8 min read

Nexus #22 (5/12/2020)

Field validation of BuildingIQ's PEO algorithms, ArcGIS extending indoors, and the latest survey of the BAS job market
Look at Tesla today versus the car companies. Those are hundred year old companies with a hundred year old mindset with a hundred year old trajectory. And they just got disrupted by some guy in Silicon Valley that everybody thought was crazy at first, and maybe he is a little crazy, but the end result is they didn't see what was coming, and in the last few years, just literally two or three years, they've gotten to this point of existential crisis. They no longer know, if they don't put together these technologies or license it or buy it from somewhere else, that they will even be in business in a few years.

—Troy Harvey on Episode 5 of the Nexus Podcast

Good morning!

Welcome to Nexus, a newsletter, podcast, and membership community for smart people applying smart building technology—written by James Dice. If you’re new to Nexus, you might want to start here.

Here’s an outline of this week’s newsletter:

  1. 🤔 On my mind this week: COVID-19 signal in the noise
  2. 🎧 Podcast Episode 5 with Troy Harvey
  3. 📅 Nexus Pro updates & announcements
  4. 🌐 Esri’s ArcGIS Indoors and the use cases for smart buildings
  5. 🤖 Demo results of BuildingIQ’s predictive energy optimization (PEO)


Disclaimer: James is a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). All opinions expressed via Nexus emails, podcasts, or on the website belong solely to James. No resources from NREL are used to support Nexus. NREL does not endorse or support any aspect of Nexus.

1. 🤔 On my mind this week

Like all of you, I’m continuing to track the impact of COVID-19 on our industry. As usual… there’s been a lot of noise! Multiple webinars daily and a thousand guides and 12-point plans for re-opening facilities…

Just like I did in the first Nexus Deep Dive, I’ll continue to share my thoughts here as I have them. If you’re looking for the signal in the noise, here’s the best content I’ve seen this week:

Is there a campus of the future? (BuroHappold)

Returning to the immediate future: even in the most socially-distanced of scenarios, today’s campuses will not disappear overnight. If they did, their regions would permanently lose many jobs, universities would be deprived of necessary revenues, and their symbolism and importance as key anchors of the intellectual and cultural capital of a city would evaporate.
  1. How tech could alleviate the fear of going back to the office (Bisnow)

The BAS job market as of May 1 (Automated Buildings)

First, I believe this shows us that at least during this first phase of the pandemic, most of the downsizing/furloughing has occurred.

Secondly, it is a positive sign that no one in the survey is now responding as uncertain. This possibly suggests management has made their decisions and also is communicating well.

2. 🎧 Episode 5 with Troy Harvey

This week on the Nexus podcast: a conversation with Troy Harvey, CEO of autonomous buildings startup Passive Logic, on a range of topics:

  • We talk about how the hell we got here… to this point where building technology is 20 to 30 years behind the tech we're carrying around in our pockets.
  • We talk about the limitations of modern building automation systems, and what it means for a building to be fully autonomous, why that’s needed, and how Passive Logic is doing it.
  • We talk about what full autonomy means for all of the service providers in our industry. Here’s Troy PowerPoint from that part of the discussion:
  • Oh and digital twins. Deep digital twins… and much more

Show notes | Apple Podcasts | Spotify | YouTube | Add to other podcast apps

3. 📅 Member updates

  • After the interview with Troy, I did a deep dive on my reaction, my top highlights of the episode, and a full transcript (Pro members only)
  • On May 26th, we’ll host the May member gathering over Zoom. Pro members will get a calendar invite. Do you have questions on the future of integrating facilities with the electric grid? Submit questions for our speakers here.

4. 🌐 Esri’s ArcGIS Indoors and use cases for smart buildings

As we’ve been discussing and tracking, the pandemic is (or is going to be) accelerating the digitization of buildings. One of the trends to track there is the extension of GIS platforms from outdoors to indoors. I provided an intro to GIS in Nexus #16. This video below is an intro to one of the huge players in this space, ArcGIS, who released a platform called ArcGIS Indoors about a year ago.

Another trend I’ll be analyzing is what game these newcomers to the smart buildings space are playing: are they here for the all-star game or the home run derby? While spatial data and analytics can help us now more than ever, I think every solution should be integrated into an overall smart building strategy, not pursued in a silo as the latest shiny object.

5. 🤖 Demo results of BuildingIQ’s predictive energy optimization (PEO)

While researching for my upcoming deep dive on advanced supervisory controls, I dug up a publication from back in November 2018: LBNL’s field validation of BuildingIQ’s predictive energy optimization (PEO) technology for the GSA Proving Ground (GPG) program.

I’m a huge believer in some of the new technologies that are hitting the market in this arena. If it’s applied strategically, advanced supervisory control fills key gaps in the smart building stack that I’ll outline in the deep dive. This field validation was important because it highlights many of the ways these types of building automation overlays can get tripped up in the real world. BuildingIQ was the early mover in this space and they’re still a leader—what can all the other entrants learn from them?

