If we want to improve and decarbonise our built environment, we need to efficiently collect, analyse and leverage the data each building generates.  Good, clean, comparable data is the key to optimising building performance, improving the use of resources, and making a significant stride toward predictive maintenance and control.  This will then result in buildings that can operate more efficiently, take part in emerging business models, respond to the needs of the wider energy network, and ultimately achieve our net zero goals.

To ensure that we can collect consistent, informative data from buildings the Active Building Centre Research Programme team at Swansea University, with support from industry collaborators Arup, have developed a naming standard and system specifications which covers connectivity, security, and naming requirements for building devices.

“Why is naming so important?” I hear you ask. Allow me a brief anecdote in way of explanation:

In a previous role as a consultant mechanical engineer I enjoyed working on existing buildings where things weren’t quite operating as they should. I enjoyed the process of analysing the systems, diagnosing the problems, and developing solutions. This often required analysing operational data from SQL databases or .csv files, or poring over as-built drawings from twenty years ago in dusty plant rooms. 

To add an extra layer of complexity in my building services version of a Scooby Doo mystery, it was a regular frustration that items of plant or their associated control points were often named inconsistently. “Sensor 27b” with a reading of “26.76” might have meant something to the engineer who originally designed or commissioned the system, but in a poorly structured database it could be reading temperature, or maybe humidity, and that’s before trying to work out where it’s located. This problem was prevalent in older buildings where systems may have been retrofitted, chopped and changed over the years, but would also exist in new builds. 

To attempt to solve this problem there are a number of ongoing projects within industry and academia looking at standardising the naming and structuring of data in the built environment, such as Brick Schema, Project Haystack, ASHRAE’s BACnet committee, Building Topology Ontology, Google’s UDMI etc.  

As a research programme we have developed a naming standard aligned to these existing methods which covers the naming of physical devices and control points. We are also fully supportive of other open source initiatives such as the W3C Building Device Naming Standards Community Group, which seeks to align initiatives within the industry and develop a solution to the industry’s inconsistent naming approaches.

These efforts are critical to achieving smarter, better operating buildings, and, whilst I don’t unnecessarily want to deprive the next generation of graduate engineers the challenge of deciphering unstructured, inconsistent data, the long term advantages are clear!