How IoT is Lowering the Cost of Operations for Smart Buildings

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A recently released report from industry analyst Verdantix titled ‘Schneider Electric Innovates To Lower Cost Of Smart Buildings’ describes development streams the company is leading to help facility managers improve operational and energy efficiencies. This blog series provides some additional background to those developments. smart buildings

In this first post, I’d like to talk about how the Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling new opportunities in buildings, campuses, hospitals, and factories.

The Verdantix report states that “Eighty-four per cent of global energy managers rank improving processes for data capture, analysis and reporting as either ‘very important’ or ‘important’ for their firms.” Indeed, energy and facility managers have begun to appreciate that acquiring more insight into their infrastructure can bring tangible rewards in energy savings and efficiency, as well as improved comfort and productivity.

This has spurred the trend toward intelligent, data-rich buildings. And as analyst firm Navigant notes, “advanced sensors have a critical role to play in transforming facilities into intelligent buildings .. because these devices capture, communicate, and (in some situations) analyze crucial energy and operational data.” [1]

The growth of Internet-connected industrial and personal devices dubbed the IoT revolution is really an evolution, as sensing and data-transmitting devices have been around for nearly 50 years. However, this is now being accelerated by open communication standards and advances in the networking technologies – including wireless – and software used to aggregate and process large amounts of data.

As the costs of smart technology and IP enablement fall, and device power requirements shrink, it’s getting easier and easier to “put a sensor on it” wherever desired. This means that the number of these devices is growing exponentially, totaling 50 billion in the next 5 years by some estimates.

For buildings, these devices include environmental sensors for temperature, humidity, occupancy, and CO2. Also included are meters for consumed utilities such as water, air, gas, electricity and steam (WAGES). Electricity sensors can include simple to advanced energy metering as well as power quality analyzers. Finally, there are equipment status indicators and controls. Some of these functions are now often embedded directly into circuit breakers, relays, or other power distribution and building management equipment. Now, everything from wall plugs to lighting to major energy and automation assets can be monitored and controlled.

The nearly ubiquitous nature of such devices and functions is the foundation of a new degree of visibility and operational intelligence. In turn, this is presenting new opportunities to optimize maintenance and improve efficiency and reliability in building, process, and energy management.[2]

But having connected sensors, meters, and controls (smart panels) throughout the physical infrastructure is only part of the equation. It also requires a computing ecosystem of gateways, software, and the cloud, as well as the convergence of building automation and power management systems.

Such a unified platform gets relevant data to the people that need it, as well as enabling higher levels of information sharing and collaboration between operations teams. This acts as a springboard for new strategies for facility and energy management. Essentially, integrating new and old technologies delivers better insight and, in turn, better performance.

An infrastructure of operational intelligence also needs to be secure, scalable, and open. The latter helps deliver a holistic vision across connected systems that historically have been operated in isolation. This intelligence will extend to the outer edges of networks. Intelligent devices can be automatically ‘discovered’ and integrated to bring data to users, while at the same time processing data and performing some control functions locally. This can enhance reliability and avoid any communication latency issues associated with long-distance connections.

For facility teams, more data and enhanced functionality will support more informed and faster decision-making. However, translating granular data into useful information requires a new breed of analytic dashboards and graphics that can clearly reveal issues and opportunities. For example, real-time facility operations can be accurately tracked and if an alarm condition arises the user can quickly ‘drill down’ to isolate the cause and get more detail.

More sophisticated predictive modeling is also possible. For example, the energy consumption trend of a facility or process can be extrapolated to help avoid peak demand penalties, or uncover spare capacity to avoid adding equipment unnecessarily. By modeling facility energy needs along with weather and utility rate data you can optimize energy purchasing, enable participation in a demand response program, or decide on the best times of day to consume onsite renewables. The risk of failure can be predicted for critical equipment to enable proactive servicing or replacement to avoid expensive downtime and losses.

The evolution of IoT is also enabling new service-based models. Facility teams can not only access cloud-based performance tracking and analytic tools, but also share those with service providers offering maintenance, efficiency upgrades, or other expertise.

Ultimately, the trends in IoT are defining a new degree of operational intelligence.[3] This is helping facility teams gain deeper understanding, boost performance and comfort, cut costs, streamline maintenance, and plan for a more sustainable future. Schneider Electric is helping organizations make their facilities smarter with a broad range of innovations, from IoT devices and connected infrastructures, to advanced analytic applications and services.

In the next post in this series, we’ll take a closer look at the newest innovations in intelligent devices at the electrical circuit level.

For more information on buildings and IoT, read this blog series.




[1] Navigant, “Advanced sensors for intelligent buildings”, 2016

[2] Schneider Electric, “IoT – How Connectivity Drives Operational Intelligence”, 2015

[3] Schneider Electric, “Every Thing Connected: IoT = The Internet of Transformation”

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