"Smart" Buildings Becoming "Social" to Save Energy Dollars

Written By: Matt Johnson, Sustainability Manager, Pierce Energy Planning

Only a few years ago, energy was a simple service provided safely at an affordable price to a ratepayer from their utility provider.

This is no longer the case.

Building Automation Controls, Energy Management Systems, LED lighting, smart meters, solar energy and a host of other technologies have been able to improve the operational capacity of a building. Institutions with these features came to be called “Smart Buildings.” This would encompass any structure with automated processes to control the buildings’ operations, including heating, ventilation, air condition, lighting, etc. The people who worked or lived within “Smart Buildings” could better manage their facilities by remotely accessing and controlling energy systems. “Smart Buildings” can conservatively reduce a location’s energy costs by 15 percent a year or 20 to 40 cents per square foot.

Installing new energy-efficient devices can reduce consumption by a large magnitude if effectively managed. The systems can determine when to turn HVAC units on, when to set a room or building to occupied temperatures, motion sensor controls for lighting, and many more. The effects of lighting color, temperature, and effective controls has been found to increase student performance. Additionally, these technologies can concurrently amass large swaths of data on residential, commercial, or industrial buildings, which could potentially save a large amount on a utility bill.

However, the ability to analyze and make sense of all this data is not as simple as collecting it. The next area to address for energy savings will be making the “smart” building “social.” The utilization of email alerts, ping notifications, and Facebook-like status updates could create data-driven actionable decisions. This would help the energy consumer hurdle the obstacle of big data and be able to use it practically and effectively at their facility.

The deployment of informative messaging systems, which send timely alerts, targeted emails, and notifications with operational information, can keep people informed without inundating them with unnecessary information. People would like to visualize their energy profile and pinpoint prime targets for energy-efficiency measures. They do not want to waste their time sifting through spreadsheets of data points.

The key will be for software to analyze this data accurately and notify the user. For instance, the commands could be to set units to unoccupied mode during certain times, but the controls are not reading the commands. Therefore, the units will run 24/7, increasing energy consumption and skyrocketing a client’s demand. A helpful email communication alerting the user their meter is seeing increased activity can prompt immediate action instead of waiting until the end of the month to read a bill. At this point, the energy usage has already occurred and there is nothing for the user to do but pay the higher utility bill.

With the introduction of a 5G network, the ability to capture these large data points is becoming easier and easier. The 5G network will allow for up-to-the-minute data retrieval on all smart meters to address issues instantaneously. The two features most appealing about the 5G network is extraordinary fast speeds and zero latency issues. These networks could offer speeds up to 10 gigabits a second. This is the equivalent of downloading a feature- length movie in one second.

In tandem, a user-friendly dashboard with graphs highlighting energy consumption over time can provide added value for the client. They will not have to parse through reams of data in clunky files to determine their energy usage. A visually appealing dashboard simplifying the energy analysis process can inform the user quickly of their energy patterns, cut down on time explaining data points, and increase the time for actionable strategies. These graphics will not only show where energy is being spent, but they can witness the benefits of conservation or efficiency measures they set.

The customer interaction with their energy is no longer passive, but active and aggressive. With the rise of the on-demand economy, a mobile-first generation, and the use of social media, the consumer now has the power to hold businesses and governments accountable with direct impacts on the energy industry. Each customer interaction in today’s world is an opportunity to add value.  People are no longer “ratepayers” but highly valued customers, each with a specific, individualized need.