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August 2019
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Commercial Building Automation:

Uncovering Ways To Save

Cem Alptekin

Cem Alptekin,
SVP Operations,
Iota Communications

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Think your commercial building automation system is saving you money?

It might be, but you could be saving a lot more.

As a facilities manager, attempting to maintain your annual budget is a constant struggle. In most cases, you are responsible for a large portion of a company’s costs, as the expenses related to both building assets and business operations are significant. And your yearly budgets may be under fairly close scrutiny, meaning you need ways to make money go farther.

How would you like to come in significantly under budget?

Traditional commercial building automation systems are limited in what they can do, not to mention expensive to maintain. Today, there’s a new brand of automation that’s more intelligent, and keenly focused on optimizing your specific building’s operations to be energy efficient. Energy efficiency is a significant generator of savings—most facilities managers and even company leaders agree. According to one survey, 53% of managers and business leaders in mid- to large-size commercial facilities view energy efficiency as a proven operating and investment strategy. And 84% of survey respondents who reported having taken steps to save energy reported one or more positive business benefits, of which lower operating costs were one.

So how are facilities managers using “smart” commercial building automation to find ways to save? This article covers the three energy-efficiency areas most likely to produce savings.

Smart Commercial Building Automation: 3 Savings Opportunities

The commercial building automation market can be a bit confusing: How are traditional building automation systems different from “smart” ones?

Traditional systems help save a nominal amount of energy by allowing building managers to do things like set schedules for lights to go on and off and monitor for performance or device failures in building systems. In contrast, intelligent commercial building automation employs the Internet of Things (IoT) to tailor those same types of functions to reflect real-time building operation. So rather than informing you of a device failure, for instance, it can help predict when a future failure might occur based on a change in a machine’s vibration patterns or energy usage over time. IoT sensors make it possible to monitor your building’s operations remotely and in real-time so that it operates as efficiently as possible and uses only the energy it needs.

When you first implement smart building automation, direct your efforts to the places where you can save the most money. Most companies that have put the IoT to work for energy savings find that the most impactful results are in the following three areas; we recommend you start here.

1. Monitor power usage patterns to reduce your demand charge.

In order to maintain a constant supply of electricity to your facility, a utility company will calculate your building’s maximum 15-minute power requirement over the course of a billing cycle; that kilowatt (kW) level is then multiplied by a specific rate to determine the actual amount charged to you—this is the demand charge noted on your electric bill. Essentially, it ensures your building gets all the energy it needs at all times. Demand charges make up a significant portion of your energy bills.

To figure out how you can save in this area, you first need to get a better understanding of your building’s power usage patterns. Submetering and measuring the power usage of all your large pieces of equipment, like HVAC units, compressors, elevator motors, air handlers, and pumps, will provide you with the necessary data to make informed decisions.

Once you’ve collected that data, you’ll know the “energy footprint” of your building down to the granular level of specific pieces of equipment, including what time of day they’re used. Then, compare that data to utility time of use charges. If all your AC compressors turn on at the same time—say, when the air temperature hits 80 degrees—that creates a big power draw and causes a spike in your peak demand. Rather than continue to incur those hefty demand charges, you can devise an alternate strategy, one where your building automatically staggers the times AC compressors turn on. Or, you might decide to restrict the use of a particular piece of machinery that consumes a lot of energy to certain hours. Reducing your demand charge by just 3% to 5% can result in significant savings—without having any impact on the comfort level of the building.

2. Monitor CO2 levels to reduce your energy consumption.

A hundred years ago, when large buildings were first being constructed, it was clear that a certain amount of fresh air would need to be brought in to dilute the CO2 released by humans. There was no efficient way of measuring the air quality back then, so engineers calculated the amount of fresh air that would be needed based on a building’s square footage and maximum occupancy number. The problem is that buildings are rarely filled to occupancy, nor are all occupants spread evenly throughout the building; as a result, it’s often a waste of energy to bring in the fresh air and condition it.

A commercial building automation system using smart technology can solve this problem by monitoring CO2 levels continuously. Based on those measurements, a demand control ventilation system can automatically direct the air handling units to adjust the outside air intake. So if CO2 levels are adequate, it reduces the air intake; if they are approaching the limit, it brings in additional outside air. That reduces the work for your heating and cooling units and, by extension, reduces your energy bill, sometimes by as much as 15% to 20%.

Misconceptions About Commercial Building Automation Using The IoT

1. It’s too expensive. In reality, sensor technology has come a long way, and sensors are now relatively inexpensive—well within reach of what most companies are willing to spend. Plus, many of our clients experience payback from energy savings in less than a year. It’s possible that during the course of your implementation you may come to the conclusion that a certain piece of equipment is inefficient and needs to be replaced, but that’s a different kind of investment—one which also pays for itself pretty quickly.

2. I don’t trust the technology. The IoT isn’t as high-tech or as complicated as you think. Sensors are extremely easy to work with, and, in most cases, you’ll have a partner working with you who can guide you every step of the way. Now’s the time to implement—it’s unlikely the technology will change dramatically in the near future, and the longer you wait, the more savings you’ll miss out on.

3. Monitor the lighting to reduce energy consumption.
Many buildings today are switching to LED lighting, which lasts longer than traditional bulbs and uses energy more efficiently. But even beyond that, most building spaces are generally over-lit. Either the lights are too bright for the space, or they’re turned on in unoccupied spaces. Lighting is one of the top sources of electricity consumption in U.S. commercial buildings, costing an estimated $38 billion per year.

Rather than simply turning lights on and off at the beginning and end of a day, IoT sensors can detect occupancy within rooms and turn the lights on and off accordingly. Smart lighting systems can also be employed to reduce lighting consumption by adjusting the light levels to take advantage of ambient light.

CatNet Systems Working With A Partner For Commercial Building Automation

Most often, implementing a commercial building automation system with the IoT is more successful with a partner. This approach provides the right mix of technological expertise and experience implementing energy efficiency projects.

An experienced partner works with you from the outset to determine your goals, deploy the necessary technology tools, and, most importantly, help you analyze the data you’ll collect. Data analysis can be complex, which is why you should look for an IoT company that employs advanced machine learning applications. Your IoT consultant should be able to customize applications like these to produce recommendations for your specific building. The application can then process data from a number of sources—your sensors, weather patterns, and utilities—to recommend the right course of action.
Not every initiative mentioned above may be worth pursuing in your case; or, you may find savings in other areas not listed here. But once you’ve unlocked the right strategy for your building, you can rest assured you’ll experience significant savings.

Develop An Energy-Efficiency Plan With Iota

Iota can help you reduce your building’s operating costs. They have developed a consultative approach to IoT implementation, wherein they work closely with you for six months to a year. During that time, they will set you up to start gathering data, help you analyze it, and strategize with you about which approaches will produce the best ROI for your building. When they are done, you’ll have a solid plan in place that will save you money for years to come.
If you’d like to find out more about what it’s like to work with Iota, contact them.

About Cem Alptekin
Cem Alptekin is the SVP of Operations at Iota Communications, where Cem and his Iota team are building the first dedicated, low-cost, nationwide IoT network using FCC-licensed radio spectrum. Mr. Alptekin brings to the team over 29 years of engineering and management experience working in the utility, construction and energy service sectors.

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