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How Advanced IoT Systems Automate Commercial Buildings

From the Direct Digital Control technology revolution of the 1980s to the BACnet movement, the open Internet, and now finally the move towards buildings as connected digital platforms powered by sensor technologies from the Internet of Things.
Tanuj Mohan,
Founder & Chief Technology Officer

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The global market for IoT solutions for every industry is growing rapidly with net yearly growth expected to reach more than 30% by 2020. For the commercial building sector, this growth is driven in large part by both the tremendous operating efficiencies that these technologies make possible as well as new data-driven revenue opportunities for both building owners, and the businesses that occupy these spaces.

For the commercial building sector, this period of rapid technology change resembles, in form if not in function, previous periods of rapid technological change - from the Direct Digital Control technology revolution of the 1980s to the BACnet movement, the open Internet, and now finally the move towards buildings as connected digital platforms powered by sensor technologies from the Internet of Things.

Commercial real estate is the largest asset class in the world. There are 400 billion square feet of commercial real estate worldwide, including 100 billion square feet in the United States. The sector is growing at 10-20 billion square feet per year, and there are significant financial gains available through even incremental improvements in overall building performance, both for owners of building portfolios, and the businesses that occupy them.

IoT Makes Commercial Real Estate More Efficient and Valuable

The energy efficiency business case for IoT in buildings is strong. An IoT platform for commercial real estate typically yields an immediate 50-75% net reduction in annual energy-related operating costs, which is superior to previous technologies. This fact allows building owners to pay for the technology from future energy savings, which simplifies organizational decision-making process related to capital availability and therefore quickens adoption.

While the business case for adoption often rests on energy efficiency paybacks, the value-added features of an IoT solution for a commercial building extend beyond energy efficiency. Though the specific features that become available once an IoT platform is installed will vary depending on the type of building and the specific commercial uses of the space.

For office spaces, IoT creates opportunities for responsive micro-personalization of work spaces. With IoT sensors installed in the lights in an office, spaces as small as a few feet in diameter can host occupant-specific lighting, heating, space usage profiles based on the daily and weekly usage patterns of the specific space. As an example of how this benefits workers and occupants, IoT systems typically have daylight harvesting abilities where light-based sensors are aware of the balance between indoor and outdoor light, and can adjust indoor light to achieve low contrast lighting that reduces eyestrain and migraines. Office workers with these types of automated micro-personalized spaces report higher levels of wellness, and productivity.

In schools, quality of light is similarly linked to learning outcomes. Light of different wavelengths is known to affect blood pressure, pulse, respiration rates, brain activity, and biorhythms. IoT systems tune lighting profiles for specific learning spaces and enhance visual acuity, while also balancing daylight with artificial light for minimal eye strain.

In hospitals, studies show that nurses walk, on average, more than three miles per shift, more than they walk when not at work. This is a source of inefficiency and has been shown to reduce time spent on direct care of patients. Much of this walking is to locate equipment. IoT solutions help healthcare professionals spend less time on healthcare administration and more time on patient care, which saves lives, and improves healthcare outcomes in an industry where operating efficiencies truly matter.

In manufacturing environments, the IoT helps to create "shop floor to top floor" solutions that bridge the gap between production-focused Manufacturing Execution Systems and managerial-focused Enterprise Resource Planning systems. While industrial IoT adoption is slower than in other space types due to the complex nature of manufacturing technology systems, and the fact that technological change is more expensive in industrial supply chains, analysts see IoT as the gateway to radical productivity gains. Some are calling this technological change the "fourth industrial revolution."

While the majority of commercial buildings are not yet IoT-powered, the business case for adoption of IoT in commercial space is strengthening for most building types, and the growing number of potential use cases.

Incorporating the IoT Through Networked Lighting

Reaping the benefits of the IoT in commercial buildings can be as easy as installing a new lighting system. Designed to change everything, Enlighted provides the world's most advanced digital sensor and analytics platform for smarter buildings to Fortune 500 companies around the globe.  The Enlighted system automates, analyzes, controls and reports environmental data through its advanced lighting sensors to drive building automation and efficiency. It stores this data into a central repository in the cloud where it is harvested by software applications that interact with other building systems to optimize the environment in response to usage patterns. The system also provides on-demand insights to building operators and facility managers, and can interface with personal devices and external systems, like local utilities, that are connected to the building.

The Enlighted platform is made up of four main components:

1. The network of intelligent sensors
Light, heat, motion, and asset tracking sensors are installed both in light fixtures and and on physical assets within in a commercial space. Together they create a distributed network of data-gathering nodes that permeate a commercial space and make possible the monitoring and control of space and assets as small as a few feet in diameter.

