Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

David Bartlett, Vice President, Industry Solutions, Smarter Buildings, IBM Software Group

By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Every time you walk into a building, think about this: it’s alive and kicking and wants to be fed.

It’s not just some static structure standing there. As Dave Bartlett, vice president of smarter buildings at IBM, sees it, a building is remarkably analogous to a living organism.

The heating and cooling system is also the building’s respiratory system, bringing in fresh air and removing carbon dioxide. It consumes enormous amounts of energy and water along with producing the associated waste.

The musculoskeletal system provides form, support, stability and movement to the building. Sensors, computer monitoring and other instrumentation make up the building’s nervous system.

And, just like in the human body, all these systems are interconnected and affect one another.

Bartlett developed his “physiology of buildings” concept to help illustrate how buildings work and how they should be managed to optimize operations and maximize energy efficiency. In other words, how to make them healthy.

“Today we have the ability to get a constant stream of data from our physical infrastructure and run analytics to derive deeper insight into how to better manage our buildings,” Bartlett said. The key is to monitor and manage buildings from a system of systems perspective, rather than view each piece of equipment independently.

“If we can think of buildings and listen to them holistically, we open up a whole new way of understanding buildings that will allow us to heal them of their wild energy and water wasting ways,” Bartlett said.

Leading the drive for smarter buildings

Bartlett is known in industry circles as the “Building Whisperer” because of his ability to listen to buildings and tame them of their excesses. On that front, the world has much work to do.

Buildings consume over 40 percent of the world’s energy and emit more carbon dioxide into the environment than cars. By 2025, buildings will be the largest energy consumers on earth. Today, in large cities, buildings are already the largest energy consumers and producers of greenhouse gases.

Bartlett evangelizes far and wide about the urgent need for more sustainable, energy-efficient buildings and IBM’s unique capabilities to help achieve this.

“IBM is doing something in the building space that hasn’t been done before,” Bartlett said. “We’re listening to all the data that’s coming from buildings  - not just from the heat and air conditioning units, but from all the systems across all the buildings a company manages.” This can include lighting systems, security systems, utilities interfaces and even city command centers.

IBM’s TRIRIGA smarter building solution integrates with all building systems, regardless of manufacturer to provide a real-time view of a building’s energy use and overall operation. It also supports holistic management of the building environment.

According to Bartlett, smarter buildings can save as much as 40 percent on energy costs, 50 percent on water, and up to 30 percent on building maintenance. “Understanding what’s happening in a building in real-time means you can tell when something needs to be fixed before it breaks,” he said.

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An optimist on a mission

Bartlett’s on a self-proclaimed mission to change the way we think about and manage buildings and bring them front and center into the conversation about smarter cities and a healthier planet.

“The way we waste energy and water today is crazy,” Bartlett said. “Why is it that when you go to the movie theater, you have to take a sweater, warm socks and a scarf? Why do office buildings have the lights and air conditioning on when no one is in them — or the sprinklers turn on even when it’s about to rain outside? It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Bartlett’s vision for the future goes well beyond instrumentation of individual structures to include a much broader, systematic approach to designing and managing our entire building environment. He advocates strategies to integrate buildings into their surroundings that may radically reduce energy use and improve the quality of our lives.

“Imagine contiguous corridors of green that traverse up the sides of buildings and across roofs, not only providing better water absorption, oxygen and insulation, but also an ecosystem for butterflies, birds and small mammals that will begin to blur the harsh lines that we’ve drawn between cities and countrysides,” Bartlett said.

“Maybe that seems too optimistic, but that’s my vision of the world and I think we can achieve it sooner rather than later,” Bartlett said. “We have the technology and there’s an awareness of the need for sustainable solutions that I’m confident will stir decision-makers to action.”

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Excellent article. It is certainly something we need to rediscover – buildings that work with rather than against the environment. IBM will be interested in the monitoring, controlling and analytics of course, but we need to understand (as you say) the low-tech approaches too.
Amazing that what was hippy-dippy stuff in the 70s is now being drawn into the business space.
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Janni, thanks for your post. IBM has spoken with several AEC firms about the value of including operational energy analytics as part of building systems during turnover. LEED certification includes a sizable bonus for energy modeling and analytics. From an ROI perspective, in the commercial space the payback for these systems are on the order of 2 years. Similar concepts could be applied for homes, however the systems tend to be simpler, and not sure of the payback since IBM has been focused on the commercial space.

Posted by: Jim Crosskey
October 11, 2012
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Are you engaging with architects and builders to determine how the Smarter Building technology can be utilized in LEED buidlings and retrofits? I am currently building a LEED platinum home and there ought to be significant Innovation credits, as well as the ability to forecast a lower set of operating cost assumptions for a smarter building. Also, getting in front of the leading architects for commercial projects (likely they can bet continuing ed credits with the AIA) would be one way to incorporate the IBM Smarter Building protocol into the early design. I know my architect is looking at the beginnings of his projects differently based on some of the paths we’ve chosen for our own home. This is such a great idea – just needs to be affordable and quantifiable in terms of paybacks, etc. for the builder, buyer, developer, etc.

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Posted by: Chris Byrd
October 9, 2012
2:28 pm

Nice article Dave. The analogy is great and as Buildings get more and more instrumented with sensors and BMS systems, more opportunities to pin point the inefficiencies and help them to operate efficiently via smart analytics.

Hi Farid,

Meters information can be collected via the agents periodically and loaded into warehouse, from where the aggregated data gets to Tririga (it provides data connect and other tools t load information in). Further for analytics,
ILOG JRules, can be used to take the data from the database and write rules against it. The rules will then run at a regular interval and detect anomalies and inform via many different ways to end user.

Best Regards,

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Posted by: Stephen Caulfield
October 9, 2012
6:09 am

What you say in last paragraph is very good and not so new after all, think Babylon’s gardens of Semiramis. We should reinvent our cities and buildings and cars, make them more close to nature. Did you think about the walls? In nature every wall is soft, at least partially and have multiple roles. We make our building or car walls hard and their role is very limited. Can do better. I have some ideas.
I would like to be part of this. I would like to get in touch with you and work on some projects.

Posted by: Claudiu Cernat
October 9, 2012
1:36 am

Buildings also have smart meters, how does Tririga integrate to smart meters and perform analytics to provide consumer behaviour and detect intervention effects in improving efficiencies. I have an RFP coming in those lines in Oct for us to respond and it will be good to have some views on it.

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