5 Ways Smart Buildings Can Improve Operations

The concept of smart buildings has gained a lot of attention, but what exactly is a smart building? Industry expert and consultant Darlene Pope describes it as a “building made up of integrated systems and solutions that enable it to function as a single, intelligent asset.” Data is shared among multiple systems for responding to real-time needs and conditions:

  • A conference room’s lights dim as the meeting time is ending.
  • Heating or cooling is adjusted based on the actual location of people within the space.

In other words, smart buildings should be self-diagnosing, self-healing and self-correcting. Going one step further, multiple buildings are connected so that shared data supports better decisions. Capital planning is improved by identifying what’s needed and where to enhance operation resiliency. For owners and operators of new and existing buildings, smart technology can provide multiple benefits, including the following:

1. Lower operating and maintenance costs

Operating costs are reduced by using data to increase efficiency. A major furniture retailer used heat maps to optimize workspace size and location, as well as HVAC needs, based on occupancy. The result was a savings of 250,000 kWh of energy in six months, reducing overall power consumption by 25%. Costly downtime needed for reactive maintenance is also reduced or eliminated because conditions for failure are identified before it even occurs.

2. Healthier indoor environments

Low-cost sensors monitor particulates and carbon dioxide, alerting operators of high levels. Lighting is adjusted as needed. According to the World Green Building Council, enhancing ventilation and indoor air quality can improve worker productivity by 8% to 11%. Enhancing lighting conditions can improve productivity by 23%. Costs related to absenteeism are also reduced.

3. Increased safety and security

Security staff can manage fire systems and alarms remotely when it is unsafe to enter specific areas. IT staff can protect project teams from errors and warn owner-operators of possible Internet hacks or intrusions. Overall, smart buildings can improve building emergency planning, situational awareness and communication during emergencies.

4. Improved customer satisfaction and employee experience

Visitors and new employees often have difficulty navigating through complex structures. Augmented reality wayfinding can provide GPS-like navigation or directional pointers that guide users to the right location. At a Washington D.C. museum, a real-time location system tracks patrons as they move between exhibits, turning on lights and videos as necessary. The system can also tell which exhibits they have visited, so that follow-up emails can be sent to encourage repeat visits. Usage patterns also enable the flexible allocation of individual workspaces to users’ preferences.

5. Earn green building certification

Internet-of-Things platforms help gather and analyze building data to determine what to do to meet the required sustainability credits for green building certifications, such as LEED. With a smart building system, maintaining certification over the long term is also possible by reviewing ongoing performance. According to ASHRAE, most buildings lose 30% of their efficiency in the first three years of operation.

Smart buildings may soon be getting even smarter. The implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) is now making its way into smart building technology. Although AI currently makes up only about 10% of the global $2.5 billion building management systems market, according to Omdia, that number is expected to grow. As AI becomes mainstream, operational efficiencies will continue to improve, leading to additional cost savings. If you are considering upgrades to your business or facility, your electric co-op’s energy advisor can help. Your co-op may even offer Power Moves® rebates for qualifying upgrades. Contact your electric co-op for details.