A holistic approach to smart building systems

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Smart building systems, such as Internet of Things (IoT) technology, have taken commercial building energy and non-energy-related performance to the next level through advanced digital intelligence. [Shutterstock]

While a coordinated operation of all building systems can achieve significant energy savings, those systems are too often installed in siloes hindering to unlock the full potential, writes Tom Machinchick.

Tom Machinchick is a principal research analyst contributing to Navigant Research’s Building Innovations program, focusing on technologies that enable commercial building energy efficiency.

Energy efficient commercial building technologies have helped businesses reduce energy-related costs, and have enabled them to become more environmentally responsible. Significant energy reductions can be realised through the installation or replacement of high energy consuming components such as HVAC and lighting.

In general, those components are the highest consuming pieces of operational infrastructure in a commercial building. Replacing either or both systems will help the building owner or operator gain notable savings on energy-related costs.

Coordinated systems mean savings

When advanced digital systems became more common, building owners and operators and energy efficiency vendors found that more savings were achievable through coordinated control of all relevant building systems. Individual system gains can represent 5%-15% in energy savings when operated in a silo. The coordinated operation of all building systems can achieve savings of up to 35% or more.

Siloed systems can often step on the actions taken by other building systems that are trying to operate more efficiently. When systems are integrated and work towards a common efficiency goal, operational actions taken by one system do not degrade the performance of others in the same building or setting.

Smart building systems, such as Internet of Things (IoT) technology, have taken commercial building energy and non-energy-related performance to the next level through advanced digital intelligence. Interconnectivity and communication between a variety of disparate systems are the keys to IoT technology, and help solve an important use case for end users.

Solving a particular use case can reduce energy costs and enable more efficient overall processes—bringing significant returns to a business or building. For example, connecting a building’s security systems with the building’s operational infrastructure can reduce costs by allowing the infrastructure components to understand a building’s occupancy, and adjust lights or temperatures to suit the immediate need. Even if this is the only application of the installed IoT system, significant value can be received.

But this is akin to the siloed installation and operation of infrastructure equipment described earlier. Value is received, but it may not be all the value that is available.

An intelligent approach to intelligent buildings

What are intelligent buildings, why are they important and how can we realise their full potential? Christiane Egger takes a closer look at the growing market for intelligent buildings.

If, in the previous example, the IoT system was also used for indoor wayfinding and the tracking of company equipment assets, additional value could be realised with relatively small modifications to the same IoT system.

In a healthcare setting, wayfinding is important for improving the visitor and patient experience. Asset tracking and management is important for critical care services and theft protection. In a commercial building setting, wayfinding can add to the portfolio of building services offered by the building owner, attracting a premium on rents and providing a competitive differentiator.

Conversely, value can be destroyed with ad hoc IoT implementations if two separate systems are purchased to handle energy conservation measures and wayfinding separately; for example, when one system could have been utilised to perform both jobs—and more.

Vendors must be flexible

Building industry vendors recognise the need to assist their customers in navigating this potentially complex market environment. Vendors can offer complete, end-to-end solutions while advising their customers on the potential for new opportunities in the future. To do this, they must add flexibility to their own business models, develop unique combinations of products and services, partner with other building industry vendors, and develop longer term advisory relationships with their customers.

Intelligent systems implemented in siloes are no different than energy efficient building components that operate independently. That is, value may be received, but only in proportion to how much the component holistically operates with other connected components. The more data any system has available to use, the more value will be received.

Lessons learned from previous siloed installations of efficient building technologies can be used in the implementation of intelligent systems as well. There is more value to receive if more things work together holistically.

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