Smart buildings of 2030 should operate better than those of today

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As the pandemic-driven shift to remote working has overturned traditional office use, new opportunities have emerged to redefine how office buildings function – and how they can function more sustainably. Along with new technological innovations, interest in the sector has increased, with funding for smart building technology companies reaching $2.3 billion by 2021.

The office buildings of 2030 will be ready to operate much better than those of today, for both occupants and their managers. As building efficiency becomes increasingly crucial to achieving a clean and cost-effective electrical grid, new technologies can make the places we work more energy efficient, safer, and healthier for occupants.

A newly published report by CB Insights covers the key technologies shaping the office building of the future, including: • IoT-connected heat pumps increase efficiency and reduce emissions; – Virtual power plants offer a new revenue stream; • Smart glass reduces temperature control needs and increases privacy; • AI-assisted occupancy and safety technology keeps occupants safe; • Digital twins aid facility management.

The problem

Worldwide, energy consumption and energy savings represent major challenges for all sectors, especially in the industrial and household sectors. 

Urbanization is currently increasing rapidly, especially in developed countries, leading to high demand for energy consumption. According to the International Energy Agency, from 1971 to 2014, global energy consumption grew by 92%. About 80% of global energy is consumed by urban settlements, of which total energy consumption from buildings accounts for 40%.

Energy efficiency in buildings is vital for the environment and global sustainability. Therefore, energy consumption and energy savings are a significant concern for our current times, and the Internet of Things (IoT)-based energy management of smart buildings is a critical topic.

Deepening IoT use

Building automation and automated building control systems are nothing new. We’ve talked a lot about it here. Owners, operators, and facility managers have long benefited from automation’s operational and cost efficiencies for infrastructure such as security, lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), etc. 

Smart buildings, which connect building operations through the Internet of Things (IoT), simplify tasks such as controlling temperature, security, and building maintenance through mobile devices and computers.

Sensors are essential to make this possible, enabling real-time data collection and analysis that can be used for:

  • Improving the energy efficiency and sustainability of buildings
  • Reduce maintenance costs with predictive maintenance
  • Optimize the use of space
  • Improve tenant safety, comfort, and security

The types of IoT sensors used in facility management, building automation, and smart building applications are limited only by your imagination. The predominant use cases include:

  • Climate control, including temperature, humidity, vibration, etc.
  • CO monitoring
  • Electrical usage
  • Fire detection
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems
  • Lighting control
  • Occupancy
  • Predictive maintenance
  • Security and access control
  • Structural health
  • Water monitoring

The long range, low power ability for LoRa wireless radio frequency technology to penetrate dense building materials, and long battery life make it the preferred technology for IoT-connected smart buildings. Operating in the unlicensed spectrum, the LoRaWAN protocol delivers efficient, flexible and cost-effective connectivity for indoor and outdoor IoT applications, operating seamlessly over public, private or hybrid networks. LoRaWAN is complementary to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Cellular.

The Importance of Heat Pumps

The CB Insights report points to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technology as central to the well-being of a building’s occupants but incurs high costs. HVAC systems require significant amounts of energy to operate, accounting for most energy costs and subsequent GHG emissions for buildings.

Heat pumps electrify heating and cooling, improving energy efficiency and reducing energy costs and emissions. These benefits can be realized by connecting heat pumps to power management IoT sensors and just heating and cooling rooms that need it.

A heat pump is “a relatively new HVAC device that is energy efficient and provides electrified heating in winter. These systems can operate to cool and heat buildings, moving around liquid refrigerants to remove or add heat in a process that can reduce energy consumption by 50 percent compared to standard heating and cooling systems.

Heat pumps also offer building managers temperature control, with the option to heat and cool rooms demand. IoT sensors placed in a building can tell a manager where occupants are located and which rooms need heating or cooling.

These IoT sensors can further improve efficiency by introducing artificial intelligence (AI) models that actively predict where and when heating or cooling is needed, based on historical trends. AI offers the opportunity to turn HVAC into a proactive rather than reactive system, reducing the upkeep needed by building managers

Implications:

  • As consumers transition away from fossil fuels, expect more regulations around building energy efficiency and GHG reduction targets.
  • Heat pumps are primed to take advantage of new regulations by reducing building energy consumption and GHG emissions, with uptake concentrated in wealthy, energy-dependent regions of the world (similar to electric vehicle uptake).
  • As interest in the tech increases, more startups will enter the market with office building-tailored improvements to heat pump tech. Industry giants will face competition to adapt their tech to different environments.
  • Office building heat pump systems will be coupled with energy management IoT systems to better manage where and when energy is used for heating and cooling.
  • Top-tier systems will be augmented with AI to predict heating and cooling needs, further increasing efficiency.

Of all this, heat pumps are becoming popular in cold regions of the world. Particularly in Europe and Asia. Annual pump sales in the EU have more than doubled since 2015, and the UK is actively subsidizing adoption to move away from fossil fuels for heating buildings.

A variety of players are advancing smart building tech, from industrial conglomerates like GE and Toshiba , to utility companies like National Grid and  NextEra Energy , to oil and gas companies like Shell and TotalEnergies. Tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft have also placed bets on and made partnerships in the sector.

Other solutions

Can’t afford to invest in heat pumps today? That’s okay. It doesn’t take much to start tackling the problem of energy consumption in intelligent buildings. It can be reduced significantly through correct occupancy detection, for example. This approach presents an excellent opportunity for energy savings. A low-cost sensor platform has been designed and implemented for occupancy detection in individual offices. While estimating occupancy counts can further save building energy, this requires a system that can accurately detect and provide information about occupancy.

In the summer, for example, refrigeration is the big energy consumer.

Have you ever thought about monitoring the temperature in your office? It is more important than you might think. Knowing how hot it is in every room and office offers the advantage of saving money for cooling, but also provides a better climate for your colleagues. Find significant variations in ambient temperature. The reason may be lousy ventilation habits, such as turning on the cooling or heating to the maximum and then opening the window to get to a more pleasant temperature.

Many vendors, such as Kentix, offer physical sensors to measure temperature, humidity, and other environmental conditions. Usually, these devices support SNMP, so it is easy to integrate them into general IT monitoring, as most standard monitoring solutions support SNMP. Some monitoring tools already come with predefined device templates, so that they can monitor many environmental sensors right away. 

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