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IoT and the path to greener, more cost-efficient buildings

Cutting energy use isn’t just good for the environment, it’s a source of huge cost savings and a sign of corporate social responsibility. With the recent Green New Deal making headlines, there’s renewed awareness around reducing emissions and the potential for tougher environmental regulations in future. It’s a good time to think about greening your buildings.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has estimated that commercial buildings consume 20% of all the energy used in the country. For large businesses with multiple locations, the cost of running lights, air conditioners and other equipment reaches millions of dollars a year. Any business looking to cut costs should be concerned about energy use.

But it’s about more than dollars and cents. Energy efficiency is a major part of corporate social responsibility, and consumers increasingly expect their preferred brands to behave ethically. Almost 20 billion square feet of commercial real estate have been deemed LEED Certified at some level, with a further 2.2 million square feet certified each day. This is a great way for businesses to show they take corporate responsibility seriously.

IoT and energy efficiency

IoT technologies provide a powerful way for businesses to balance the comfort of employees and customers with the highest levels of energy efficiency. These technologies can automate otherwise manually intensive tasks, like monitoring the temperature and humidity throughout buildings, tracking energy usage patterns over time and ensuring equipment operates at peak efficiency. IoT systems are even more effective when they’re integrated with service automation platforms that can schedule maintenance visits when failures or abnormal results are detected.

The use cases for IoT in controlling energy usage are numerous, but here are four smart ways businesses can get started with controlling costs and reducing their environmental footprint:

  1. Monitor physical spaces and adapt to usage patterns. Tracking the ebb and flow of foot traffic allows control systems to intelligently turn lights on or off and adjust thermostats according to which areas are in heavy use. According to the US Department of Energy, consumers can save up to 10% a year paring back the thermostat a few degrees each day. Considering the acreage that commercial buildings occupy, that 10% translates into significant savings for larger environments.
  2. Monitor facilities equipment to prevent inefficiencies and surprises. Keeping large equipment well maintained and running at peak efficiency is critical for minimizing costs for systems such as HVACs and generators. IoT sensors allow you to centrally track equipment to ensure it’s functioning properly and not drawing more power than it needs. Analyzing the data collected allows you to identify potential failures before they occur, and automation software can trigger repair or maintenance orders to ensure there are no costly surprises.
  3. Weather sensing and “pre-conditioning.” A combination of weather forecasts and IoT sensors that monitor conditions in a building’s immediate vicinity allow you to “pre-condition” facilities and make adjustments in advance to avoid costly spikes in energy use. Analyzing historical weather data and cross-referencing it with energy use for environmental systems also allows you to identify patterns and replace equipment that proves uneconomical.
  4. Crowdsourcing feedback. Human feedback is another powerful tool for minimizing energy use. Mobile apps or strategically placed consoles allow consumers and employees to report on comfort levels in a building, allowing you to adjust heating and humidity systems to the lowest levels while still ensuring a pleasant environment. Mobile workstations in areas like kitchens or mechanical rooms also allow employees to report equipment failures on the spot so they can be addressed quickly, avoiding potentially costly interruptions.

Final thoughts

Discussions about the environment are often contentious, but any building manager who’s seen a utility bill knows energy efficiency is as good for the business as it is for the planet. Technologies such as IoT and service automation empower building managers to achieve the optimal balance between comfort and efficiency to keep costs down. Some may also market this as good corporate citizenship, but all businesses should view these measures as simple common sense.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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