Smart Buildings & Smart Energy: The Integration Challenge

In July, twenty of us gathered in DC for a two-day charrette on the standards needed to apply BIM to the problems of dynamic energy management. The work-shop, entitled “Smart Buildings, Smart Energy”, was put on by the Corps of Engineers Research Lab (CERL) at the National Institute for Building Science (NIBS). The meeting was a fascinating, and occasionally heated conversation that brought together academic and government researchers, building system practitioners from industry leading companies, and participants in standards committees from ASHRAE to OASIS. It was a fascinating meeting, filled with bright, deeply focused individuals who as a group had not yet recognized the profound changes in their goals required for smart energy.

The challenge of smart energy to buildings is dynamic change. The goal of smart buildings has always been superior performance—usually defined as energy efficiency. Energy from external sources will all become dynamic and intermittent. Some will be available under rapidly changing prices. The most efficient system may not be the one that is most able to respond to these changing conditions. Perhaps the goal of smart buildings is to defend its occupants from the degraded conditions of the smart grid. The game is changing.

The use of Building Information Models (BIM) is only now becoming common enough to change business processes. BIM lets us design buildings the way we design cars and planes, with full simulation and testing before the contractor turns over the first shovel full of dirt. BIM furthermore provides the contractor with accurate materials requirements and each trade with accurate measurements. With better knowledge and a dramatic reduction in re-work, the cost of construction can come way down while the quality goes up.

Most of the cost of a building is incurred in operations, during the long period between construction and demolition. For the last five years, led by NASA and CERL, there has been a project to define how to hand over information from design and construction for use in operations. The Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBIE) defines how to hand over information from the BIM to maintenance and operations.

The information in COBIE seems almost trivial—unless you don’t have it.

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