According to the International Energy Agency, buildings (including residential, corporate and industrial) represent the largest energy consuming sector in the world. They consume a whopping one-third of total energy spends and account for half the global electricity consumption. What exactly causes such hefty energy utilization in a building? It is the multifarious equipment that helps run a facility and ensures pleasant indoor conditions. From a building’s lighting and surveillance devices to its heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) equipment, all are responsible for utilizing huge amounts of energy and releasing massive carbon emissions. If these energy inefficiencies are overlooked today, energy spends are slated to rise 50% by 2050. This surely presents a compelling case for not only improving our usage patterns but also switching to energy efficient alternatives.
Why Smart Buildings Are the Need of the Hour
Large commercial outfits mostly adopt facility management systems to help reduce their energy bills. But traditional facility management, working largely on reactive models, seems to have had little impact in changing the big picture. Conventional building management systems need to realize that the efficacy and quality of space conditioning improves vastly by adopting a predictive approach. And that is where the concept of smart buildings gains traction. A smart building is defined as an intelligent space optimizing efficiency, comfort, occupant safety, and asset performance within the building.
The world needs to consciously transition to more sustainable energy systems. By performing such simple changes within a premise as adjusting the operations of HVAC equipment, one is likely to see substantial reductions in energy consumption. Current real estate constructions are already aware of these new trends and more open to adopting them. The challenge lies in convincing existing real estate owners to take the leap into an integrated future. Overhauling existing building infrastructure is an expensive proposition; retrofitting existing spaces through appropriate technology and instrumentation is a more feasible alternative.
Channeling the Power of IoT in Building Management
The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been a boon for the sector as it can help change an ordinary facility into a smart, intelligent space that responds automatically with minimal human intervention. IoT is used across a range of applications such as lighting, security, sensors, energy management, home automation and health care monitoring. It works using web-enabled devices. These collate, transmit and act on data acquired from surrounding environments through embedded sensors, processors and communication hardware. Working beyond basic climate control, wireless control solutions, often referred to as Enterprise-IoT, help improve management of lighting, fire alarms, water sprinklers and surveillance systems in a facility. This gives building owners and facility managers more command and flexibility as compared to the closed, proprietary systems currently in use.
Smart building systems also generate large amounts of data based on parameters like usage, occupancy and environment. Using big data analytics and spatial representation models like floor plans and heat maps, smart buildings provide a dynamic understanding of space. By discovering patterns in historical data and suggesting new trends utilizing current data feeds, they lead to more effective space layouts such as activity-based area allocation, usage-based cleaning and performance-based upkeep.
How IoT Helps Improve Operational Efficiencies
IoT-based building solutions also provide real-time information about the condition and usage patterns of the buildings’ assets and equipment, thus improving operational efficiencies. These actionable alerts and real-time notifications help facilities prevent major outages and accidents, reduce operational costs, and deliver newer and better services. Smart building management systems are able to detect when equipment is close to failure and send timely alerts. This prevents full-scale building system failures that could have disastrous consequences if they occur in places like hospitals or research laboratories.
Smart building management, IoT and occupancy analytics are all relatively new fields that function using wireless technologies. They face their own set of unique advantages and challenges. The advantages include:
- Automated fault detection and centralized monitoring for lighting, HVAC and other applications
- Calibrated equipment maintenance that extends machinery life and reduces facility staff, operations, and replacement costs
- Improved building performance through higher energy efficiencies, enabling better space and capital planning
- Automatic calculation and reductions in carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions to support corporate sustainability reporting
Moving Toward a Sustainable Future
The biggest challenge facing the sector is integrating disparate systems. Getting an array of devices, often sourced from different vendors and functioning across different platforms, to communicate using a standard protocol is yet to be fully resolved. Providing interoperability and handling the huge amounts of data received from a slew of devices is preventing IoT from reaching its true potential for the enterprise market. But there is no turning back from the advent of smart buildings; that is the only measure that can help future-proof our buildings by making them energy efficient.