Artificial intelligence (AI) policy: ASHRAE prohibits the entry of content from any ASHRAE publication or related ASHRAE intellectual property (IP) into any AI tool, including but not limited to ChatGPT. Additionally, creating derivative works of ASHRAE IP using AI is also prohibited without express written permission from ASHRAE.

logoShaping Tomorrow's Built Environment Today

Connecting the HVAC&R Industry with Data, Integration

Vision 2030

'Data Is the New Oil': Connecting the HVAC&R Industry With Data, Integration

The world is digitalized. Data gathering and data analytics are increasingly driving social and professional activity, according to Chandra Sekhar, Ph.D., Fellow ASHRAE.

But what does this mean for engineers? How can they evolve with these changes, and what are the benefits of doing so?

That’s where ASHRAE’s Vision 2030 initiative comes in by providing industry professionals with the resources and knowledge needed to further drive technological innovation and inspire strategic improvement.

One facet of Vision 2030 is “Data & Integration,” which includes Drury B. Crawley, Ph.D., BEMP, Fellow ASHRAE; Drew Perrin, Member ASHRAE; Manish K. Sharma; Joe Noworatzky, Ph.D., Associate Member ASHRAE; and Bill MacGowan, Associate Member ASHRAE.

Sekhar, a key member of the Data & Integration team, discussed data normalization and IT/OT integration with ASHRAE Journal and defined some of the challenges ahead of the industry.

Diving Into Data Normalization 

What do engineers need to know about the importance of data and integration?

Data is the new oil, and integration is the enabler. Underpinning the goals of indoor environmental quality and occupant health, sustainability and climate resilience, we are already witnessing a huge proliferation of data analytics for enhanced performance outcomes at various stages of the building life cycle—design, construction, operating, renovation and eventual decommissioning phases.

It is inevitable the world is only going to get more digitalized—a world in which the use of data gathering and data analytics in driving and assisting much of our professional and social activities would be the norm. We are already experiencing it.

How can engineers evolve with these changes, and what is the benefit?

This would open up several new opportunities for our industry. Design development could be done in a more robust and integrated manner by incorporating the key goals of human centricity, sustainability and climate change mitigation. Digital construction (including the installation and optimized operation of HVAC systems for occupant comfort, well-being and productivity) would lead to an industry-wide evolution.

Professionals would benefit from the digitalization activities by being empowered and being able to play a role literally from any part of the globe, as has already been witnessed during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

What are some challenges faced with data normalization?

- Normalization, standardization and building relationships between the data and its storage. For rapid interconnection and usefulness of the data, there needs to be an agreement on common data storage methods and nomenclature. There is a need to adopt open and interoperable standards that facilitate adoption through all the domains in a building, not just the smart equipment. However, when it comes to making sense of the disparate “things” we have in our IoT buildings, we have a challenge to normalize, standardize and build relationships between the data and its storage.

The groups that have created and continue to add to Project Haystack and now the semantic mediation efforts to create “Brick” are great examples of the industry attempting to agree on data storage and nomenclature.

- Mass adoption of standardized routines in the use of application programming interfaces (APIs).  We often hear talk about how APIs provide the ability to connect the data from multiple sources. This is true; APIs do provide the ability to connect systems and data. However, by definition, APIs require application programs and tend to result in unique solutions rather than mass adoption of standardized routines. It’s the latter that will drive costs down to the point where all buildings can leverage the power of data.

ASHRAE working groups can facilitate the adoption of standardized routines. Many years ago, the industry was growing weary of proprietary protocols. ASHRAE created a working group that created a standard, and we have enjoyed interoperability thanks to BACnet ever since.

- Data normalization in older buildings.  We have a greater challenge making sense of all the building data in our large stock of older buildings, in particular smaller, older buildings. The majority of small buildings haven’t been upgraded with building automation, lighting systems and sensors, leaving managers of these facilities to struggle with leveraging newer technology to drive productivity and efficiency improvements.

