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Collaboration of Building Energy Management and IT Energy Management

Beyond the familiar challenge of establishing energy-efficient data centers lies a huge opportunity scarcely tapped by IT: the green possibilities of the building itself. Growth is driving global trends in resource depletion, air and water pollution, energy consumption, and climate change. A third of U.S. energy consumption comes from commercial buildings. Businesses are automating those buildings to reduce costs and emissions. Will IT lead, or follow, the coming change? IT can have a green impact on a company’s energy and emissions: Start with the data center; manage desktop energy use; and enable mobility.

IT departments operate in an environment surrounded by sophisticated data acquisition, analyses, and networking systems of which IT itself is largely unaware. Building automation systems (BAS) are the brains of commercial and industrial buildings that control their own environments. The benefits of building automation—energy savings, improved occupant comfort, added security and safety, and reduced maintenance costs—are all at the top of the list for conservation-minded building owners.

Building automation systems, such as lighting and temperature controls, are common in larger facilities. Energy management systems (EMS) go further, centralizing the control of lighting, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning with the goal of reducing the energy those systems consume. Almost every campus (corporate, medical, or academic) has an EMS, as do 40 percent of the Fortune 100. Manufacturers have adopted automation for efficiency, and those industrial systems are now being leveraged to reduce energy consumption.

Groups of forward-looking vendors have begun to think about how the EMS and IT worlds should converge. The concepts center around removing the long-standing wall between building networks and IT (tenant) networks. Mixed into this dialogue are other low-profile systems common in most buildings, such as security, air quality, and life safety. Cisco has approached the building controls industry with the notion that information is the “fourth utility” after electricity, gas, and water. Cisco has proposed moving EMS to the IP network, not only for efficiency, but also for the information synergies involved. Business information has a strategic and tactical value, and information about the building’s performance is no different.

Protocols, however, are among the stumbling blocks. Building systems operate on largely special-purpose open systems (such as BACnet or LonWorks), and a few proprietary systems remain popular. Today, both types of systems can talk to the IP network through gateways. Within the last few years, the building-control industry has discovered XML. Middleware applications gather information and normalize it for consumption by ERP, accounting, and other enterprise applications.

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