Is Data the New Oil for Increased Building Efficiency?

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Tom is the former Business Development Director, Airmaster Australia Pty Ltd. Airmaster is a Master-level BMS EcoXpert™.

If ever a phrase summed up the energy driving digital transformation, it was when Ann Winblad (the venture capital pioneer and “woman who built Silicon Valley”) pronounced that “data is the new oil.” I know not everyone agrees with the sentiment, but I think the analogy just keeps giving.

Working as a Schneider Electric EcoXpert™ business partner with expertise on their EcoStruxure™ architecture, Airmaster has for some years been helping customers to develop better data sets as the basis for smarter, more intelligent and better-informed building management decision making. Our secret sauce for increased data points? Connected devices.

building efficiency

From manufacturing and processing plants to retail and commercial buildings, the application of data and connectivity are not exactly a new phenomenon. The firmware and software installed in building systems including mechanical, electrical, security, safety, information and communications systems have helped ensure that all kinds of buildings have been able to carry out their purpose without interruption.

But digital technology is transforming the domination of legacy applications, which were specific to discrete building functions and not exactly designed to be interoperable. Today, the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), propelled by a perfect storm of low cost, ubiquitous sensors, mobile apps with open APIs, and an abundance of affordable data processing capacity has become a game changer.

In fact, IoT is fast enabling marginal gains to be made across a range of operational concerns, from the cost of energy and its associated emissions, to the total cost of ownership of plant and devices. Front and center, data is the enabling technology as companies embrace the idea of monitoring and measurement of systems and components. In these respects, data is very much the new oil.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US, a major proportion of a building’s fixed operating cost budget – between 20-33% – is expended on energy and water. As these costs rise, more questions are being asked about increasing efficiency and reducing a building’s impact on the environment. For any corporate energy consumer, these are important and challenging questions to answer as stakeholders, including investors, as well as regulatory authorities demand use be more closely audited and controlled.

The truth is that energy efficiency provides benefits way beyond simple cost savings and a clean corporate image. When done correctly, it can lead to more informed and precise operational decision making. However, to access this advantage, companies must be able to monitor energy use beyond that of the large power sinks like HVAC and lighting – the legacy systems you’d expect to find already connected to the Building Management System (BMS).

It is in the fine details that digitization is able to make an increased contribution to efficient operations and expand the effectiveness of building automation software. For example, in any building there is a raft of smaller components – motors, drives, fans and the like – which can be monitored. Whilst in the past instrumenting these components has been expensive and time consuming, new smart, connected devices have opened the possibility of connecting these devices and allowing the collection of critical data from them.

Once the data flows and you start monitoring and measuring energy use of even the smallest sub-systems and components, you have the basis for increasing efficiency.

Being able to monitor device utilization in real-time takes facilities management to a new level. Not just in terms of the efficiency of devices, but also in terms of increased reliability, a reduced service requirements and lower total cost of operation. Connected devices, feeding data into an analytics package combining data from thousands, if not millions of other data points, increases uptime as teams start to deal proactively to predicted fault conditions rather than reactively to emerging crises.

I’ll deal with maintenance in another blog. But we need to think about how efficiency, data, and power metering can positively affect business costs. Equipment operated more efficiently is either going to run less expensively or deliver more bang for its buck. Either way, it will be like striking oil for your business. For more information, visit Airmaster.

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