By Jennifer Gehrt
Smart building technology — also called building automation technology — provides sensing and software solutions that an increasing number of facility management leaders are adopting to better control and optimize a building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems as well as other mechanical equipment, lighting, water, security, and safety systems.
These solutions are critical in improving efficiency and reducing energy consumption. In fact, a significant portion of the world’s energy consumption is dedicated to temperature regulation in buildings large and small. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “In 2015, about 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption was consumed in residential and commercial buildings.” And of those 40%, commercial building HVAC systems were the largest consumers of energy.
In the years before sensors and software, facility managers had to control the temperature in buildings manually — firing on and off the building’s air handlers, boilers, and chillers. Programming a thermostat to automatically adjust to outside temperature with just the press of a few buttons was not an option. That meant on a day when the weather was unseasonably warm or cold, the indoor temperature was less than ideal.
Today, there is a substantial investment being made in the development of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for smart buildings. According to Danielle Morrill, CEO of Mattermark, in 2015 and 2016, venture capitalists, private equity, and angels, invested $3.1 billion in companies related to applications of IoT.
New IoT solutions include industrial sensors from companies like Helium that can monitor temperature, humidity, light, and motion; building analytics platforms such as BuildPulse; and software solutions to reduce energy consumption in heating and cooling systems from companies such as Optimum Energy.
Dev DuRuz, director of commissioning with Paladino and Company, a green building consulting firm, used BuildPulse’s solution to complete a campus-wide commissioning project for Seattle Pacific University. BuildPulse allowed him to detect and fix issues with the boiler, resulting in energy savings exceeding commissioning deployment costs by a factor of five.
Software And Sensors: Evolving Facility Management
So what will the smart building of the future look like? Since buildings hold a wealth of data that facility managers should track and use, the forecast includes new innovations in sensing, analytics, and real-time automation.
BuildPulse’s co-founder Jason Burt believes smart sensors will play a critical role in the future of smart buildings. As more building owners look to adopt the new technology, facility managers will have a much easier time managing HVAC equipment. Instead of having to manually adjust HVAC systems, facility managers will have HVAC systems that employ real-time weather data provided by smart sensors to automatically regulate temperature. These sensors will also help the system adjust to the sun’s movement, enabling it, for instance, to automatically turn up the air conditioning for people on the hottest side of a building.
Smart sensors also monitor building occupancy, compiling important data over time that will inform, track, and program HVAC systems. Operators will be able to use this data to make adjustments for building-wide device energy consumption, including lighting, phones, computers and other devices. Facility managers will also review occupancy data to adjust and control comfort settings in offices, labs, conference rooms and other workspaces.
Burt explains this will also provide better systems checks and balances to monitor the performance of equipment and sensors, enabling managers to more efficiently schedule preventive maintenance. For example, in many current systems, facility managers must physically check CO2 sensors to ensure they are operational. “If you have 500 sensors, checking each one can take a long time,” he says. “With the rise of IoT, more sensors are entering the market, creating more data and noise for building managers. Third-party analytics tools allow you to filter out this sea of data to focus your team and efforts.”
Manual audits are inefficient and time-consuming. Often when a facility manager completes an audit, it’s typically done on one isolated system and not building-wide. With IoT and advancements in software algorithms, facility managers operating in the next evolution of smart buildings can expect to get a more comprehensive snapshot of the building at any moment in time, enabling HVAC systems to leverage data for continuous improvements in efficiency and energy savings.
Dave Karpook, strategic business consultant, Planon, believes smart building technology will produce a massive amount of data, requiring facilities’ management teams to consider adding data analysts to their departments.
“IoT smart building technology will be disruptive,” notes Karpook. “With equipment sending out alerts directly to manufacturers or repair teams, sensor makers will flourish, call centers will likely require less staff, and the tradesmen and women who traditionally took care of air handlers, chillers and boilers will need to learn new IT skills. Increasingly they will be taking care of computerized equipment as opposed to doing mechanical work.”
“We are at the beginning of an era where sensors, combined with analytical analysis, will truly change the way buildings, hospitals, campuses and schools are managed and experienced by the people who use them,” said Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst with TECHnalysis Research.
Gehrt is author and partner at Communiqué Public Relations.