2. A wireless network and gateway
Because commercial buildings are mostly closed technological ecosystems, and because the pace of change is still slow in the the wireless standards community, Enlighted uses a proprietary high-speed wireless networking technology to communicate between the network of sensors, the Enlighted gateway, and the cloud-based data repository where the sensor data accumulates.

3. A cloud-based data repository
The data repository is where the sensor data is stored for a commercial building, or a connected portfolio of commercial buildings. This allows for algorithmic and human learning over time, and the development of higher order building learning, and intelligence.

4. Software and mobile apps
Enlighted currently has two building intelligence applications called "Aire" and "Space."

"Aire" provides access to building managers to control heating, ventilation and air conditioning in commercial spaces. It helps maximize investment in Direct Digital Control systems with Variable Air Volume (VAV) and Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) which improves comfort for employees and helps to gain business efficiencies.
Aire also provides a dynamic view of energy savings by displaying customizable time schedules and reporting real-time updates on setback status, utilization and temperature by zone.

"Space" uses motion sensing technology to monitor how spaces are used and provide insights that increase energy efficiencies and space planning. Space gives customers the ability to see how work spaces are used over time, and to identify under-utilized spaces and develop optimization strategies.

Installing IoT in Commercial Buildings Is Easy

Selecting the right IoT system can make the installation process much easier. Enlighted is a turnkey solution that installs after business hours in a typically short 1-2 week timeframe. The solution makes building code-compliance, energy efficiency, and all of the IoT capabilities described here available immediately.

Additionally, many lighting manufacturers now design their luminaires to be "IoT-ready" meaning they fabricate an IoT plug-in onto the fixture for an advanced sensor like the Enlighted sensor. These new fixtures are designed and manufactured with IoT solutions like this in mind. In this sense, making a building project IoT-capable is as easy as ordering the light fixtures. A 1-2 week installation process can happen at a later date chosen by the customer.

Recognizing that capital constraint is often a barrier to technology adoption for building IoT customers, Enlighted has further eased the installation process by creating a financing program that allows qualifying organizations to install Enlighted without any capital investment. The system is installed cost-free, and installation costs are recovered from a portion of the future energy savings achieved by the system.

Advanced Data Unlocks Savings and More

IoT platforms such as Enlighted’s can serve multiple space types, and a very diverse range of business models operating within those space types.

For every space type, energy efficiency gains are massive, and immediate, and the system can in fact be paid for from a portion of future energy savings, using our custom financing mechanism, which is described later.  A commercial building with this system installed typically gains an immediate 50-75% reduction in annual building energy costs.

While energy efficiency is the most immediate and tangible benefit, the gains from space planning, asset tracking and most importantly productivity tend to far exceed these by a factor of 20 in some cases.

Gains from energy efficiency in a typical office are estimated to be roughly $.50 per square foot per year, while gains from space planning and workplace optimization are roughly $3.00-$5.00 per square foot per year. The financial benefits from non-office space types tend to vary more widely depending on the specifics of the operation. Enlighted estimates that the customer tracking features of IoT for retail can benefit retail operations by $5-$10 per square foot, in the average case.

Productivity gains that result from optimized office workplaces are more difficult to estimate, but most IoT experts agree that they far exceed the above benefits, with the potential to create hundreds, even of thousands of dollars of new value per square foot per year.

In addition to cost savings associated with IoT systems, this IoT platform also makes buildings more future-proof. Building codes are changing rapidly to include regulations related to building energy efficiency. These new regulations make IoT a virtual legal requirement on new commercial building projects because achieving new code changes — like occupant-aware dimming of lights, daylight harvesting, or the requirement to respond automatically to demand response signals from local utilities — without a building IoT platform like Enlighted is prohibitively costly. Achieving these requirements without IoT undermines the economic feasibility of many building projects.

Additionally, because platforms like Enlighted’s are dynamic and extensible, future building code changes or technology improvements can be installed simply and easily, at low or no marginal additional cost, and without the need for the costly building infrastructure upgrades that were required in the past.

The IoT Future Has Arrived

To some, the world of IoT that we are talking about is in the future. But for the building sector, the future is now, and IoT for buildings is considered by experts to be one of the most mature sectors of the overall IoT marketplace.

Unlocking the benefits of IoT for buildings is much easier than is commonly believed, and can be achieved quickly and easily on any building project, whether it is a new building, a renovation, or there is simply a desire to upgrade a building to IoT for any number of legal, competitive, or aspirational reasons.


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