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How IoT makes buildings smart and efficient

IoT and AI can make commercial buildings' energy consumption more sustainable by changing HVAC settings to account for temperature, occupancy and fluctuating energy prices.

Today's best-performing smart buildings use cutting-edge IoT technologies, powerful software and AI to create a healthier, more comfortable occupant experience and improve employee productivity.

However, just 1% of buildings are classified as "smart buildings," according to an article by analyst company Memoori.

It is no wonder that forward-looking companies worldwide are embracing digital transformation to raise the IQ of their existing building portfolios, save energy, shrink their carbon footprint and reduce operating costs. All this is possible through a new IoT- and software-enabled discipline called enterprise performance management. This discipline is a suite of critical applications to improve operations, safety and sustainability for operators, occupiers and investors alike. Enterprise performance management is a single source of truth -- a record system -- for all things building-related that is the digital backbone for applications.

Bringing older buildings up to speed is admittedly a big job. After all, most of the world's commercial buildings were designed, built and equipped years or even decades ago. There were 5.9 million in the U.S. alone in 2018, according to the "2018 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey." But the potential payback for operational improvements is enormous, considering commercial buildings in the U.S. consume 18% of all energy and account for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Commercial buildings come in many shapes and sizes. High-rise office buildings, hospitals, industrial plants, retail stores, schools and hotels are among the kinds of structures classified as commercial buildings. Each type of building has unique characteristics, but they all have one thing in common: They consume energy.

Basic comfort systems account for most companies' real estate energy consumption, whether a company operates a few buildings or a portfolio of dozens, hundreds or thousands. Up to 50% of a typical building's energy load goes to running its HVAC systems, according to a study by the Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. And commercial buildings waste as much as 30% of the energy they use, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Reducing buildings' energy consumption and environmental impact, even by a fraction of a percent, will boost a company's operating efficiency, sustainability commitments and bottom line and reduce the effect of human activity on planet Earth.

Companies routinely invest in energy-saving initiatives for a single building or a single type of system, for example, an automated lighting system for an office building. But only so many tweaks can be made to an older building before the law of diminishing returns takes hold. More significant savings are possible when companies take an enterprise-wide view of energy efficiency and sustainability with enterprise performance management.

Optimizing building performance and occupant experience on a company level requires a uniform view extending across an organization's entire building portfolio. This single source of truth is essential because it provides a common record of all the factors that create a positive experience for building occupants and changes in the organization's energy consumption and sustainability. This broader picture also helps organizations compare buildings in the portfolio and share best practices companywide.

The benefits of enterprise performance management are only available by harnessing the power of IoT to collect, analyze and act using the enormous volume of data lying dormant in a company's real estate portfolio. That's a challenge because buildings are usually built or acquired one at a time and over periods of years. They're often equipped with mismatched building systems from different generations, built by different manufacturers.

The best enterprise performance management resources are platform-agnostic, using smart edge devices to gather data from devices that may not speak the same language. The edge devices link to control mechanisms that can make autonomous adjustments to HVAC control mechanisms.

Today's smart building technologies use AI to analyze vital data points and make real-time adjustments to optimize energy performance without affecting occupant comfort. AI can make changes and adapt to indoor and outdoor temperature, humidity and air quality; building occupancy by zone; weather forecasts; past performance markers; and fluctuating energy prices. AI helps make these fact-based decisions in real time because the necessary calculations are too complex for the human mind.

For decades, facility operators have tried to manage their buildings using static HVAC setpoints they hope will deliver a generally consistent occupant experience. Energy optimization and sustainability tend to be afterthoughts. Facility operators might set conservative strategies for a season but forget to update them when it would be the most energy-efficient. Wasted energy adds up quickly for organizations that have numerous buildings constantly operating in their portfolio.

With IoT and digital transformation, energy consumption for commercial buildings enters a whole new ballgame. Of course, ROI is always a consideration, but it's almost always a better investment to bring existing buildings up to speed than to tear them down and start over.

Using IoT-driven strategies, like enterprise performance management, enables owners and operators to save energy, reduce costs, enhance bottom-line performance and meet the sustainability expectations of government agencies, employees, customers and neighbors in the community.

About the author
Usman Shuja is general manager of Connected Buildings, Honeywell's largest and fastest-growing software business.
As general manager, Shuja has chief executive and global profit and loss responsibility for all functions, including product and sales. He leads a global team to serve customers in commercial, pharma, healthcare, tech, education and other verticals through Honeywell Forge Buildings SaaS applications and the Niagara Tridium platform.

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