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Building analytics can be a powerful tool to assist you in operating your buildings safely and efficiently during the COVID-19 pandemic and post COVID-19.
Building analytics leverages existing building automation system (BAS) data. If you have a building with a BAS that controls the HVAC systems, then your building is a great candidate. Nowadays, even lighting controls and access control systems are integrated with the BAS. A smart analytics solution will be able to acquire this data from buildings and quickly process millions of data samples to provide actionable insights.
BAS alerts are simply not good enough – a smart analytics platform needs to tell you exactly what the issue is, diagnose the issue, and provide clear recommendations to resolve the issue. For example, it is one thing to say that the discharge air temperature (DAT) of an air handling unit (AHU) is above the high-limit setpoint. While BAS alerts can generate that level of information, smart analytics platforms will be able to pinpoint exactly why the DAT is above the setpoint, how often it has happened in the past, the cost and comfort impact associated with the issue. More importantly, an alert won’t provide clear steps on how the issue can be resolved.
With analytics, you can be truly data driven – your actions are based on your data and it will help increase your energy efficiency and overall building performance while ensuring safety of your occupants.
Here are four things you could consider during the pandemic and post COVID-19 to ensure that your buildings are being operated safely and efficiently.
1. Consider investing in sensors
The way that buildings are being operated has changed drastically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many buildings that were fully occupied most days are now running with skeleton crews, and occupancy can vary quite a bit from day to day. Some organizations are realizing that providing flexibility to their employees can increase productivity as well as contribute to overall well-being and a better work/life balance. Occupancy is not as predictable day over day or week over week as it used to be. Tenants may come in sporadically, with no set schedule.
The way we use indoor spaces is being constantly re-evaluated. Any information we can gather on how indoor spaces are occupied will provide us with valuable feedback we can use to improve how we control those spaces. An occupant-centric control strategy should result in more safe and efficient operation of a building.
Here are some common technologies that are being used today for occupant-centric control:
a. Motion detectors: These are now standard for modern lighting systems where the lighting is automated based on zone occupancy. This occupancy information can be further used to control other HVAC systems in the building.
b. People counting cameras: These devices are fairly inexpensive and easy to install. They are usually mounted in the ceiling near the main door entrance or along a common hallway area. They work best in areas where the occupants need to pass directly underneath the field of vision of the camera.
c. Carbon dioxide sensors or other indoor air quality sensors: These are commonly used for detecting occupancy as they are usually included in even basic HVAC designs. One of the downsides to using them for occupancy is that there is significant lag between the space being occupied and an increase in carbon dioxide in the space. If you do have the budget to replace zone sensors, many thermostats nowadays have the ability to house other sensors in the same device such as humidity, infrared motion detectors and carbon dioxide. You can even program the color of the display to alert the occupant if their indoor air quality is suffering.
In all of this, it is important to keep in mind the privacy and security of the people you are counting. For example, it may not be acceptable to install people counting cameras at the zone level, as these can be used to identify individuals as opposed to a generic “occupant.”
2. Fine-tune your existing building analytics platform
If you already have an analytics platform monitoring your buildings, here are some things you can do to fine-tune your building analytics platform during the pandemic:
a. All analytics rules are looking for certain conditions. Most of the time, these conditions are of interest only when the building is occupied and equipment is running. It is important to ensure that your building schedules are not hard coded into the rules especially if your schedules have not been updated during the pandemic.
b. Investing some time to review thresholds and dead bands used in rules will go a long way. Perhaps the deadband that you used in the rules for humidity control in the space was +/- 10 percent variance from the acceptable high limit and low limit. During the pandemic, knowing how an increase in humidity levels may reduce the spread of the virus, you may want to slightly loosen the deadband on the high limit, but still keep it within acceptable limits.
c. You should ensure that any modifications in sequence of operation are reflected in the analytics logic. Any changes made to your control sequence need to be reflected in your analytics platform as well so that the platform is operating in line with the ground realities.
3. Introduce compliance reporting
Different organizations and regulatory bodies are proposing new requirements for how buildings need to be operated and maintained during the pandemic. It is very possible that some of the new requirements may remain in place for a longer time and if you are a building owner or facility manager, you need to ensure that your buildings are compliant with the new safety and operational requirements. Building analytics is a powerful tool that can be used for compliance reporting as well.
4. Communicate results
Communication is a critical piece to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Showing your building occupants and other stakeholders that you care about the health and safety of your occupants, and are taking measures to track and monitor their air quality while they are in your building will go a long way to build confidence. Perhaps one day signs showing indoor air quality compliance will be just as normal (or even expected) as the cleaning schedules posted in public bathrooms. People may be more comfortable visiting the shopping mall that shares this type of information as opposed to the ones that are not as transparent.
First, identify your audience and consider how different audiences can benefit from different report delivery methods – for example, building tenants, the public, and the building owner.
Through the use of KPIs, we can easily compare the performance of many systems at the same time.
In conclusion, building analytics is a powerful tool that can be leveraged to operate your buildings safely and efficiently by adopting a truly data driven approach. It is important to ensure that your building analytics platform is configured with ground realities in mind, so that they can be used for not just AFDD and energy reporting, but also compliance reporting. It could well be that buildings that are transparent about their performance, and communicate with the different stakeholders including building occupants may stand out from the rest as this will be helpful in building occupants’ confidence and gaining trust.
Jessica Wilson and Derek John Mullassery are representatives of the Energy Management Association.