27 February 2018

BACnet – The backbone of building automation

The building automation industry grows at an increasingly faster pace. The global building automation market is valued at approximately $50 billion and it is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 10%. The key market drivers for this growth are the demand for energy-efficient buildings, government regulations, smart-grid implementation, smart city, and comfort and security. On the other hand, the market players are faced with some restraints such as lack of effective product differentiation, high switching costs in the adoption of new technologies, and complex installation processes.
If we look at geographic trends, the US is likely to be the major area of market growth, due to infrastructure developments, construction activities, and energy efficiency regulations by governments. The APAC region is also growing due to increasing construction activities. However, Europe’s growth rate is steadier but still driven by energy efficiency regulations. The macro drivers in the building automation market are in turn driving the innovation in building connectivity technologies. These technologies are being created or enhanced to meet the need for low cost, low power, seamless interoperability between devices from different manufacturers, mobility, IoT enablement, and remote monitoring and control.

Connectivity technologies in the building automation industry are generally segmented into wireless connectivity (ZigBee, Enocean, Z–Wave, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Thread, and Infrared) and wired connectivity (BACnet, DALI, KNX, Lonworks, Modbus). Of these wired connectivity technologies, BACnet is a predominant protocol with market penetration of more than 50%. Various proprietary protocols have a market share of approximately 20%. KNX is the most popular protocol, especially in the smart home segment. KNX has a higher market penetration in the European market with a market share of more than 70%. In the wireless communication technologies space, ZigBee is the most popular. Recently, ZigBee announced the Dotdot initiative, which it calls a universal language for IoT, making it possible for smart objects to work together on any network. DotDot unifies the upper-level protocols being used in a number of IoT devices. It represents the ZigBee alliance’s key focus area towards creation and evolution of open standards for the smart networks in homes.
The development of the BACnet protocol began in June 1987 and currently, there are more than 800 companies who are part of the vendor list. There are more than 700 products from 131 OEMs that have been included in the BACnet testing lab listing as of February 2017. Initially, BACnet was focused more around the HVAC segment but over time it was extended and currently it covers other segments including lighting controls, safety, security and access control, smart meters, elevator controls, UPS, flow meters, leak detectors, gas analyzers, etc.
There is an increase in the adoption of BACnet especially when BACnet moved from BACnet MS/TP to BACnet IP at a controller level. In terms of BACnet implementation, the traction is more around software-based BACnet gateways (to eliminate the need of implementing BACnet on end-devices), native BACnet support, and cloud-based BACnet communication. There is also a fair amount of use of BACnet over wireless. It could be one of the possible focus areas for enhancement in the standard.
In the near future, we may see the possibility of BACnet interface/integration with IoT multi-layer frameworks. An example of this could be a software-gateway to connect BACnet networks with the IBM Watson IoT Platform using MQTT and/or BACnet/WS. In addition to this, some companies are already exploring ways to integrate a BACnet stack directly into their platforms (e.g. Renesas Synergy™ platform comes with built-in BACnet stack library).

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