FEATURE: The Internet of Everything – a new era for building services

Steve Harrison 2014The Internet of Things (IoT) is something you’ll be hearing a lot about and as Steve Harrison, President of the BCIA explains, it’s going to have a significant impact on building services.



The controls industry has embraced digital technology, and in the past decade alone, we have seen numerous new products come into the market that make use of wireless communications that can communicate with the Web. The days when a facilities manager had to sit in front of a PC to collect data on energy use or to check on alarms are becoming a thing of the past. Today, data can be delivered to where the FM is, and can be tailored to the requirements of each end-user, whether that’s the energy manager or the financial director.


Developments in the Internet are very fast-paced and sometimes it can be tempting to regard them as only affecting the new generation of consumer devices – certainly they may seem far removed from the world of chillers, boilers, ventilation and lighting.


However, it would be wrong to view the IoT as happening elsewhere because it really is going to impact on how those of us in building services and building controls work. This is because it heralds important changes in how buildings can be measured, monitored and managed.


In commercial buildings, we have already seen the early stages of the IoT in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Installed building services equipment such as fan coil units are linked to the Internet so that they can send automated messages when maintenance is required. Or the equipment can send information on performance and energy use to the Internet for analysis by the building energy manager.


It is in this field that the predicted explosion of the IoT will occur. By 2020, the web gurus say that 50 billion devices will be connected to, and communicating via, the Internet. It is a staggering number, but not an unlikely one. The communication protocol of the Internet, known as IP addressing, has recently undergone a major upgrade to IPv6. The most important outcome of this is that there is now an almost infinite number of ‘addresses’ available to use with any device, removing a significant hurdle to the expansion of connectivity.


But what does this mean for building controls, their specifiers and users? Firstly, it has resulted in the development of some very exciting, flexible and useful new products. Most of the BCIA manufacturer members have brought products onto the market that would not have been possible before the era of the Cloud and the IoT. Devices which were once ‘dumb’ are now smart and connected.


This means that the intelligence of a building energy management system is now distributed, reducing the emphasis on a single ‘brain’ (ie a desk-bound PC). Costs are saved because less wiring is required back to this single base, and it is possible for the building itself to be more responsive to occupant requirements in different areas of the building. Sensors can also send faster responses when the internal environment changes, so cooling can be increased as temperatures rise, for example.


Developments such as this are happening quickly and it means that the way we all work in the building services sector will change. HVAC installers are delivering intelligence into a building, whether they know it or not. It will require greater understanding and cooperation between controls experts and these installers to ensure that the different areas of ‘intelligence’ can connect in a single system.


Controls engineers will have to get to grips with the language of the Internet, and learn how to link the digital with the physical to put the IoT into action for customers. It is a challenging time for buildings and building users and one that offers great opportunities for forward-thinking businesses.


Ultimately the test of any new technology will be its return on investment. One of the benefits of the ‘connected’ building technology is that it collects and provides usable data on its own performance – making it very clear just how much energy it is saving; or how often customers use it. The IoT is undoubtedly going to provide some exciting changes to the world of building services, and bring ever-greater understanding of building performance in its wake.


This feature was published in the May 2015 issue of Building Services & Environmental Engineer (BSEE). If you would like to commission a similar feature please contact Karen Fletcher.

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