Smart buildings start with awareness

by Dave Michels

I want to work in an energy-efficient smart building. It would have advanced energy systems that would ensure no watt gets wasted. It would have lighting, like my fridge, that would magically turn off when unneeded, and doors that would reliably swish open Star Trek-style when and only when appropriate.

Unfortunately, most buildings aren’t like that today. The majority of commercial buildings are relatively barbaric with primitive infrastructure oblivious to its purpose or costs. Far too often, building managers lack basic visibility into the infrastructure they are responsible for.

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However, times have changed, and today it’s appropriate to be green, although the interpretation of “green” ranges from environmental to financial motivations. Of course, a building with smart infrastructure might not always be viable. Renters wouldn’t want to pay for the upgrades. And, as long as infrastructure is otherwise working, it might not be green at all to replace it. A better option could be to focus on visibility.

“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” ~ H. James Harrington.

Measuring up using IoT sensors

This is where the new Ohm system from Buddy fits. I first discovered Buddy at an Internet of Things (IoT) conference last year. The company had an eye-catching model of a city on display that was built out of Legos. It was demonstrating the Buddy Platform to manage IoT devices.

IoT is largely about new, connected devices. Buddy Ohm is about gaining visibility into existing, older unconnected systems—specifically building infrastructure systems. Buddy Ohm is not a control system (yet) but rather more a dashboard. It’s a step toward a smart building that allows building managers to make smarter decisions providing them with real-time metrics.

For years, companies such as Current Cost have offered consumers Home Energy monitors. The basic idea is that measurements and feedback reduce waste. The commercial solutions have lagged because buildings come in too many sizes and shapes and use too many complex systems.

Buddy Ohm is a product and service suite designed to provide simple visibility into the complex world of modern commercial buildings. The hardware is centered on the Buddy Ohm base. It connects to a building’s electrical, gas, water, steam and solar generation systems, then sends what it finds to the Buddy Platform in the cloud using its own cellular connection.

buddy ohmBuddy Platform Ltd.

The Buddy Ohm base utilizes both wired and wireless sensors for data collection. There are temperature and humidity sensors, as well as pulse and current transformer (CT) sensors. The whole system is designed for self-installation, including the CT sensors, which use a clip design for attach without an electrician. The pulse sensors are used to monitor the flow of steam, water and gas. Additional bases and sensors can be added to accommodate the environment, be it a floor, building, campus or global facilities network.

The knowledge of power

The cloud service provides real-time and historical information. The management console has a visual GUI with drill-down detail. Managers can define normal parameters and get notified of high or low threshold deviations. There is also a public-facing, browser-based dashboard for sharing real-time information with building occupants. Knowledgeable inhabitants are the often overlooked key to  smarter buildings.

The Buddy team already has a number of success stories to share when their Ohm customers identified significant resource leaks caused by systems in need of repair and scheduling snafus that caused systems, such as cooling, to run when buildings were empty.

I got a glimpse of some similar, but primitive commercial monitoring systems when I toured colleges with my son. For example, one dorm had a stoplight that showed if the building’s current energy consumption was high, medium or low. Buddy has confirmed strong interest from universities, and it has a higher-education package under consideration.

Prices vary based on the number of base stations and sensors. It’s a modular system, so it can be customized and is available under both rental and purchase models. Buddy offers a package with a base unit, a handful of sensors, cellular connectivity and its cloud service for $1,500 a month. That seems a bit high to me, but measurement alone would likely reduce costs 3 to 5 percent. The real savings come from fixing the resource leaks. Knowing that a pipe is flowing or a motor is running when it’s not supposed to can result in significant savings.

This makes cents

I think Buddy is on the right track with Ohm. From my limited experience with my Current Cost home monitor, real-time feedback is key. When a light or motor turns on, it’s useful to see its impact. Otherwise, there’s no clear cause and effect to drive changes in behavior

Buddy has also gone to great lengths to keep it simple. The base station looks friendly—more like an Access Point than a total infrastructure hub. The management portal is intuitive and the public dashboard is inviting.

Take a look at Buddy Ohm if you want to know what’s going on within your walls.

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