Small Commercial
Building Energy Use

Email Interview

By Steven Guzelimian and Ken Sinclair

Sinclair:  Why are you interested in small buildings?

Guzelimian:  “There is nothing small about the impact that small commercial buildings have on energy use in the United States. In fact, the 4.6 million small buildings across the nation consume 44% of the overall energy use in buildings. This is presenting an enormous opportunity to cut costs, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Small buildings represent a disproportionate amount of consumption.  When you consider the impact we can have as building automation experts, this is the area we should be looking at more vigorously.  In my career, I have seen very little activity in these buildings and manufacturers were not catering to this market.  When you consider the economics of the small building, controls have always been too expensive. Traditional controls usually meant multiple stand-alone systems that did not even benefit from simple time scheduling on/off or set point adjustment controls for HVAC and lighting.

Sinclair:  Small buildings don’t always have technical talent to manage complex BMS/EMS systems? Is it worth the effort?

Guzelimian:  Yes. Our challenge as a manufacturer is to build products that people can use. That is economical on the first cost, that deploys easily, and can be maintained by service providers or by the end-users themselves. Manufacturers need to provide the full experience to their customers. Which that means making the tools available to configure the system and all the documents and self-paced e-Learning training. This is needed to realize the benefits of their system economically.  The small building often houses a business, and these systems need to enhance their operation. With improved comfort to keep workers productive, increased energy efficiency to reduce operating expenses, and business work-flow improvement to make the business work better.

Sinclair:  Building and energy management have been around for years, where does Internet of Things (IoT) fit in small building management?

Guzelimian:  Building automation has traditionally connected HVAC, lighting, and access controls, using Standard protocols like BACnet, Modbus, LON, KNX, and others. Integration was usually done with hardware to software integrations (gateways).  With recent changes in mobile connectivity, and the desire to connect non-traditional appliances to local networks, there has been interest in making software connections and sometimes host applications on cloud servers that do the processing and provide a user interface.  This Internet of Things concept is the mechanism for integration, but on its own does not add value until applications are created that leverage the customer data to gain a customer outcome.  Domain knowledge is the key to successful outcomes, IoT is an enabling concept that can help build tools, however, it is standards (ANSI/ISO) that will help bring this together so that dissimilar systems can communicate to one another, and securely.  There is more work to do in this area and no shortage of creative energy to launch products.

Sinclair:  What happened to Big Data?

Guzelimian:  Big data is still there, but as trends go, some things go big and consume resources, and some things go small but provide valuable data. In recent years one of the drawbacks of wireless technologies has been the available bandwidth and the ability to keep its power supply with as little maintenance as possible.  There have been successes and flops in wireless technology, but one thing is certain, if you use a lot of data, you will need power and if you do this often at high rates of speed the data usage will grow. One thought here is to right-size the data for the application, if you collect a water meter data, you probably don’t need to ping the value thousands of times, some things are time sensitive but many are not.  We should as an industry be pursuing small data, the opportunity is that we can extend battery life and to make managing the data easier. If less is more than Small data is valuable data.

Sinclair:  What trends are you interested in?

Guzelimian:  We at Optergy are interested in improving outcomes for its customers.  Building management systems have sometimes become problem generators; we like to think that we can bring the balance of economics and problem solving together into software features people can use to increase their productivity.  After all the building alone does not simply need to be controlled; it is the occupants that also need to be considered and that both should serve the intended purpose and design of the enterprise.  We only need to look at the balance sheet of a building as it has income and expenses. The number 1 expense is often Payroll, if we can do even the slightest bit to improve productivity, we have a tremendous impact on the income side of the balance sheet.  If we can reduce operating expenses then the value of an owner operated building increases in value when you consider the capitalization rate (a property metric) of the building.

Another trend is the growing adoption of energy & building management in developing nations.  We at Optergy are working to make products that can be easily localizable; that means not engineering a system use the native language but rather provide a simple translation that can be further customized by the end user simply and with built in web based tools. They used to say all business is local, and that is true, if you don’t speak the local language, it might be that much harder to realize the benefits of automation.

Optergy will be displaying at AHR 2017, Booth #C1075. Optergy’s Theme for 2017 – It’s all about the small building.

View the interview online.

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