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Establishing a Smart Building Industry Standard

By District Energy posted 09-03-2019 09:29


Troy Harvey,


The problem with today's “smart buildings” is they’re not actually smart. At best, they are merely “connected.” Of course, we all know this to be true, but as an industry, we lack the vocabulary to distinguish how smart “smart” is, and thus, we lean on ambiguous terminology. This presents a serious problem as we chart the path from the First Industrial Revolution legacy to our inevitable future arrival at fully autonomous building systems. 

Why Vocabulary Matters

The term “Smart Building” has been in use since at least the 1990s, coined to reference something “more” than just automation. It emerged from the “Smart” lexicon — smartphone, smart home, smart grid, smart cities — invoked when a product is more 4th Industrial Revolution than 1st.

Our industry — automation — was conceived in the 1st Industrial Revolution legacy. The basic control loop, typified by the mercury switch thermostat, still lives on as an emblem of the ingenuity of this early 19th-century paradigm shift. In fact, the senior statesmen of our industry — Honeywell, Siemens, Johnson, and Schneider — were all born out of this early era.

But as our industry transitions to a diverse world of autonomous systems, AI, and distributed IoT — new terminology is required. As anyone operating in the space of “smarter” systems can attest, the building automation industry’s lack of a clear lexicon is becoming a barrier to communication. We spend the first hour of a meeting establishing what we mean by smart, how smart is smart, navigating disbelief, educating about new technology, and finally arriving at common ground.

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