In this edition of Voices of the Industry, Sepehr Zarrabi, Solution Sales Engineer at Schneider Electric, explores the benefits of integrating building management system (BMS) software and electrical power management system (EPMS) software into one cohesive and seamless platform.
Building operators and facility managers of today are facing many challenges and competing priorities: maintaining occupants’ comfort and safety while reducing energy consumption and carbon footprint, operating smart buildings while reducing costs, and in many cases these goals must be met with fewer resources. Given these constraints, having good tools that provide remote visibility, control and automation for the different electrical and mechanical systems within a building is more important than ever.
Quite often, designers, owners, and building operators rely on building management systems (BMS) to operate and manage their buildings. Traditionally, a BMS was focused on monitoring and controlling lights, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, elevators, etc. With increasing energy costs and goals to reduce CO2 emissions, as well as introduction of complex energy resources such as PV arrays and battery energy storage systems, building operators have realized that they cannot operate their buildings at peak efficiency without incorporating power and energy into their building management processes. As such, most modern building management systems have means of integrating energy meters and performing some level of power management and energy reporting. However, even the most advanced BMS packages fall short of what a true electrical power management system (EPMS) can do and the value it can provide.
To begin with, BMS’s are generally not designed to monitor or log parameters at speeds required to capture power quality events. Such events can be as short as a few milliseconds (sub-cycle events) and demand special metering hardware to be able to detect and capture such events. In addition to the metering hardware, specific software is required that allows the user perform forensics analysis on the waveforms and determine the root cause of the event as well as possible downtime and cost that may have been associated with that event. This is where an advanced power monitoring software such as EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert (PME) can be invaluable in allowing the user to pinpoint the source of the problem and in case of a power outage, recover quickly hence, increasing reliability and reducing downtime. Sometimes such short duration events may be “harmless” and not cause any equipment damage or downtime however, they can be telltale signs of a failing piece of equipment that requires preventative maintenance to avoid future catastrophic failure and downtime.
Additionally, by time synchronizing the monitoring devices and timestamping the events down to the millisecond, an EPMS allows the user to correlate alarms and events and reconstruct the sequence of events that lead to an issue or outage. Sequence of events recording (SER) is a very important forensics tool in finding the source of the problem and preventing it from occurring in the future.
Analyzing power quality waveforms and interpreting the information captured can be a daunting task that requires skills and experience. Software like EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert (PME) can simplify this if it includes:
- Disturbance Direction Detection: determines if the power quality event occurred upstream or downstream of the meter. This makes it very quick and easy to establish whether the source of the event was external (utility) or internal and if the event was internal, narrows it down to a specific part of the facility.
- Automated Waveform Analytics: resolves the cause of the power quality event and displays it in “natural language” such as: upstream capacitor switching, downstream inrush event, three-phase fault, etc.
Of course, there are many other areas where an EPMS can outperform a BMS such as:
- Monitoring circuit breaker condition and aging to determine maintenance schedule
- Calculating utility invoice based on complex tariffs, which can be used for utility bill verification or sub-billing internal tenants
- Capacity management, especially for critical facilities that have complex redundancy architectures such as N+1, 2N+1, etc.
- Fast alarm detection and notification in response to critical events such as a breaker tripping
- Monitoring other utilities such as water, gas, steam
- Energy forecasting and modeling
While having BMS and EPMS side by side is a step in the right direction, the true value of these two packages can be achieved when they are integrated together into one cohesive and seamless platform. An integrated package streamlines the operations by allowing the users to monitor and control everything from a single pane of glass (without logging into multiple disparate systems). Also exchanging data between BMS and EPMS allows users to uncover efficiencies and performance improvement opportunities that would not be possible or perhaps very difficult otherwise. For example, users can correlate how altering HVAC setpoints affects peak demand and energy costs such that they can strike the right balance between occupants’ comfort and energy savings. There are methods that can lead to great savings without jeopardizing comfort such as pre-cooling the building during off peak hours.
So, we know BMS can help operate and automate a building’s management, and an EPMS can help pinpoint the source of power-related and other problems. Where does DCIM (data center infrastructure management) software come in? We can think of BMS and EPMS as necessary to manage, monitor, and create efficiencies within the “grey space,” or, the back end critical infrastructure for a building or facility. DCIM is what’s needed to manage, monitor, and create efficiencies within the “white space,” or, the Data Center – the largest consumer of power in any building which houses one.
Many users shy away from integrating BMS, EPMS, and DCIM due to a fear that the integration is difficult, expensive, and substandard. And it many cases, this could be true. But often what’s needed is not necessarily for these separate software solutions to dynamically integrate with each other in the sense that they’re passing information back and forth and automatically making changes to one another. Nor would you want them to – the functions of these different spaces are typically managed by completely different departments with different competencies, compliance requirements, and liabilities. What IS necessary however, is an aggregate view of the critical information and functions each of these tools provides and performs. This single pane of glass enables a business leader to see how these different functions intersect and perform in order to create an optimally efficient, resilient, secure, and sustainable operation. In other words, not one of these software solutions will ever be a replacement for another. They’re all necessary and serve important purposes. What is very helpful, however, is overlap between the three.
Having a single vendor who has a proven integrated solution eliminates the risks of integrating different (possibly incompatible) systems in the field, which can lead to draw out and costly projects that can end up with a partially working system and multiple vendors pointing fingers at each other.