How Big Data Plays a Big Role in Automation

The buzz term Big Data has gained popularity among those who advocate the collection and analysis of huge amounts of data for a multitude of purposes. One of them is to glean enough environmental, structural, behavioral, local costing information and more so building owners can save big money, and saving money is the name of the game when it comes to building automation.

The success or failure of the Big Data mission hinges on available data storage. There was a day when collecting data of this magnitude was not plausible. Today, however, in as much as storage capacities are commonly in the petabytes, the collection of Big Data from a virtually unlimited number of ubiquitous sensors is no longer a major problem. (For comparison sake, 1 petabyte of data is equal to 1,000 terabytes.)

“Stem, an energy optimization firm based in Millbrae, California, sells a turnkey power system for businesses that analyzes large amounts of data, including historical weather information and industry usage patterns, to help companies avoid power usage spikes and higher energy fees during peak demand times,” writes Jeff Bertolucci of InformationWeek.

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Stem’s energy management solution hinges on a huge battery array, the size of a refrigerator, which provides power for large buildings whenever incoming data says it’s time to do so. The software analyzes weather information, historical data, energy costs and other information in order to assure that grid power is only used when it’s economically feasible to do so.

The same approach is being used by others where it comes to lighting control, HVAC and power consumption.

“Big Data is a real thing, but collecting data is not enough. You need analytic instruments to analyze data, and that’s what we do,” says Trevor Buhagiar, a business development manager with ESI Malta, a systems integrator that specializes in commercial automation. “We collect all sorts of performance data from our BAS [building automation system] and then we analyze it. Without this info it’s impossible to optimize the building plant performance.”

A BAS is not just installed, commissioned and left operational, Buhagiar says. It is optimized over a period of time. “Our focus is on big loads, and one big [energy] consumer is a building’s HVAC system – it’s hungry,” he says. “We use data and our experience on the long term to optimize chillers, boilers, air conditioning, ventilators, pumps and others which in most cases have huge motors.”

Cloud-based energy management solutions also are beginning to make their presence known. In due time, building automation system equipment providers are almost sure to plug their network-based systems into these sources of data in an effort to make better, more timely decisions on the local level. And yet without an informed and skillful analysis of the data, Big Data remains only a catchphrase.

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