The advent of smart lighting systems and IoT sensors offer these facilities the ability to do just that. However, these new systems don’t yet use common data protocols and methods. Payback is a factor that can prevent small-building upgrades and the use of common data protocols and methods. Automation of any sort tends to favor much larger buildings in order to reach reasonable payback numbers. The overhead needed to convert the current protocols into a modern semantic definition will take time and effort.

Boosting the residential IoT infrastructure. The exponential growth of residential IoT infrastructure is expected to increase acceptance of connected devices and may offer rapid advancement of data communication protocols and nomenclature. Here, too, the work is in its infancy.

What do ASHRAE members need to know about advancements in data collection, storage, management and access?

Our newer built environment, being composed of new systems, provides owners and operators with a wealth of data about the physical makeup of a building, its equipment and the environmental conditions within. This data can be incredibly useful to optimize the occupant experience and the efficiency of the building itself. Occupant expectations are driving demand for new and useful smart technology in the commercial space, and we expect to see this demand filter throughout the entire building stock. Buildings are moving from being static/purpose-built to becoming flexible, programmable entities that can adjust on-the-fly as building stakeholder needs and use cases change over time.

Breaking Down Vision 2030’s Data & Integration Concepts 

What is IT/OT integration?

In simple words, this is the integration of information technology (IT) that refers to anything related to computer technology and data management and operation technology (OT) that refers to devices that control the physical world.

Stakeholders who clearly see the importance of data and its integration in creating new sequences of operations and use cases with a clear connection to value will succeed and lead as we move towards performance-based and sustainable infrastructure. 

Clear KPIs that are documented and tracked can help stakeholders understand concepts such as reductions in first cost, labor, energy and carbon as well as optimizing space, retaining and attracting talent and even using weather data to condition a space in a cost-effective manner. 

What are the implications of IT/OT convergence for engineers and the building industry?

Bridging, often referred to as convergence + integration, will flatten networks and normalize data protocols. They will secure data flow as new applications and use cases and address the needs of the occupant, owner, investor and the planet. A building can be seen as the physical manifestation of an architect’s design, and the primary goal is to provide an enriched user experience while fulfilling the vision of a healthy and sustainable built environment for all.

The IT/OT convergence and integration in this entire process in which the digital twin plays a key role offers a whole new horizon of opportunities of ingenuity and innovation for the building industry.

ASHRAE saw the changes in the market and the power of IT/OT integration and embarked on a strategy and design journey with a group of well-aligned strategic partners to reimagine the ASHRAE HQ in Atlanta.

What is smart object-based design?

A smart object is an object—having specific attributes and behaviors—that is connected to the internet and is capable of managing information and leading to a desired action. Smart objects can transform the physical environment around us to a digital world using the Internet of things (IoT) technologies.

Smart object-based design is the process of formulating a system of interacting objects to solve a software problem. It involves the understanding that all systems (whether they be HVAC, lighting, building automation, access control, Wi-Fi or collaboration or audio/visual) are part of data platforms. Examples of data platforms are digital twins, asset management or building management systems.

Smart object-based design will allow the industry to eliminate individual system silos, bridge the world of OT and IT and unlock high-performance business value.

What is edge computing?

Edge computing brings computation and data storage closer to the devices that generate data. This involves the deployment of IoT devices coupled with 5G technology that will transform the way data is handled, processed and delivered from millions of devices around the world. This results in the creation and support of real-time applications, such as video processing and analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, equipment optimization, etc. Edge computing drives performance through reduction of latency (real-time operations and control), secures data and directly correlates to the reduction of energy and carbon footprint

What is digital twin, and how is it used?

A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical object or process. In the context of the built environment, a digital twin can be created from any and all building data. This data can include BIM and other 3D physical or physics-based models (or ground or air capture including point clouds or photogrammetry). It can also include data from system processes, such as from a building automation system or IoT devices. AI/machine learning (ML)/deep learning can then be trained to auto-identify architectural/construction elements, such as roofs, walls, shading devices, light shelves, doors and windows, or system process elements (faults and system errors)—resulting in a digital twin with additional attributes. Effective data utilization in design evolution can enable virtual design, commissioning and operation. Digital twin will cut across the entire life cycle of buildings involving the extensive use of data and IT/OT integration in both new and existing asset stock.