The evolution of BEMS; a brief look over the last 70 years

Exploring the evolution of BEMS; from basic controls to smart, sustainable solutions

Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) have come a long way since the 1960s, when the first basic controls emerged. Over the last six decades, the evolution of BEMS has been rapid. The technology has been revised, adapted and modernised to meet changing efficiency – and sustainability – demands. Today, an optimised BEMS is anything but basic. It’s a critical component in the design and operation of any commercial building. To appreciate how far our energy management technology has come, let’s look back at the evolution of BEMS.

We’ll start by jumping back to the 1950s. From here, we’ll move through each decade, exploring the defining moments that shaped – or continue to shape – our BEMS; from the rise of automation to the Internet of Things (IoT).

  • 1950s-1960s

    Basic Controls: The Foundation of BEMS

    The evolution of BEMS harks back to the 1950’s. During this time, the first basic controllers, generally referred to as ‘discrete’ controllers, were used in commercial buildings. Before centralised systems came about, multiple discrete controllers, each serving just one function, were used to control a building’s energy use. Manually operated with limited functionality, building operators could set simple schedules for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).

    Although discrete controls are no longer suitable for the intelligent control of commercial or large residential spaces, they were an important first step to managing the energy consumption of our buildings. A good example of a discrete controller, due to their popularity in this time period, is the Satchwell Climatronic, pictured below.

  • 1970s-1980s

    Centralised Systems: The Rise of Automation

    A key step in the evolution of BEMS was the energy crisis of the 1970s. That’s because it spurred a greater interest in how our buildings manage and save energy. This, coupled with advancements in computer technology, gave rise to sophisticated control and automation. As the 1980’s rolled in, the first centralised systems began to take shape.

    These centralised systems utilise a single control panel to monitor and manage multiple building systems, including HVAC, lighting and other energy-consuming devices. And with greater automation comes greater complexity; building operators were able to set schedules, alarms and remote monitoring functionalities that were more intricate than ever before. This led to vast improvements in the energy efficiency of our buildings, as well as operational cost savings.

    A good example of an early centralised system is the Satchwell Autoscan console. Introduced in 1974, the Autoscan featured a mainframe computer, which was connected to a network of sensors, controllers and actuators throughout the building. It combined hardware and software to monitor and control a building’s HVAC services.

    A similar example is the Honeywell Delta 1000 system (pictured below), which came to the market around the same time. Again, it was a computer-based system that only really covered HVAC – however, it was a significant in that it introduced the concept of centralised control and monitoring. This laid a firm foundation for subsequent advancements.

    Both systems were discontinued in the early 1990s.

  • 1990s

    Integrated Systems: The Power of Connectivity

    In the 90s, we started to see a greater shift towards integration and connectivity. The scope of what could be integrated into a BEMS was widening, with lighting, security, and renewable energy sources being added to the mix. At the same time, communication capabilities between building systems was vastly improving.

    Harnessing the power of connectivity for a more holistic approach to energy management, our BEMS utilised sensors, meters and other devices to collect data; data on energy consumption, building occupancy and even external weather conditions. Greater communication between devices meant this data could be exchanged, marking the humble beginnings of advanced energy analytics and optimisation.

    A good example of how integrated systems had a real effect on the evolution of BEMS is the Satchwell BAS 2000. It utilised the latest IBM Model 50 personal computer with colour active graphics, detailing pump and fan rotation. End users had easy access to set values, override plant and log energy data.

    To illustrate our example, we’ve dug out some old articles on BAS 2000. See below and this advert from the late 1980’s. We’ve also uncovered this excerpt from ‘Satchwell Scene’ in 1990, talking about the use of the system in Dublin Airport.

  • 2000s:

    Advanced analytics and data visualisation

    The 2000s mark the proliferation of data analytics and data visualisation. For the first time, sensors and meters collected, monitored and analysed data in real-time, allowing this data to be displayed on external interfaces. As a result, building operators could gain valuable insights into energy consumption trends and – just as importantly – identify opportunities for improvement.

    This paved the way for better BEMS optimisation, during a decade that saw mounting public pressure for businesses to become more sustainable and energy efficient. This marked a turning point in the evolution of BEMS, bringing the technology much closer to the modern, digital world you see today.

  • 2010s:

    Smart Systems: The Era of IoT and Data Analytics

    This decade marked a transformation in the world of BEMS; an uptake of the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing technologies. As a result, the first autonomous ‘smart’ systems came into existence. Leveraging machine learning algorithms to actually predict energy consumption, smart systems could now provide proactive recommendations to building operators, leading to advanced data-driven decision making.

    IoT devices and sensors are capable of granular monitoring and control, while cloud-based platforms provide scalability and greater real-time data access than ever before. We can now collect and analyse huge volumes of data, resulting in precise energy management strategies.

    With the addition of enhanced user interfaces and dashboards and – significantly – mobile data apps, BEMS became extremely user friendly. Building operators can now access data remotely and control their systems from their smart phones, wherever they are in the world. This was a real game changer for our industry.

Sustainable Solutions: The Future of BEMS

Buildings have a significant impact on the environment. They account for 40% of the earth’s energy consumption and a third of greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, organisations around the world are prioritising sustainable practices as they strive to become net zero.

To meet growing sustainability demands, BEMS and associated smart technology are constantly adapting to enhance capabilities. Today, they can even integrate renewable energy sources – from solar panels and wind turbines to energy storage systems. An important step in the evolution of BEMS, it means we can now optimise the generation, storage and consumption of renewable energy in buildings.

Our smart solutions can even participate in demand response programmes, where they dynamically adjust energy usage based on grid conditions and reduce peak demand, contributing to grid stability and sustainability.

Going forward, the impressive scope of what we can achieve, particularly from a sustainability standpoint, will only grow. We can expect many more interesting chapters in the evolution of BEMS, just in the next couple of decades.

What happens now?

The evolution of BEMS has been driven by significant advancements in technology, integration and analytics. From simple energy monitoring systems to AI-powered platforms, BEMS has become an indispensable tool for optimising energy usage, reducing costs and minimising environmental impact.

While we don’t know how far smart energy technology will go, we know it’ll continue to incorporate new technologies and ultimately help to create sustainable smart buildings of the future.

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