Smart thinking

The use of ‘smart' technologies is now becoming commonplace in the region's buildings. MEP Middle East examines how these systems are changing and what's new in the market.

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By  Administrator Published  July 3, 2007

Over the past year the application of electronic or ‘smart' technologies has increased enormously in the region. As developers vie for ways to make their buildings stand out from the masses, installing added extras such as home automation systems has become popular.

The market is expected to continue expanding, with recent research from Parks Associates predicting that by 2011 almost 145 million homes worldwide will include data networking solutions. At the end of 2005 this figure was around 80 million and the Gulf is a growing market.

Intelligent buildings optimise the use of energy ...if you can’t measure, you can’t improve.

But the technologies are not simply gadgets for the home owner who has everything, they can also provide important function in the energy efficient operation of buildings. The sensors and metering systems included in these smart systems can be used to record and monitor the energy use, enabling a more efficient use of the MEP services and predictive maintenance.

"As the intelligent buildings concept came into the industry it was misunderstood," states Jagath Gunawardena, team leader building services management, Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry. "It was seen as more of a communications link than a service to the operating and maintenance industry, but this is changing." Much of this change is due to market demand, but advances in electronic devices and web services are making it possible. "For the past number of years we've had device levels that measure and sense - they're the source of the information," explains Nigel MacKenzie, chief technical officer with systems integrator Pacific Control Systems. "These are connected on networks which support a protocol - the language the devices use to talk to each other - and transfer the information.

"The big step change in the IT/software world for enterprise application software is that there's a standard emerging for taking the raw data off devices; this is called web services. This is a simple open access protocol and is becoming the defacto standard," adds MacKenzie. This web-based system enables devices to communicate regardless of their manufacturer or individual protocol requirements. The significance of this development is the ability for building managers and facilities management firms to collect data for analysis and planning of future maintenance and building operations.

"Intelligent buildings optimise the use of energy on site," adds George Berbari, ceo of DC Pro Engineering. "If no measurements are taken, the value of an intelligent building design cannot be properly evaluated. What many countries lack is segregation of metering - btu meters are needed on the air conditioning, cooling and lifts. If you can't measure, you can't improve," he adds.

"We currently take data such as temperature, pressure and time from the devices, translate this and make it available as web services so that facilities management packages can be connected to this and the data becomes more useful and meaningful to building managers," explains MacKenzie. "It enables a higher order analysis of the data and graphical effects of the energy being consumed can be created from the raw data." Having such data makes it simpler for building owners to identify areas where energy and cost savings can be made.

The web-based protocol also enables greater integration of the services within a property. "If the home automation system is IP-based and can support web services it can be connected on the same network as the building services such as hvac and fire alarm system and information can be shared between them," explains MacKenzie. "So if the home automation device is running the air conditioning, the system can look at the temperature setpoints for each property and can use this as part of an energy programme to operate the chillers."

"It's a two-way thing: the technology is able to serve two people: the home user gets the benefits of control and at the same time the information can be extracted by a facilities manager."

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