Pradeep Singh, intelligent building solutions consultant at Trend Control Systems looks at how BEMS works throughout the year.

Historically, facilities managers have faced significant challenges in adequately preparing buildings for every season due to the lack of sophistication in automated controls. Without the advanced features of modern systems, facility managers (FM) often relied heavily on historical weather data to anticipate temperature fluctuations and would have to make adjustments to the indoor environment themselves.

For instance, during the summer months, facilities managers might need to manually lower the thermostat settings to create a cooler environment. Typically, this would involve physically assessing each thermostat unit throughout the building and adjusting the temperature settings based on historical patterns or real-time weather observations. Conversely, in winter, facilities managers would manually raise thermostat settings to maintain a comfortable warmth.

Considering these interventions require regular monitoring and adjustments, the process can become both labour-intensive and time-consuming. It can also leave occupants experiencing prolonged periods of discomfort whilst waiting for changes to the building’s environment to be made.

With the advent of advanced building energy management systems (BEMS), facilities managers now have the tools to seamlessly adapt the climates within buildings based on multiple factors, including external weather conditions. These systems can leverage cutting-edge technology to monitor and adjust heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting, and other environmental controls in real-time. By utilising the latest technology, facilities managers can create comfortable, adaptive environments for occupants whilst simultaneously optimising energy efficiency.

Standalone building systems

One of the biggest challenges faced in education premises is that of ageing building systems. For example, there are many school sites that still make use of dial-up internet for their building systems, which can causeseveral problems.

First, these systems will be unable to communicate once Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is switched off, which is scheduled for December 31, 2025 in the United Kingdom. Second, and much more pressing, dial-up provides a slow and unreliable connectivity that limits how effectively a BEMS operates. The limitations of dial-up can hinder real-time monitoring and control of crucial building systems such as HVAC, lighting, and security, impacting operational efficiency and responsiveness to changing environmental conditions. Couple this with ever-changing weather conditions and it becomes understandable why educators often have a hard time maintaining comfortable conditions for occupants throughout the year.

Furthermore, legacy systems, such as manual thermostats and rudimentary heating and cooling systems with no zoning controls, often lack advanced features and rely on manual controls. For example, typically, temperature adjustments are applied uniformly across the entire building, which becomes problematic when weather conditions change, as it requires manual intervention from facilities managers to adjust the temperature accordingly. Not only do these manual controls make it cumbersome for managers to quickly respond to changing weather, but these outdated systems can lead to energy inefficiencies that can impact operational costs.

Without real-time monitoring and control capabilities, facilities can struggle to respond promptly, which can cause a multitude of issues. For instance, during the summer, a delay in adjusting air conditioning systems in response to a sudden heatwave might result in excessively high indoor temperatures, causing discomfort and potentially even affecting occupants’ well-being and productivity. Similarly, in winter, a failure to adjust heating systems promptly during a cold spell can lead to chilly indoor environments, again impacting occupant well-being.

Upgrading infrastructure

While it is essential for every educational facility to implement a BEMS, the complete transition from dial-up internet access to IP-based Ethernet systems is imperative for education facilities to meet the demands of modern education. This upgrade can include a significant overhaul of the infrastructure, requiring engineers to attend the site to replace outdated modems and routers with modern Ethernet ports. Additionally, wire changes are necessary to support Ethernet connectivity throughout the whole facility.

Despite the costs associated with it, the benefits of the upgrade are substantial and should not be overlooked. Modern Ethernet can enhance the efficiency of BEMS within schools by providing faster and more reliable connectivity. With Ethernet, BEMS components can communicate seamlessly and in real-time, allowing for precise monitoring and control of various building systems. This upgrade helps allow for proactive and responsive management of energy usage, which can lead to improved operational efficiency, reduced energy usage, and the ability to integrate advanced smart building technologies.

Planning for seasonal change

Facilities managers can proactively plan for seasonal changes without necessarily upgrading to the latest integrated BEMS, by employing strategic measures within a building’s existing systems. First and foremost, a thorough assessment of the current HVAC and building systems is essential. This involves identifying inefficiencies, checking insulation, and verifying that HVAC systems are well-maintained. Regular preventative maintenance helps to optimise system performance and better prepares them for differing seasonal demands.

