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How to use IoT for energy efficiency and sustainability

Organizations in any industry can adopt IoT devices, including smart thermostats and lighting systems, to reduce their electrical consumption and make buildings more sustainable.

One highly debated topic in the energy sector is environmental sustainability and how organizations and individuals can minimize the effects that human activities have on the environment.

Much of the debate focuses on the generation, transmission and distribution of electrical energy. Even with greater adoption of power electronics -- the core of renewable generation technologies, such as solar panels and wind turbines -- organizations and individuals can still do more to protect the environment through the use of IoT devices and data analysis.

IoT technology deployed in residential and commercial buildings gives organizations and individuals the opportunity to monitor their energy use and make changes to reduce their energy demand and improve efficiency. Commercial, residential and industrial buildings each have a large effect on the environment and the total cost of energy consumption. The average large building uses around 230,000 kWh of electricity per year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The average cost of electricity in the U.S. is around 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, rounding up to the nearest cent, which translates to about $25,000 per year per large building. Of course, prices vary from state to state and depend on whether the use is commercial, industrial or residential. Imagine if organizations or individuals could reduce their energy use by 10% to 15%. IoT deployments can serve as the next step to make energy consumption from buildings more sustainable.

How IoT sensors in buildings improve sustainability

Organizations can deploy IoT sensors throughout a building and have them send real-time data on energy consumption back to a data center for analysis. With IoT, organizations can individually monitor major devices, such as machinery, air conditioning systems, water heating systems, large refrigerating units or lighting systems. Once enough data is collected centrally over time, AI algorithms can analyze the IoT data and develop historic trends.

The massive amount of IoT data collected and analyzed can be used to strategize ways to conserve energy. Real-time data can show outlier trends in energy use by major systems, which could be a clear indicator of faulty or failing equipment. Organizations can use this data to initiate quick maintenance and avoid long periods of energy waste by faulty or aging equipment. By examining the trends in energy consumption throughout a building, facility managers can identify target areas within the building that can use retrofits to improve energy use.

Two types of IoT sensors in particular monitor and respond to changing needs of building occupants: smart thermostats and lighting systems.

Smart thermostats

IoT smart thermostats are an effective means of reducing heating and cooling costs. Many modern IoT smart thermostats have greater functionality for better temperature control, which can lead to even greater energy savings. IoT sensors can learn through data how to adjust the temperature based on habits and according to occupancy. Monthly energy reports can show trends of use for greater visibility and understanding of patterns. Reports can offer insight for more granular control of vents and temperature zones.

Organizations can deploy IoT sensors throughout a building and have them send real-time data on energy consumption back to a data center for analysis.

Smart lighting systems

Another example of using IoT for energy efficiency is with smart lighting systems, where Wi-Fi-enabled LED lights -- which in and of themselves offer great energy savings -- can be controlled based on schedules, motion or sound to turn on and off as needed and avoid excessive lighting energy use.

Often, rooms in homes and office buildings or commercial facilities remain lit all day even if there is nobody present, and this creates a significant waste of electricity. With IoT lighting systems, businesses or individuals can take advantage of more efficient lighting technologies and use the programmable abilities of smart lighting to streamline the amount of time lights are on. The significant energy savings achieved positively impacts both a business's bottom line and the environment.

Reduce energy use during peak hours of the year

Depending on the geographic region and the type of contract a business has in place with the local electricity distributor, it is likely the price of electricity varies depending on the time of day and the season of the year. For example, electricity is typically most expensive during peak hours on a hot summer day, when demand for electricity on the grid is the highest. IoT devices can reduce a building's usage and cost of electricity during peak hours in one of two ways, or both:

  1. Building owners can participate in demand response programs offered by utility companies. Utilities send signals to the IoT devices to temporarily turn off large devices that are responsible for the peak demand of a building, such as air conditioning, during peak hours of the day when electricity is at its highest demand in the grid and thus at its highest price. In this way, utilities manage the peak demand of the entire grid and reduce the need for increasing capacity, or the total available generation on the grid, by curtailing a portion of the demand. Utilities provide significant economic incentives for businesses that participate in demand response programs.
  2. By using IoT devices such as smart thermostats and lighting systems to monitor the real-time energy consumption of a building, facility managers can change the schedule of energy use by some of the electronics in a building to reduce demand during peak hours. In this way, the cheaper, off-peak electricity prices can be used to run some of the large devices. For example, managers can schedule washers and dryers to run in the evenings.

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