Why Smart Building Technology Buzz is Living up to the Hype
Internet of Things hype has inspired visions of hyper-connected smart homes, smart commercial buildings and smart cities that, pragmatically speaking, may still be a ways off. Although, progress is being made on all fronts, especially in the case of smart buildings, which are projected to grow at a rate of more than 19 percent between 2018 and 2024, according to Allied Market Research.
Many office buildings, corporate headquarters, factories and other structures used for business purposes have been progressing for many years along paths to use technology to make building operations more automated, efficient and precise. In doing so, they are making these buildings less expensive to run, as well as more comfortable and desirable for tenants. It is a movement that began decades ago when many energy management devices initially were upgraded to digital technology.
“The buzz term ‘smart buildings’ is starting to become more real,” said Dave Hopping, CEO of Siemens Building Technologies division – Americas. “The truth is that there have been various digital controls in place in many buildings since around 1979 or so. Those buildings have always been smart in some sense.”
As the decades passed, more integration among the various digital energy management systems in buildings enabled the creation of more automated and efficient building architectures. They were smart in the sense that they were easier to operate, but building operators were limited in their ability to draw insights from their systems that could help them save money, avoid energy waste, conduct proactive maintenance to avoid outages or configure their spaces and assets for optimal use by tenants.
“Buildings have been digitized, but only as closed environments,” said Kaynam Hedayat, vice president of product management at Schneider Electric.
What has been missing is the ability to collect data from these systems and conduct real-time analysis on that data to produce insights building managers could use to improve how effectively and reliably buildings operate.
That’s where IoT comes in as the latest wave of in this decades-long progression. In combination with new wireless broadband connectivity technology allowing for greater in-building coverage and cloud computing contributing analysis and intelligence, IoT can help make buildings smarter — or at least make building owners smarter about how to operate them.
It can also help them turn smart building operational architectures into launching pads for new applications and benefits.
“The next wave of smart buildings will rely on cloud computing and high-speed data enabled by 5G,” Hopping said. While it remains to be seen what the impact of 5G will be in the building market, the Internet of Things clearly offers a variety of promises for building managers. “The new part of this is building IoT into these environments, where you can now have sensing systems, and you can build new applications and create a whole traffic flow throughout that building,” Hopping added.
Getting Smart About Energy
Sleek visions of fully-optimized smart buildings may excite companies intent on helping building operators pursue smart building upgrades, but building owners and operators may be focused on more practical matters than pursuing innovation for the sake of claiming early-mover status.
“A lot of times building developers and operators know the problems they are facing, but not the solutions,” said Shailesh Topiwala, director of business development, buildings and smart communities for Bosch in North America. “They may have some awareness of the technologies that can be applied, but we may have different viewpoints to offer them about how to use these technologies to address their use cases.”
For example, some of the biggest pain points for the operator of almost any size building are likely to revolve around the energy costs, the cost of maintenance of energy systems and the lack of control over energy waste. According to the U.S. federal government’s Energy Star program, commercial and industrial buildings account for almost half of all U.S. energy consumption, and almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions.
A recent Deloitte Consulting Insights article stated, “Optimizing and improving the operations of the facility can lead to a variety of recouped costs, starting from major saving on bills related to heating, cooling, lighting and maintenance.”
IoT-enabled devices and platforms connected to HVAC systems, lighting systems and other in-building elements can detect temperature, humidity, power consumption and other environmental conditions in various locations throughout a building, as well as presence to determine whether or not a particular space is in use. Temperature can be kept cooler in the winter — or warmer in the summer — and lights automatically turned off for spaces not in use, while room features like zoned thermostats, fans, window blinds or window tint can be adjusted when rooms are in use.
There already have been some high-profile use cases demonstrating just how effective these practices can be in curbing energy costs and waste. For example, in 2016, Intel deployed 9,000 IoT sensors throughout a 10-story office building in Bangalore, India to monitor temperature, energy use, lighting and other features. The company estimated that the architecture would save $645,000 per year in energy costs.
Also, Deloitte’s The Edge building in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, a smart building project pursued in concert with real estate firm OVG, Schneider Electric and Philips, “produces more electricity than it consumes,” the consulting firm said in its own case study on the project. The building leverages an array of solar panels, including panels deployed on adjacent buildings, and an underground thermal energy storage system. A building-wide LED lighting system, powered via Ethernet, is 80 percent more efficient than conventional lighting. Even the building’s toilets are in on the game, as they are flushed with rainwater collected from the roof and elsewhere. The light panels throughout the building contain about 28,000 sensors capable of detecting motion, light, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels.