How Smart Home Technology Concepts Are Now Migrating to Commercial Buildings

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Jeff is the Executive Vice President, Wadsworth Solutions, a Master-level BMS EcoXpert™

According to Statista, by 2022 the global smart home market is forecast to reach a value of more than $53 billion U.S. dollars. If you take a close look at some of the technology breakthroughs occurring in home automation systems, you begin to see the future of smart commercial building automation. Let me explain how one is influencing the other.

Until recently, on the home front, consumers purchased their routers or hubs from electronics brick and mortar stores or from online retailers. Now, broadband providers are starting to bundle these devices for free as part of their content-driven services. A typical hub for homes can support up to 32 devices or home appliances. These intelligent devices can include dimming switches, light sockets, security cameras, door locks, window proof switches (when the window is closed, the contact shows that the window is closed and the moment the window is open and the contact is severed, a signal is sent back to the hub), smart thermostats, and connectible ranges, microwaves, refrigerators, air conditioners, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers, among other devices.

commercial buildings

Using Zigbee wireless communication protocol, a smart phone user can monitor and control all of these devices from a single interface. Adjustments to settings regulate these devices by turning them off and on at opportune times in order to maximize comfort and to minimize energy consumption. For users, the ability to adjust indoor temperatures, outdoor landscape lighting, and lawn sprinkler system timers remotely, for example, from anywhere via cell phone is appealing. The traditional ways of executing these tasks are cumbersome, time consuming, and inconvenient.  Many of these same smart home concepts are applicable and valuable in the commercial building environment.

Bringing smart home benefits to commercial buildings

Recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) now allow us to export some of the new smart home automation principles to the commercial building space. As a Schneider Electric master-level EcoXpert™, our company Wadsworth Solutions supports building owners and portfolio managers in their efforts to integrate and modernize their building physical infrastructure. For example, Schneider Electric recently announced a smart building automation controller with a built-in Zigbee broadcaster. This is the first significant move by a building automation company to commercialize smart home-like granular control within office buildings. This controller can pick up wireless signals from light switches and even from devices that determine individual seat occupancy. No additional hard wiring is required. Facilities teams no longer have to struggle with complicated procedures for installing a wired infrastructure and simply adjust the room control through their cell phone.

The controller can also pick up signals from sensors within trash receptacles (the sensors indicate whether the receptacle is full so that custodians can be alerted), electric sockets and switches, water coolers, blinds, and all sorts of devices that can be configured and monitored. Preset environmental parameters automatically allow for system adjustments that optimize energy use, minimize waste, and reduce cost while maximizing comfort.

ROI in less than 40 days for one particular application

For example, walking around the facility of one of my customers, we noticed that several employees were running space heaters in their cubicles. On average these devices consume 1.5 kW of energy for every hour they are operated. In many cases, these devices are still on when the employee is absent from the cubicle. This presents a challenging situation for the facilities staff whose temperature control efforts are fighting these unaccounted for, extra heat loads. In fact, this customer had 17 space heaters within their 120,000 square foot facility.

Our solution was to place inexpensive remote switches on every space heater and a motion detector in every cubicle. The sensors communicate via Zigbee protocol back to the BMS controllers and allow all these devices to be tracked in the building automation system software. Now, the system can shut off the space heaters remotely while still managing for the comfort of the individual.  If an employee leaves his or her desk or office cubicle for longer than 15 minutes, the motion detector senses that the person is absent and shuts the space heater off. As a result of the energy savings generated by this precision control of small spaces within larger spaces, the customer achieved a return on investment in fewer than 40 days.

Open building automation architectures such as Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure™ platform, allow for new levels of connectivity between discrete physical infrastructure systems that allow buildings to be managed in a more holistic and integrated fashion.

To learn more about how digitized building automation solutions can drive cost savings and enable modernization under an open platform, visit the Schneider Electric EcoStruxure web page.

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