Energy costs in commercial buildings is reaching record highs due to a host of factors not limited to increased competition, boom in technology initiatives, increased use of HVAC systems, lighting, and other building control systems. To put it into perspective, a commercial building consumes 90% of the 75% of the electric form of energy in lighting, office equipment and HVAC systems.
These facts have definitely caught the attention of industry observers. And the quest to reduce or eliminate the rising energy cost has given rise to the advancement of new frontiers and the consolidation of existing protocols. It is therefore not uncommon to see bold attempts to improve energy efficiency through design, construction, controls, lighting, regulations and policies.
In this article we take a look at two key concepts- Internet of Things also known as IoT as well as Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and their impact on energy efficiency practices.
But to understand the interplay between IoT and IAQ on one hand and energy efficiency on the other, it is important to briefly explain these concepts in isolation.
Internet of Things
Kevin Ashton first used this term and it is one of those concepts that have divided the opinions of experts as it relates to a precise definition. However, IoT basically means the connection of physical items using the Internet. This connection of items over the Internet is made possible by a host of technologies such as sensors, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), and Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) to mention a few.
For IoT to exist two key components must be present- the “Internet” and the “Things.” “Things” here represents any entity including humans, sensors, smart devices and any physical object that can establish, understand and maintain communication with other entities when needed.
This means entities in a network are expected to be available irrespective of time and location. Therefore a robust and reliable connectivity is required or else the concept will fail to achieve the desired purpose for which it was created. This is in tandem with the ability of the entities to support a myriad of devices and communication protocols.
At the end of the day, a typical network might consist of sensors that can detect and report a specific factor (or group of factors), a powerful server-processing unit that make sense of the vast quantities of data collected, smart devices and hubs including humans that ultimately control the entirety of the network.
The idea is to use data obtained from the network of things to predict, monitor and manage their use in a bid to cut waste while maximizing efficiency. This concept holds a lot of promise in every facet of energy efficiency initiatives across a range of industries including commercial buildings, schools, hospitals and hotels.
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor Air quality is the cumulative measure of the indoor concentration of pollutants, temperature, and relative humidity that can affect health, comfort and performance of a building’s occupants. This may also include light, noise, and other factors.
The basis of every measure taken is to maintain high levels of IAQ that helps towards protecting and supporting human occupancy and activities; plus, their use of such facilities. The premise is that commercial buildings should promote health, be cosy, convenient and support human productivity.
Unfortunately, the reality is that it is difficult to maintain the high quality that indoor air quality requires. Pollutants from everyday consumer and commercial products, building design, reduced ventilation to save energy, building materials and avoiding practices such as building maintenance in a bid to cut cost is threatening the quality of the indoor atmosphere in most commercial buildings.
This has led to the occupants suffering from symptoms such as headache, burning sensation in the throat and eyes etc. Other negative side effects to this are that the air in these commercial properties becomes stuffy and stale while some occupants report of foul odor. In some cases it results in confrontations or lawsuits between occupants or tenants and building managers or owners.
Energy efficiency in the picture
Energy is a major component of the US economy. Not surprisingly, commercial buildings makeup about 20% of all that energy consumed. Unfortunately a significant part of it is wasted. This is all the more costly if you consider the fact that most commercial buildings initiate profit driven ventures with KPIs to meet. What this means is that improving energy efficiency is profitable financially in the long run.
The value in this is that commercial building owners and facility managers, and occupants have an important role to play. It is important to note that these measures intended to cut energy bills are practicable, feasible and relatively easy. Two of those measures that have been adopted for the purpose of saving energy or beneficial to efficient energy utilization are IoT and IAQ in the context of the intent and purpose they serve.
IOT, IAQ and energy efficiency practices
The goal of every commercial building is to save energy and reduce energy management costs. It is now common for commercial buildings to adopt IoT and factors that promote high indoor air quality as a means of becoming, improving or remaining energy efficient. The following areas help drive home that point:
Most energy consumed in commercial buildings can be attributed to lighting. In fact some sources put the figure at 50% of all electricity bills. Therefore targeting this area in an attempt to cut energy utilization will produce more impact.
Here IoT shines through. Sensors that sense human activity can control switching lights on or off and tags can be used to monitor preferences of building occupants. What this means is that lighting is only utilized when needed thus avoiding energy wastages that directly leads to a more energy efficient building.
By integrating IoT with IAQ protocols such as the use of UV lights to sanitize indoor air, the use of heat efficient light bulbs, and the automation of the entire lighting system in a manner as to promote the quality of indoor air are some energy efficient based practices in commercial buildings that have gained recent practices.
The use of sensors to regulate indoor temperature as well as controlling when a unit comes on or off using factors such as human activity, density and use are some measures that can be incorporated into an IoT based automated building. Also, the use of sensors and controls can be used to generate hot water only when needed. Here IoT, will curtail energy wastages and invariably improve energy efficiency.
The removal of un-insulated pipes from air-conditioned areas and the regular cleaning of vents and air ducts are activities that promote high IAQ, which in turn improve the energy efficiency of such properties.
Fitting electric immersion water heaters and hot water circulating pumps with time switches that can be controlled over a network, insulating hot water tanks and pipework are energy saving practices that thrive well in a good regime that pursues high IAQ.
When all these factors are considered- utilizing the concept of IoT in HVAC systems and engaging in high IAQ promoting activities listed above; energy efficiency is guaranteed.
Here energy audit of a commercial building can be performed using data obtained from the network of connected items such as lighting, HVAC systems, office equipment and all other energy consuming appliances.
Energy consumption and cost is compared to the time of the day, density of use, and desired output. If there are variations in terms of energy used against intended output, this can be quickly and accurately reported. This will allow for on-the-spot assessment and intervention that will ultimately cut energy cost.
The same is true for monitoring factors that contribute to IAQ. In pursuit of better indoor air quality, contributing factors especially energy consuming appliances are identified, tracked and monitored in real time using automation. The value here is that deviations can be sensed on time and corrections implemented as soon as possible thus avoiding poor energy utilization as well as poor indoor air quality.
Maintenance and Repair
It doesn’t matter how good the technology or plan is, energy efficiency of a commercial building can be ruined with poor maintenance.
IoT based sensors can obtain data that can be used to accurately predict, schedule and automate servicing over a complex arrangement like in a commercial building. This will improve the IAQ, lifespan of the equipment as well as improving energy efficiency.
Also, accurate diagnosis can be achieved; the faulty part/ system can be easily isolated and prompt interventions carried out promptly. These are some of the perks using IoT and IAQ to improve the energy performance of a commercial building.
Bottom line, IoT and the pursuit of IAQ has impacted energy efficiency practices in commercial buildings greatly. By integrating the two, commercial building owners/managers and engineers can carry out activities aimed at saving energy, cutting energy cost or improving energy utilization faster, efficiently, and more accurately.