Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Earlier this month in Sydney, AIRAH held its inaugural Big Data and Analytics Forum. A raft of expert speakers explored how developments such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are set to transform building services. And the promise of disruption was met with open arms.

The event attracted strong interest, bringing together 120 attendees including IT and controls experts, facilities managers, building owners, consultants and building services providers. Despite their varied roles and commercial interests, the overwhelming energy was one of curiosity and collaboration.

“You either take advantage of industry transformation or get swamped by it,” says AIRAH CEO Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH.

“Fortunately, our sector has developed great flexibility dealing with changes such as refrigerant transitions and the rise of sustainable building practices. As the response to the first Big Data and Analytics Forum shows, the stakeholders are keen to engage with new developments and take the opportunities presented.”

Keynote speaker Arun Vishwanath set the scene by unveiling IBM’s new BEACH (Building Energy Analytics for Cooling and Heating) system. He presented a case study of how it has been implemented for a large office building in Townsville, reducing cooling energy use by 15–20 per cent.

BEACH operates on the IBM cloud platform. It autonomously adjusts cooling start times and zone set-point temperatures, irrespective of the BMS. It also represents the entry of a traditionally technology-focused company into the HVAC&R space.

“The emerging open-source standards like Haystack and Brick make it possible for third-party analytics to run on any third-party BMS,” says Vishwanath. He predicted that controls companies will need to “pull up their socks”.

“In the next five or 10 years a lot of start-ups will come up with artificial-intelligence machine-learning (AI ML) algorithms. You’re going to have buildings that are completely self-driving, like self-driving cars. And you don’t need dedicated BMS sitting in every single site. You can have the AI ML models running it, and pretty much have a simple local controller that responds to your decisions. That is a disruption waiting to happen.”

Other speakers took a deep dive into the data. Ying Tan (University of Melbourne) and David Cheng (IESTEC) looked at the nitty gritty of machine learning and extremum seeking. Dr Troy Wilson, chief data scientist at CIM Enviro and research fellow at Macquarie University, questioned traditional measures of chiller efficiency, and showed how big data can provide better measures.

There were also stories of big data and analytics being implemented in the real world. Honeywell’s Brad Schultz, M.AIRAH, spoke about the critical human factor and the importance of managing expectations when implementing analytics. Chris Fitzpatrick described the City of Sydney’s leading program of local government grants to improve building performance – and urged attendees to make use of the money. And Tyrone Mawing from BUENO and Brendan Meller from Woolworths described the analytics journey of one of Australia’s largest retailers.

Panel sessions afforded the opportunity for open discussions and questions from the audience. How do you satisfy clients who demand machine learning without really understanding what it is? Is data cheap or expensive? And what are the big changes coming to the industry. These issues and more were covered during the Forum.

“The Big Data and Analytics Forum 2019 was one of the most outstanding first-time events I have been to in some years,” says Controlworks’ Laurie Reeves, F.AIRAH. “The subject matter was cutting edge, the panel sessions provided stimulating conversations and questions – always a hallmark of a good conference. The attendees were diverse and included product specialists, data scientists, practical engineers, a sprinkling of theorists, and a crowd of attendees with varying degrees of knowledge but a whole lot of interest. And the sponsors were very engaged with the attendees and provided strong insight into their products.”

AIRAH thanks major event sponsor CopperTree Analytics, supporting sponsors BUENO and Innotech, and supporters iHub and TDWI.