Here are some of my highlights from the paper…

How it works

The PEO algorithm defines optimal space air temperature setpoints that are automatically implemented at the variable air volume (VAV) terminal units when possible, or through supply air temperature and duct static pressure setpoints at the air handling unit (AHU) level. The optimization is built upon a learned predictive model that provides a 24-hour ahead forecast of the building’s power profile, using weather forecasts and historical operational data; this model is updated every 4 to 6 hours. Demand-responsive load reductions may also be implemented.

The energy savings weren’t as much as expected

Across the cohort of evaluation sites, HVAC savings following the implementation of PEO were mixed, ranging from 0 to 9 percent, and an estimated $0 to $7,000/year in associated utility costs. At one site the savings were significant, at three sites savings were on the order of 1 to 2 percent, and at one site no savings were observed.

Why not?

The most important of these factors were: operational and mechanical issues that prevented the system from realizing its optimized setpoints, systems that were not well tuned or operating properly to begin with, and preexistence of an effective baseline controls. Special control requirements (pressure, humidity, and minimum chiller flow) were also constraints at two of the four sites.

These are important points. These solutions are not magic. While they can be powerful, your savings could literally be zero if you don’t look at your baseline. Systems could already be fully variable and already have tuned trim-and-respond reset sequences. Systems could be driven by one zone that can't move. Systems could be driven by one zone that has a damper stuck at 100%. You could also have a fan that is already running at 30%, like this one from the paper:

If a fan is already at 30%, dropping it to 25% isn’t saving much fan power. You could also have a limited supervisory control algorithm that optimizes one setpoint on one system and leaves out another system (e.g. resetting DAT vs. at the expense of fan energy).

Is the cloud a reliable way to control your building?

Once the system is up and running, results from the field installations in this study suggest that the connectivity between the BuildingIQ Site Agent and the BAS or cloud can be somewhat brittle to power outages, power disconnects, and network addressing changes.

Over the course of the evaluation, connectivity to the PEO system was frequently disrupted: six times at Dayton, five times at Chamblee, three times at Woodson, seven times at CSU, and once at NYP. The duration of these events ranged from one day to three weeks. The linkage between the Site Agent and the cloud may fail when the building network is down, usually due to a power outage, when the computer on which the Site Agent resides is unplugged or when the local area network (LAN) cable is disconnected. When the network connectivity is reestablished, the connection between the site agent and the cloud may require manual reboot. In some instances, the link between the site agent and the BAS may fail. This could be due to the changes of the BAS point IP address caused by internet infrastructure changes, requiring coordination between BuildingIQ and the site to restore connectivity.

Organizations that are not able to internally integrate the activities of IT, facilities, and operations will be challenged to successfully install, maintain, and sustain ongoing value from the technology.

This doesn’t replace the need to physically tune or retro-commission systems

There may be a (mis)perception that the BuildingIQ system is meant to resolve all aspects of system operation; however, there will still be a need for standard maintenance and service support for areas outside the scope of the BuildingIQ controls. The PEO technology performs best when HVAC systems are in good working condition and can be exercised to achieve the full range of PEO’s optimized setpoints.

Types of physical issues preventing energy savings from occurring:

Partial capacity of RTUs: Just prior to the installation of the PEO system, new RTUs were installed at the NYP Allen Hospital. However, these new RTUs were not running to full capacity. Half of the RTUs were at 50 to 60 percent of the capacity due to the refrigerant undercharge or issues with the compressor, constraining the extent to which the systems could be exercised for optimization.

Pressure requirements: In addition, the VAV boxes served both the patient rooms and clean supply rooms. If the PEO reset the RTU duct static pressure setpoint too low, the space pressure requirements in the clean supply room were not met. The PEO setpoints were frequently overridden due to compensatory adjustments made by the operators to meet zone pressure setpoints.

Incomplete control of full HVAC load: The PEO system was (intentionally) not configured to control the RTUs that served the hospital operation theaters. These RTUs comprised approximately 20 percent of the building cooling load, limiting the portion of total HVAC load under PEO’s control.

Humidity control requirements: An analysis of the data showed that PEO setpoints could not be met due to required humidity control at the site. The chilled water valve was fully open to maintain space relative humidity at equal to or less than 50 percent, causing the supply air temperature to overshoot the PEO SAT setpoint. This was observed to occur across a set of units that served ~28 percent of the total building cooling load.

Overrides and lack of reheat: For unknown reasons, a third-party contractor intermittently overrode the PEO control. Additionally, reheat is not used at the Woodson site, as the boilers were shut down from April through October. Absence of reheat limits the savings potential, as there is no simultaneous heating and cooling to minimize.

I think these types of solutions go hand-in-hand with other smart building solutions like FDD and MBCx. Join Nexus Pro (link below) to get the deep dive in your inbox this Thursday.

OK, that’s all for this week—thanks for reading Nexus!


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