A Look inside Connected Buildings

Envision this: Technology embedded within buildings and infrastructure communicates to make intelligent decisions, improving energy consumption and operation.

This isn’t the future. This technology is here today—and construction companies are going to need to play an integral role in building this “smart city” of the future, today.

One of the big challenges of carrying a vision such as this to fruition is bringing all the team members together to work together toward a common purpose and goal.

This is one of the objectives of the Envision America program, which connects the know-how and resources of the nation’s private sector with the innovative spirit of urban communities.

The public-private collaboration began back in 2010 when Duke Energy, Cisco, and Charlotte Center City Partners came together to make commercial buildings in Charlotte’s urban core more energy efficient—and the program has only grown from there.

Today, the program is helping create America’s new “smarter” future. In 2017, the most demanding energy, water, waste and air challenges facing 10 American cities will be paired with smart solutions.

These communities will have the opportunity to be matched with the private sector at a boot camp in Charlotte in March 2017. The end result will be a path forward for each city’s unique challenge.

"Buildings are becoming smarter, meaning we have more data available on buildings which allows us to make decisions and changes that enable buildings to be more efficient and ultimately less expensive to run and maintain,” says Amy Aussieker, executive director, Envision Charlotte.

The smart, connected city is coming. Strides are being made across the globe. Now it is time for the construction industry to identify what role it will play in helping build up these smart cities of the future.

Changing Technologies

The first step in helping create smart cities is understanding the types of technologies that are going to buildings and infrastructure.

A recent report from Navigant Research shows global advanced sensor revenue is expected to total $3.2 billion in 2024.

Specifically, it shows the advanced sensor market is poised for growth in the next decade, due to intelligent building solutions gaining deeper market penetration across customer segments and geographies.

The research firm says that advanced sensing is critical to deliver the insights of an intelligent building because sensors generate and communicate the necessary detailed equipment and operational data. In particular, it identifies six key segments for sensor growth including: occupancy, photo, CO2, humidity, temperature, and multifunctional.

Certainly, this type of building automation is not new. However, what is changing is the implementation and connectivity due to the growth of the IoT (Internet of Things). Many of these “things” will be sensors and devices.

“Traditional building automation systems primarily operated standalone within the building controlling HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and occasionally other subsystems such as lighting,” explains Brad Rittler, global director, strategic accounts, IoT, Echelon Corp. “With the advent of cloud technologies and lower costs, and more powerful controllers and sensors, building automation systems are capable of generating large amounts of data that can be analyzed and acted upon both inside and outside the building.”

Today, there are a number of analytic platforms that make use of building data from multiple buildings to spot trends, identify areas of energy savings, set alerts for predictive maintenance and share information with the outside world.

This has created a need for a new breed of integrator in the construction industry that can not only integrate HVAC and lighting, but additional subsystems as well such as smart dimmable windows that interact with the HVAC and lighting, according to Rittler.

By integrating numerous building systems, automated demand response is possible—a practice that is mandated in California Title 24 and in order to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credits from the U.S. Green Building Council.

While the technology is exploding into the market today, the challenge is getting everyone involved on construction projects to come together to build the next generation of smart cities and infrastructure.

How Contractors Can Help

There are so many opportunities to incorporate smart technologies on projects, the challenge becomes identifying opportunities and following through.

Aussieker of Envision Charlotte recommends thinking more holistically and implementing strategies to incorporate as many opportunities as possible.

“While new and smart technologies can offer great benefits, they can also be challenging to understand and incorporate into the management strategy of a building,” she says. “We hear often from property engineers that they know there is more they can get out of these technologies, but they aren’t sure how to use them to their full potential.”

For contractors, she suggests making sure their systems are used to their maximum benefit.

One key element to keep in mind as well is technology will continue to advance—and thus systems put in place need to be future proof.

“With the projected growth of IoT, smart buildings and smart cities, there are future applications that haven’t been conceived of yet,” says Rittler. “Building automation systems should be implemented with an open systems approach where additional sensors and devices can join the system without major rework."

Additionally, he recommends contractors should work hand-in-hand with integrators to develop the skills necessary to make these ideas a reality.

Rittler envisions a future where “an employee enters the office and the building automation system shares information from the security, elevator, HVAC and lighting subsystems to provide a customized experience for the occupant, even during off hours.”

While this level of integration is not widely implemented yet, he explains, the application presents an opportunity for integrated buildings today that will grow into more advanced integrated city applications in the future.

“Just as people are occupants of buildings, buildings can be viewed as occupants of a city,” Rittler says.

And this is what is really coming in the future—and is what construction companies need to keep in mind when building smarter cities and infrastructure.

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