Facilities managers can implement a comprehensive schedule for system checks and adjustments based on anticipated seasonal shifts. This includes cross-checking thermostats and adjusting ventilation settings before the onset of extreme weather conditions. If available, facilities managers can also leverage programmable thermostats that can assist in automating temperature adjustments according to a predefined seasonal schedule, ultimately helping to enhance occupant comfort and energy efficiency.

Facilities managers can also promote energy-efficient practices, which can be as simple as encouraging occupants to open windows during milder seasons or make appropriate clothing adjustments to reduce reliance on HVAC systems. While not a replacement for an integrated BEMS, these proactive measures maximise the efficiency of existing systems and can help mitigate the impact of seasonal variations. Regular monitoring and data analysis of energy consumption patterns can help provide insights for fine-tuning operations and identifying areas for improvement without the need for a complete system overhaul.

Nonetheless, whilst embracing a holistic approach to building maintenance without upgrading systems offers various cost-saving benefits, this approach falls short of the comprehensive rewards that can be derived from a BEMS.

Achieving seamless operations with BEMS

Implementing a BEMS is crucial for optimising a building’s environment promptly and efficiently. While facilities managers can plan ahead with existing systems, unforeseen weather events, such as heatwaves, pose challenges to this strategy.

A BEMS allows for real-time adjustments, allowing occupants to remain comfortable despite sudden weather changes. With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and heatwaves[i], facilities managers face a common issue. The adaptability of a BEMS becomes indispensable in mitigating the impact of these climatic shifts by constantly maintaining optimal building conditions even in the face of unexpected shifts in the outdoor environment.

Typically, if the temperature rises unexpectedly, the BEMS can trigger adjustments to the HVAC system. For instance, it might increase the cooling output or optimise airflow patterns to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature, enabling occupants to remain comfortable at all times.

BEMS and IoT devices

Advanced BEMS and Internet of Things (IoT) devices can enhance the ability to detect and respond to changes in building environments by utilising a network of sensors and actuators placed throughout the building. These sensors are responsible for monitoring various parameters like temperature, humidity, occupancy, and energy consumption. The BEMS can then process this data in real-time using sophisticated algorithms to assess the current environmental conditions.

When integrated with IoT devices, like indoor air quality (IAQ) sensors, a BEMS can become even more responsive. Strategically placed around a building, IAQ sensors can monitor various parameters that influence air quality, such as particulate matter, CO2 levels, temperature, and humidity. The collected data is then transmitted to the BEMS which can autonomously initiate actions to enhance the quality of air within a building.

For example, if elevated CO2 levels are detected, indicating inadequate ventilation, the BEMS can adjust the building’s HVAC system to increase fresh air intake. The relationship between IAQ sensors and BEMS helps enable a dynamic and proactive approach to air quality management. As the sensors continuously provide updated data, the BEMS can make real-time adjustments to make sure the indoor environment remains comfortable for occupants.

Seamless operations throughout the year

Facilities managers must proactively plan for seasonal challenges to improve year-round operational efficiency. During the summer holidays, educational facilities can utilise alarm rationalisation to notify the right staff member of any issues, like heating being left on unnecessarily, which can be tailored to the specific requirements of the organisation. A modern BEMS, utilising Ethernet connection, can make sure staff receive specific, actionable alerts, allowing for immediate resolution either remotely or on-site. This proactive approach enhances operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness during periods of reduced activity. As such, by utilising existing building systems and thoroughly planning ahead, facilities managers can leverage real-time data to anticipate and mitigate the impact of varying climate conditions.

Moreover, with the latest BEMS offerings, smart dashboards can be tailored to meet the diverse requirements of different educational facilities by offering customisable views that cater to specific roles. These dashboards can provide quick access to pertinent information, such as energy savings or occupant wellbeing, allowing facilities managers to monitor and optimise energy consumption efficiently. By offering customisable dashboards with a range of data visualisation options, educational facilities are better placed to deal with issues that might arise, quickly and efficiently.

Although this strategy can be beneficial, unforeseen weather events can pose challenges that advanced BEMS are best placed to deal with. Equipped with real-time monitoring and adaptive control capabilities, a BEMS can swiftly respond to unexpected weather fluctuations, without manual intervention. Coupled with IoT devices, the dynamic responsiveness of a BEMS allows building environments to help keep occupant comfort within a comfortable range, highlighting the critical role of BEMS in sustaining improved operational efficiency year-round.

[i] Green Peace, Climate change and extreme weather, [Accessed: February 1st, 2024]