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Demystifying IoT and Analytics: A Case for Building Energy Management Systems

Updated: Jun 17

by Ir. Ts. Mohd Iqbal bin Ridwan.

The mind doesn’t know what the eyes cannot see. This is the mantra for engineers whenever it comes to the management of systems or components. Be it for production facilities, buildings and even the national power grid, being able to “see” enables engineers to act accordingly based on the situation at hand.


Generally, in this modern age, the “see” capability is provided through sensors, which sends necessary information to monitoring and control center via communication technologies. Now, from this, how many sensors are required to establish the “ultimate” monitoring and control system, where zero human intervention is needed? What is the value of such system? What are the additional input data required to assist sound decision making, on top of existing monitored information? To seasoned engineers, such questions will lead to the following equation:

Ultimate monitoring and control system =

More sensors (a) + more communication devices (b) + more system integration (c) → higher cost

Before you argue that we should rather look at life cycle cost instead of initial investment cost, let me tell you that yes, I do agree with this opinion. As the matter of fact, historically, the high cost of monitoring and control system is mainly due to the over-dependency of end users to the technology vendors. Proprietary solutions usually result in technology lock-in where even the slightest modification will cost you as if you are buying a brand-new system. This is not a healthy way forward for the industry considering that we just entered the year 2020. We sincerely believe end-users should be empowered with the technological choices when deciding to establish such system for their applications.

Enter Internet of Things (IoT), a term that was first coined by Kevin Ashton from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1999. Mr. Ashton envisioned that sensors connected via open communication a.k.a. the internet will revolutionize the way we manage not only industrial processes but our daily lives as well. In a retrospective view, there is no one who could deny how internet has changed the world in financial, social and technological aspects during the past decade. For IoT based technologies, internet serves as the main highway for petabytes of information exchange for various applications.

Though there is no standardized definition of IoT, the National IoT Strategic Roadmap 2014 defines IoT as “convergence of smart devices that generate data through sensors to create new information and knowledge to boost human intelligence, efficacy and productivity to enhance the quality of life”. New buzzwords such as Big Data Analytics devices emerged which truly capitalizes information channeled through IoT devices and systems. To understand the applicability of IoT, Beecham Research, UK has outlined clear set domains and functions where IoT based technologies can be applied.



Depending on which domain you come from, this diagram can be either inspiring or intimidating or perhaps both. However, the important key take-away from the diagram is that it allows for end-users to pin-point and focus IoT applications to specific assets and functions. Then, end-users could start exploring the type of sensors that is relevant to functions and decide what kind of information required to be displayed for the purpose of asset management.

You may ask how will this be different than pre-IoT systems? The answer lies in the nature of IoT based technologies itself. IoT (or Industrial IoT-IIoT) devices or sensors are designed to be low-cost with low-energy consumption. This is where IoT achieves scalability where such sensors could be installed at larger scale yet with significantly lower costs, in contrast with proprietary sensors. The same goes with the communication technologies for the sensors. IoT communication protocols are based on open technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), LoRa, Zigbee to name a few and end-users are free to select what protocol will suit their application. For the display of information, end-users have choices to either opt for open source dashboard such as Grafana or subscribe to established platform providers such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and many others. To assist the overall IoT implementation by end-users, IoT Analytics Gmbh has outlined a framework which highlights IoT technologies, underlying communication protocols and cyber security recommendations.



Building Energy Management Systems and IoT


Being a part in the 4th industrial revolution, IoT based technologies has been implemented mainly as disruptors to conventional industries such as transportation, hospitality and many others as information are made available from ubiquitous sensors and sources. Of course, such information needed to be processed and displayed in a user-friendly manner hence that is where analytics is coupled together with IoT. For the case of building energy management systems (BEMS), IoT is the fundamental building block that enables integration of existing facility management expertise and real-time monitoring to achieve optimum energy efficiency. Furthermore, with the advent of distributed energy resources such as solar PV and battery storage systems, IoT based technologies are able to automate the energy management profile based on the load consumption, weather condition and tariff signals from electricity retailers. These are seemingly complex tasks but made possible through implementation of analytics via IoT.

Daniel Minoli et al. (2017) summarizes the new values generated by IoT-based technologies for BEMS are as follows:



These new values are generated based on aggregations of new functionalities in existing domains which are only possible with IoT, such as:



What can we offer? At TNBX, together with our partners, we provide consultation for smart city and building management system solutions. For further information, please contact us at TNBX@tnb.com.my

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