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HVAC Building Controls Are Cool

Oct. 11, 2013
Twelve years after our inaugeral issue of Networked Controls, the industry has changed, the technology has advanced, but the issues remain mostly the same.

Back in May, 2001, HPAC Engineering magazine launched a special supplement that we called “Networked Controls.” The driving force behind the creation of this supplement was, in the words of then Chief Editor Michael Ivanovich, to help “the buildings industry understand the technology landscape where building automation systems and equipment controls are integrated with information technologies.”

Mike Weil

That first edition had 15 articles the made a strong case for integrated building systems, addressed how to specify and select Web-accessible systems, took on the issues of interoperability including the importance of LonWorks and BacNet, touched on knowledge-management systems, and much more. The subject matter of these editorials from 2001 tell you that many of the issues we face today are similar, especially when you think about buildings that have older, legacy systems in them.

But a lot has also changed.

For one, today‘s technology is advanced from that of 2001 and the resources available to engineers and facilities managers are incredible. From where I sit, two things strike me as the biggest changes: wireless controls and WiFi.

Wireless controls today are just so much easier to work with than their wired counterparts from 12 years ago. In fact, if you haven’t read it yet, check out Dick Starr’s online column entitled, “Does Dick Tracy Have a Lesson to Teach the Building-Controls Industry?" Starr, a commercial HVAC and controls contractor based in Cleveland, OH, addresses the cool-factor of modern wireless control technology, but also warns about the various competitive protocols that are out there. This is very similar to the interoperability issues of a decade ago so he warns,”be careful which protocol you choose to work with.”

What wasn’t available back in 2001 was the all-pervasive WiFi technology that is second nature to everyone today. Not only does this allow monitoring and manage ment of building systems over the Internet, but now, with the advent of high-definition monitors and building dashboards, managing building systems has a strong appeal to many building managers and a large cool factor for younger facilities engineers and even tenants.

Of course, where there’s WiFi and wireless monitoring, there is potential for intruders gaining access to systems. The article, “Protecting Facility Networks From Cyber Attack,” by Mark Balent and Fred Gordy discuss how wireless systems and the buildings they control are vulnerable to attack by hackers and other malicious parties and what to do to prevent such hacking.

Microgrid technology is a topic not addressed back in 2001. It is newer and finally becoming more cost-effective to implement. Today, combined with other “smart” technologies, microgrids provide modern small-scale versions of our centralized electricity system to college campuses, commercial and institutional enterprises, as well as government and military facilities. Datta Godbole of Honeywell Building Solutions discusses a host of benefits beyond simple power backup at facilities where energy reliability is vital in his article, “Getting Macro Benefits From Microgrids."

Other major changes from 2001 includes the use of cloud-based analytics for use in optimizing energy savings and cellular technology used to monitor HVAC systems in data centers.

Yes, building automation and monitoring systems are cool. And as Ivanovich pointed out in 2001, building-generated information is the supply chain of a data-driven, decision-making economy and can actually attract talented young people to the engineering community.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts on the changes in the industry and where you think technology is taking us.