The modern building contains more electrically-connected services than ever before, from smart home consoles to digital keycard security systems. In order to manage these numerous components, each themselves made of up complex smaller systems, and many being interconnected with each other, building automation is becoming increasingly complex as well. The term “building automation” refers to the autonomous management of electrical systems in a building, which can be as complex as the Internet of Things and smart appliances, or as basic as a thermostat and sensor which are used to regulate temperature in conjunction with an HVAC system. In fact, the more basic building systems can be even more key, as without a habitable environment the other services could break down. For example, without a well-regulated electrical system, a smart thermostat might blow a fuse before it would be able to regulate the temperature inside the building envelope. Therefore, all components of building automation play an important role in creating a habitable and comfortable environment for human occupation. This is where programs like BACnet come in.
BACnet stands for “building automation and control networks.” According to “BACnet – The New Standard Protocol,” “BACnet was developed by a committee formed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). The committee’s main objective was to create a protocol that would allow building systems from different manufacturers to interoperate, that is to work together in a harmonious way. Prior to the advent of BACnet there was simply no practical way to achieve this goal.”1 In essence, BACnet standardizes and facilitates the control of automated building systems, much the way that a programming language facilitates the building of a website. What differentiates BACnet from a programming language is that it contains protocols not only for commands, standardizing communication between seemingly dissimilar devices, but it also contains instructions for hardware components such as cable types as well.1
While BACnet is truly defining a new standard protocol for building automation and changing the state of the industry, there is a gap to be bridged with existing paradigms. For example, BACnet-native products are coming onto the market, and this will benefit the efficiency of communication between varying parts of new-generation building automation systems. However, a defining characteristic of the building industry is the slow pace of change. Because of the broad labor pool of skilled technicians who need updated training with each technological advancement, and because buildings are often updated only at key junctures like renovations and ownership changes, it can take a long time for any protocol to become truly “standard.” Thus, the issue remains: how can BACnet-enabled and older models of appliances communicate with each other? The answer is that a gateway can be used to link the two and translate commands between them1. While this is slightly less efficient in terms of time and energy, the benefit of having the whole building automation system working together far outweighs those costs.
Building automation is a field that is making rapid advancements while working to bridge the gap with a broader building industry that is rooted in tradition. BACnet is making progress at becoming a universal protocol to ensure that all building automation components can function synchronously.