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Why New Daedalus?

Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

Building Intelligence meets the Intelligent Building. The Intelligent Building negotiates with the Intelligent Grid. How will this transform how we interact with the physical world?

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How should green builders prepare for smart grids?

Brian Duggan from West Coast Green asked me at GridWeek what green builders and sustainable construction companies should do to prepare themselves for the smart grid. What new construction methods should they use? What new smart-grid aware control systems would they need to install. My answer—nothing.

My answer was that before a building can collaborate with a smart grid, it must know what it has and know what it can do. Knowing what you have begins with information technology (IT), and knowing what you are building, and that begins with design.

Sustainable builders should embrace the use of building models and of building information models (BIM). BIM produces designs that more effectively engage the owner, earlier in the process. This leads to fewer retrofits, fewer changes, and less waste. I cannot imagine how anyone can claim to be committed to sustainable construction if they do not use BIM.

Energy models, an important part of LEEDS and other sustainable business practices, often have little to do with the actual design. Even when they do, they are only rarely updated to reflect design changes or value engineering. An energy model can be created directly from a BIM. As the design is updated, the energy model can be regenerated. Instead of being a separate and largely irrelevant check off, with BIM, the energy model becomes a recursive method to commission the design.

BIM-based construction shares information with the design to do a better job. BIM-bidding uses reduces uncertainty and risk—and thereby cost. Because the collisions are resolved in advance in the three dimensional model, subsystems and components are built off-site in controlled conditions. Casework, fire control systems, plumbing, duct, really any component can be cut, fit, and assembled off-site to achieve higher quality with less waste in less time.

Duct for example, can be pre-assembled, sealed, and insulated in shop conditions rather than in the field, perhaps the street, as is often the case in traditional construction. Higher quality ductwork is quieter and saves energy throughout the life of the system. The resulting components are installed faster and with minimal interference with other trades.

BIM today has little to say about the critical control systems that manage and monitor energy using systems in the building. I think BIM-based designers should specify performance goals, Healthfulness, comfort, and performance should be specified. Subcontractor bids should warrant results not methods; this maximizes the incentive for innovation. These performance goals, along with the intrinsic energy model described above, become the platform for commissioning.

Too often, commissioning falls back to the old standard—no sparks. BuildingSmart, the consortia that promotes best practices in BIM, has defined the Common Operations Building Information Exchange (COBIE). COBIE defines the handover of information from the BIM to operations at the end of construction. COBIE catalogues building systems and formalizes commissioning records. When combined with the performance specification for each system as described above, COBIE will raise commissioning to a higher level.

Building owners and operates must understand how their buildings actually operate before they can understand how to collaborate with the smart grid. Such knowledge increases the value received from site-based generation and storage even before smart grid interactions are considered. A tenant who can see the services provided by his building, and understands how changes affect quality of service changes, rather than how systems operation changes, knows enough to negotiate with the grid.

It starts with knowing what is in the building, what services are provided by the building, and how changes affect quality of service. In new construction, that should begin with BIM.

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  • Response
    Toby argues that you don't have to make any controls decisions now to prepare your building project for the smart grid. As a product portfolio manager for controls at Trane, I must disagree.

Reader Comments (4)

Yes, but...

Isn't COBIE a too-clunky-to-succeed batch transfer standard, like the old Spatial Data Transfer Standard in the geospatial world? Aren't vendors' BIM silos the real problem? Don't we need IFCs implemented as open XML encodings and don't we need building information access operations made interoperable through open Web service interface standards? In a Smart Grid world, how will devices publish their in-building locations and how will smart buildings publish their energy flow information without such a Web services foundation?

Wouldn't the huge global AEC/BuildingOwner/BuildingOperator community be smart to share the small cost, with vendors, of building the necessary standards? As customers, aren't they in a position to insist that vendors cooperate? Wouldn't an open standards foundation benefit everyone, as is the case in the geospatial world?


October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLance McKee

While BIM enhances the design and better information of the building components, it still has a long way to go to do real energy modeling based on the current assembly approach. Given the poor energy performance of the many LEED buildings, it needs more than the incorporation of energy mofdeling from BIM. It needs a real shift in the design parameters of the total energy sytems within the building, the distributed renewable energy systems and the interoperability of the building automation for the Demand Response and other optimiztion choice end users should have the right to make.

October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Katz

Lance - you are right that COBIE is a one time batch transfer of a BIM subset to operations. It needs ot be enhanced and expanded. It also needs to maintain that subset, to be focused on the needs of operations which are quite different than those for construction.

There are some efforts (I;m thinking of the Digital Cornerstone project) to maintain the enire BIM as a queryable model for the life of the building. Perhaps you are thinking of that?


October 21, 2009 | Registered CommenterToby Considine

COBIE is not really a one time batch transfer. It is both a file standard and a process, and as a process it assumes Phased Information Delivery. The main benefit of COBIE for an owner is ability to check quality of facility data, and update data, while it's being designed and built, and prepare the facility for operations before moving in. It is focused more on FM than on design/construction needs, and set of Attributes needed is quite flexible. I can provide more info for those who're interested via info at

December 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIgor Starkov (Tokmo)

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