams into actionable information.
Industry conservatism will limit adoption of building systems integration in the near term. Its benefits, such as reduced maintenance calls and opportunity for advanced data analysis, are quantifiable, however the technical challenges and stakeholder disengagement will continue to hinder BSI adoption. Building Systems Integration has an incredibly small market saturation to date, and will be implemented in specific building types, provided there is a forward-thinking, engaged building owner with a clear vision of building performance and functionality goals. Such an owner will not only need a savvy design team capable of mastering the technicalities, but an organization with the reporting and management structures necessary to fully leverage the new data and control capabilities afforded by building systems integration.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.