Artificial Intelligence in Building Automation

One of the most promising new technologies, is the use of big data analytics coupled with artificial intelligence. The concept is to use the power of computing to allow for decision making that could be as good (or ideally better) than the decisions made by a human operator. There are many places that this is being applied from robotics to autonamous vehicles.

There is also the potential to apply these concepts to enhance the operation and control of buildings and homes. One application for control is what is referred to as “Model Predictive Control” (MPC) which uses calculations that could include historical performance, algorithms, and other data to provide for better control. Today most of our control systems operate using a certain level of error or imprecision. The most accurate control (such as PID) try to minimize this inaccuracy. MPC has the potential to provide for more accurate control as well as optimized operation. For example one current research project is attempting to control a fans energy use at the limits of the fan curve and reduce the error that exists with the use of conventional “trim and responsible” control.

While these new concepts show great potential, they are also generally more complicated and computationally intensive than what they replace. As computing power get cheaper and programming tools get easier, it will likely be broadly adopted. We would anticipate that the first application may be embedded in equipment, since there is enough volume to justify the added costs to develop the strategy. In time it will be more broadly used across building control systems. In the meantime it is a good time to learn about the technology and what it can and can’t do.

For some added information take a look at a recent article on this topic in Engineered Systems magazine.

Open Building Controls Demonstration Project - June Update


Building Intelligence Group is helping to support the Open Building Control project being led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (see  Part of our participation on this project is to coordinate a demonstration to show how the “Controls Description Language” can be translated into a commercial building controls programming language. This project is underway and we are working with a leading control supplier as our partner. As the project progresses there will be more to be discussed!


Open Building Controls:

The Open Building Control (OBC) project is intended to provide a set of tools that can be used to simplify the design, specification and deployment of commercial building control sequences, resulting in reduced project cost, higher quality, and improved energy efficiency of building systems. 

There are several elements and tools that are part of this project.  These include:

  • Modeling Tools:  Tools to allow for modeling of control sequences to allow for evaluating their potential performance.  These tools are intended primarily for researchers and designers so that they can compare and select the most energy efficient sequences. 

  •  Sequence Selection Tool:  This tool would simplify the task of selecting and specifying sequences.  Ideally it will allow designers to easily select and specify their own sequences, or industry “best in class” sequence options such as those in ASHRAE Guideline 36.  Controls

  • Description Language:  CDL provides an open source definition for how to describe a control sequence in a machine-readable format.  The CDL specification is available on the OBC project website ( and has been reviewed extensively by industry.  The project team has developed translators that can represent a CDL file both in a JSON format as well as in HTML.

  •  CDL Translators:  The project team envisions these as a control system vendor provided tool that would take a CDL file, (or the file translated to JSON) interpret it, and use the content to generate code that could readily be compiled and downloaded into a control system.  

  • Validation Tools:  The final parts of the OBC tool-chain are tools that can be used to verify the correct operation of the control sequences.  These tools would be used for commissioning and analysis of existing systems with an eye toward further optimization. 

2019 - Fifteenth Year for Building Intelligence Group

2019 marks 15 years since Building Intelligence Group was formed.  We started in the early days of the Intelligent Building and our focus was on assisting the industry with convergence of building systems with IT.  Our firm remains focused on integrated building systems but has transitioned to assisting owners, and the industry with the benefits this provides for improved energy efficiency, operations, and coordinated operation of buildings with the energy grid. 

Our team is experienced in all aspects of energy efficiency including planning, design, existing system analysis, energy modeling, and project management.  We are focused both on assisting owners to improve their building performance, and also on how to assist the building systems industry in improving performance through education, tools, pilots, and other programs focused on transforming how efficiency is delivered.

In late 2016, Building Intelligence Group stopped accepting new projects when founder and president Paul Ehrlich, took a position as program manager and technical advisor at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  Paul relocated to Portland Oregon and worked on a series of projects including advanced building controls, facility operations and building to grid integration. This provided invaluable experience about the process and focus being pursued on the part of the US government to help with efficient and grid integrated buildings.  

 Paul recently returned to Building Intelligence Group, and our firm is now pursuing new project opportunities. Areas of expertise include:

  • Energy Efficiency:  Assisting owners on how to effectively improve building energy efficiency while maintaining comfort and safety.  Our services range from energy audits, modeling, and schematic design, through design, project management and finally commissioning and training. 

  • Systems Integration:  Support for master planning, project design, use of open protocols, cyber security, contractor / supplier qualification and commissioning.

  • Industry and Market Transformation:  Develop programs that document current practices and development of plans for improved process, training, and solutions. 

  • Research and Pilot Projects:  Small and large scale approaches to testing new process and technology.  This includes site selection, contractor and product selection, testing methodology, owner coordination, measurement and verification, and documentation through case study.

We are available for projects both locally in the Pacific Northwest, as well as across the US and internationally.  We appreciate your time and support for our shared interest in sustainability through improved building performance and efficiency.

Building Automation System Innovation

In many ways it seems like products available for building automation have been largely static with little in terms of innovation. But in reality subtle changes and improvement are now allowing the design of systems that are all network based and have added capability to support semantic tagging and encrypted communications. See the November issue of Engineered Systems for an article by Building Intelligence Groups, Paul Ehrlich highlighting these changes and some of the resulting challenges.