Don’t worry, no compromises to occupant comfort levels involved; but expect double-digit savings in carbon footprint.

Energy consumption in commercial buildings is a significant issue because these structures account for more than 36% of global final energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions.

Much of the energy used for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) is often wasted at certain times of the day, and many solutions already exist to help building management to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency. However, such solutions have until now been proprietary, and still involve some manpower for monitoring and control purposes.

Additionally, the efficacy of existing solutions is highly reliant on how digitally ‘wired’ a building’s various fittings and structures are. The prohibitive cost of rewiring legacy building structures to reap better energy savings may make be negated by the investments in upgrading the building.

With digitalization taking root slowly in building management systems, the answer to enhancing the sustainability of commercial structures is on the horizon. Industrial technology company Honeywell has created what it says is its first autonomous building solution focused on decreasing energy consumption. Named Honeywell Forge Energy Optimization, the technology may deliver double-digit energy savings, decrease a building’s carbon footprint, and can be implemented without significant upfront capital expenses or changes to a building’s current operational processes.

According to David Trice, vice president and general manager at Honeywell Connected Buildings: “Prior to this, we did offer classical controls and monitoring solutions that helped save energy but did not have the autonomous control or machine learning aspects” of the solution.

Autonomous control with machine learning

The Forge Energy Optimization system is a cloud-based, closed-loop, machine learning and IoT solution that continuously studies a building’s energy consumption patterns and then automatically adjusts to optimal energy saving settings without compromising occupant comfort levels.

Notably, it is also hardware-agnostic and built on an open architecture, thereby easing integration into legacy infrastructures and increasing implementation flexibility.

During a pilot at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the Forge Energy Optimization solution demonstrated an initial level of energy savings in the range of 10%. HBMSU is already regarded as a highly energy efficient “smart building” with fully connected lighting, cooling, building management, power and efficiency control optimized based on real-time occupancy levels.

The pilot also uncovered local control issues with the chiller plant and fresh air handling unit that were not adjusting to set points.

Said Dr. Mansoor Al Awar, Chancellor of Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University: “As a smart university, we look to deploy the latest technology across our campus and ensure our buildings are efficient. We were pleasantly surprised by the results we saw from Honeywell Forge and its ability to drive further energy savings beyond our achievable optimization with the techniques we have. Our further partnership with Honeywell will help to support the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) modeling for building automation and provide our students with first-hand applications of how AI and machine learning (ML) will drive operational efficiencies in buildings.”

Said Trice: “Buildings aren’t static steel and concrete—they’re dynamic ecosystems and their energy needs fluctuate based on ever-changing variables like weather and occupancy. With Honeywell Forge, we’re evolving building operations far beyond what would be possible even with a robust team of engineers and the rules they code in their building management system. By employing the latest self-learning algorithms coupled with autonomous control, we can help building portfolio owners fine-tune their energy expenditures to drive efficiencies and create more sustainable practices for our customers.”

Comparatively, Trice indicated that older building may see more significant energy savings than a new building based on the overall age and energy efficiency of its systems. In general, though, even highly energy efficient buildings can see savings.

What’s the secret sauce?

According to Trice, the new solution autonomously and continually optimizes a building’s internal set points across hundreds of assets every 15 minutes to evaluate whether a building’s HVAC system is running at peak efficiency.

Until now, traditional HVAC control solutions have incorporated varying levels of sophistication. The most basic involves static set points that do not account for variable factors such as occupancy or weather. The second, and most common, rely on scheduled set-point adjustments using estimated occupancy and climate conditions.

In the case of Honeywell’s solution, the system analyzes factors such as time of day, weather, occupancy levels, and dozens of other data points to determine the optimal settings per building, and then makes calculated decisions 96 times per 24-hour period for every building in a portfolio, 365 days a year across the system of assets.

In development testing, repeated results have shown double-digit reductions of HVAC-related consumption while not impacting customer comfort.

Also, while set points can be personally managed by a certified energy manager, most facilities have not found this workflow to produce a viable return on investment due to the sheer volume of variables involved,  plus the difficulty in producing accurate calculations in any scalable manner.

With the autonomy and AI-based tech of Honeywell’s solution, manual intervention is reduced and simplified, so building portfolio owners can rely on plug-and-play functionality with no changes to business mechanics needed. Notably, the solution does not involve ‘rip and replace’ systems to add energy optimization to a building.

When asked about the returns on investment that building owners can expect, Trice qualifies that “customers experienced energy savings between 6% and 39%. Typical customers achieved 23% savings, after three months of deploying Honeywell Forge Energy Optimization at a properly equipped building.” He did note that customers’ mileage may vary. “Past performance is not indicative of future results and Honeywell does not guarantee energy savings.”

And what about the IT-to-OT security debate and fears about autonomous systems? With OT being transformed with IT, there are currently global worries about the increased attack surface of digitalized, fully autonomous systems. From that perspective, Honeywell stands by its ‘secure-by-design’ product and default software development approach towards helping to protect customers’ systems.

Said Trice: “It’s increasingly important that cybersecurity across an entire organization, including OT, is a built-in and is not only seen as a protector, but also an enabler of new connected opportunities.”