Semantic Interoperability to Enable Smart, Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings

Publication Type

Conference Paper


Achieving a widespread transition to grid-interactive, efficient buildings (GEBs) depends critically on there being sufficient interoperability among connected building systems. While many critical elements already exist at the technical interoperability level (TCP/IP, BACnet, etc.), a lack of interoperability in the semantic level hinders streamlined integration of interdependent applications. Semantics refers to expressing information about "things" in a way that can be consistently understood by applications. Key components of formalized semantics include identifying what a "thing" is (its "type"), defining general information about that "thing" (its characteristics or properties), and defining the appropriate relationships of that "thing" to other "things" (its function or role in a larger system). Although this might seem initially trivial, the success of smart building applications is highly dependent on maintaining consistent self-descriptive notions of the "things". Without semantic interoperability, it is technically difficult, labor-intensive, and cost-prohibitive to enable three key objectives of GEBs: optimizing performance, automatically identifying and diagnosing faults, and delivering grid services. Industry, academia, and standards bodies have invested effort in developing information models to facilitate semantic interoperability, however, they have not been widely adopted across the U.S. commercial building portfolio. This paper will present a pathway to drive semantic interoperability through a three-pronged approach to be led by the DOE Building Technologies Office in partnership with NIST and multiple national laboratories comprising: 1) industry engagement and coordination across existing efforts; 2) a semantic interoperability standard that empowers building owners to identify and require interoperable attributes when procuring equipment and applications; 3) tools to assist in implementation and a test framework to verify compliance of products with semantic interoperability specifications. This approach is designed to accelerate the timeline for adoption of semantic interoperability specifications. The intent is to reduce soft costs associated with implementing advanced controls, fault detection and diagnostics, and other smart building technologies and use cases as a necessary step in achieving an energy efficient smart grid future.

Conference Name

2020 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings

Year of Publication