Expert: Building management system can cut emissions, boost sustainability

The U.S. Department of Energy has found that installing a building management system can lead to energy savings of up to 29%.
Ameya Paleja
Representational image: Cityscape.
Representational image: Cityscape.


  • Buildings and their usage account for around 30 percent of global emissions.
  • Installing a building management system (BMS) can lead to energy savings of up to 29 percent and a reduction in carbon emissions.
  • A BMS can also help a building management team spot a piece of faulty equipment and determine how soon it will need to be replaced.

Over the past few years, there has been a major push from individuals and governments to move away from fossil fuels toward electrified transportation. While this is a commendable move, it only focuses on one part of the global emissions problem.

In 2021, transportation accounted for around 37 percent of global CO2 emissions from end-use sectors.

However, according to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), buildings and their operations accounted for 30 percent of global final energy consumption and 27 percent of total energy sector emissions. Unlike transportation, buildings and their energy usage do not get the same attention and urgency for change.

Although research is ongoing into how emissions from construction can be further reduced, technology now enables us to connect various building equipment and monitor their energy consumption and functioning. This can help us begin reducing emissions right away.

Interesting Engineering (IE) spoke to Natalie Patton, Vice President of Customer Success at BuildingsIOT, a Concord, California-based provider of building management service software, to understand how it works and can help us reduce emissions.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and flow.

Interesting Engineering: What is a building management system?

Natalie Patton: The Building Management System is the place building engineers and facility managers go to run their building equipment. A BMS typically focuses on HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] equipment as the most energy-intensive and mechanically complex system that operates within the building. Increasingly, building management systems integrate data from systems beyond HVAC, including lighting, plumbing, life safety, electrical, IOT sensors, and even elevators.

Not all of those systems can be controlled through the BMS (life safety, for example, is almost always Read Only in the BMS as it's so heavily regulated and requires control from specialized operators). Without a BMS, operators are stuck trusting that their controls always operate as designed or pushing setpoint changes and overrides through one controller's touchpad at a time.

Expert: Building management system can cut emissions, boost sustainability
Left: Smart building concept. Right: Natalie Patton, Vice President at Buildings IOT.

The first evolution of building management systems aggregated system data to a single server hosted in the building with rudimentary graphics and sometimes enough capacity to store historical data for long-term trend analysis. Today's building management system is cloud-hosted and history-enabled for secure remote connectivity and scalable storage of years worth of time-series data.

IE: How does a modern-day BMS work?

A BMS works by connecting to controllers from disparate systems across a network. Each controller feeds its data back to a centralized server. If the BMS connects multiple systems, each server is made available for a secure connection.

The system server processes the time-series data at the edge and manages the controller-level sequences of operation, plus defines all the writable set points for the user interface. The cloud-hosted portion pulls the data in near-real time to a browser-based user interface where access-controlled users can push commands to the edge devices from the comfort of anywhere.

Expert: Building management system can cut emissions, boost sustainability
The SystemView in onPoint, a BMS software from BuildingsIOT

A BMS centralizes alarm management and equipment schedules across systems and enables fault detection and diagnostics for machine-learning analysis and multiple layers of reporting, as well as measurement and verification.

IE: Can the platform be integrated into existing building facilities? Or does one need to install new smart devices first?

Set up of building management systems typically follow a controller upgrade. Controllers don't need to be the most high-tech on the market, but they do need to be programmable and capable of processing data on a network.

Equipment retrofits happen in existing buildings all the time. It is becoming more commonplace for building owners to choose equipment that is capable of connecting to a building management system to protect their investment and ensure the machine maintains the ability to operate as designed for its entire useful life.

IE: Is it meant for large buildings only?

It happens that large buildings tend to be the biggest adopters of building management systems for the obvious reasons that they have lots of equipment to manage and maintain as well as at least one engineer on staff to use it. But the cost of a BMS typically scales with the [amount] of equipment, so small- to medium-sized building owners might be surprised that it's actually quite cost-effective, considering the value of the assets a BMS is used to manage.

Couple a BMS with a digital service agreement that allows a third party to both operate the building and provide data-driven maintenance, and the savings continue to add up. A cloud-hosted BMS makes it much easier for a third party to monitor a portfolio of buildings from off-site. The analytics that the BMS enables further makes it possible to operate the building more effectively and provide validation to the building owner that the fix installed has, in fact, solved the problem rather than just providing a band-aid.

IE: What scale of energy savings can one expect after shifting to a BMS platform?

The U.S. Department of Energy has found that installing Direct Digital Controls (DDC) and a building management system can lead to energy savings of up to 29 percent. This is largely because controls and a BMS make it easy to implement equipment schedules and manage setpoints to a great degree of granularity.

Expert: Building management system can cut emissions, boost sustainability
A BMS system can give you insights on Energy usage.

When that BMS includes a user interface and fault detection and diagnostics (FDD or building analytics), an additional 9 percent of savings is possible. Depending on the number of assets under management and the utility rate schedule for the area, ROI is typically achieved in 3-5 years.

Traditionally, Building Management Systems have not made it easy to track energy savings and emissions avoided. Increasingly though, the analytics capabilities to equate operational data to energy savings and carbon is being built into advanced, cloud-hosted building management systems.

IE: Can't shifting to renewables help in reducing emissions altogether? Why BMS?

Shifting to renewables is definitely important if a building owner hopes to meet carbon emission reduction goals. But just because the energy is clean doesn't mean it should be wasted. And often, when building equipment is wasting energy, it's also not operating as it should, which means it may fail sooner than it's supposed to.

Expert: Building management system can cut emissions, boost sustainability
Equipment details as seen in onPoint BMS

The massive machines that keep buildings warm in winter and cool in summer represent a huge capital cost for building owners, and no one wants to replace these complex systems any sooner than they absolutely have to.

IE: Which are typical energy sinks in a building, and how can a BMS help reduce emissions from these facilities?

The most energy-intensive equipment in a building is the HVAC equipment. Lighting is where most building owners start with energy-focused retrofits because it's relatively simple to install LED lights across an entire portfolio. But HVAC equipment is complicated to design, expensive to procure, time-consuming to install, and critical to the habitability of a building.

The largest equipment represents the largest energy users, and those are your air handlers and central plants (made up of chillers and boilers with countless fans, pumps, and motors). The first place to start in reducing emissions is to ensure this equipment is only running when needed.

You'd be surprised how many buildings are set to run 24/7. As noted above, the simple act of putting equipment on a schedule offers an immediate and long-term reduction in emissions.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board