We have all witnessed the increasing pace of technological evolution and the resulting opportunities that evolution creates. Finding ways to leverage those opportunities in the connected real estate market is what “smart” buildings are all about.
While the concept of a smart building – or an environment that dynamically responds and adjusts to the occupant’s needs – has existed for many years, the technology needed to make them practical arrived at a slower pace. That has changed drastically in recent years as new smart systems, applications and sensors have flooded the home improvement market. But what about the commercial space? How can we get the same level of performance from our office buildings that we get at home?
One key piece of technology that has allowed many new systems to become available for commercial environments is high power Power over Ethernet, or PoE. Originally developed to support IP phones and security cameras around 20 years ago, PoE launched providing 15 watts of power making it impractical as an everyday power solution. Over time we have seen PoE grow to support 30W, 60W, and now support for 90W is on the horizon. Today, PoE can power a host of building management applications from lighting, to HVAC, to digital displays and more making the smart building revolution a practical reality.
Smart Buildings Defined
So what exactly makes a building “smart”? From IoT enabled systems, sensors and analytics solutions, to dashboards offering greater control over key elements, the ability to enhance a building’s environment is the defining characteristic of smart construction. Primary goals in smart construction can vary depending on focus, whether that be improving energy management, optimizing space and use, or even boosting mood and productivity for a building’s occupants.
At its foundation, a smart environment is built on a converged infrastructure connecting data communications, security and IP systems. Traditionally, systems like Voice over IP (VoIP) telephone, computer networks, IP security, IP door access control and wireless access points (WAPs) all run over the data network and use PoE to power any number of end-point devices. What’s new recently is the ability to expand the network to include non-traditional PoE technologies like lighting systems, environmental monitoring, IP-enabled PoE heating, air conditioning (HVAC) and ventilation controls, to name a few. There is also now an opportunity to power automation and energy management tools that help optimize the performance of all these different systems.
The converged network provides a robust infrastructure enabling all of these technologies to work in concert, all the while keeping operational costs at a minimum.
Meeting the Need: How Smart Buildings Help Cut Costs
In today’s hypercompetitive real estate environment it’s all about doing more with less and eliminating waste. If you can build a commercial space that both meets those needs and yields a positive work environment, you’ve got the perfect equation.
Implementing a building monitoring system that enables a positive impact in the above systems not only results in operational savings and increased productivity, but can transform a building into an in-demand property. Dynamic or automated controls of these areas can significantly reduce waste and lower costs — this applies to either new smart building projects, or retrofitting older buildings.
As one of the largest annual expenses for any building, energy costs continue to be top of mind for building managers, business owners and individuals in the real estate world alike. Some examples of how smart buildings can cut energy costs include:
Replacing old, outdated high voltage legacy fluorescent fixtures with modern LED solutions can reduce an electric bill by 30 to 40%. Taking this one step further by replacing AC fixtures with digitally controlled PoE-based LEDs can more than double energy savings, with some customer reporting up to 90% savings.
The human eye cannot tell the difference between fixtures with an output of 85% and fixtures with an output of 100%. While typical fluorescent fixtures can only function at 100%, smart LED fixtures can be set to 85%, instantly creating a 15% energy savings per month. Enhanced daylight harvesting algorithms can cut expenses even further while simultaneously improving the building’s overall lighting environment.
Some PoE LED fixtures have built-in occupancy sensors that integrate with a building’s HVAC system to enable dynamic environmental monitoring. If a conference room is unoccupied, or only partially occupied, lights in the unused portion of the room can automatically switch off to conserve power. At the same time, the HVAC system can adjust to heat or cool the space based on need and occupancy verses time of year. Fine-tuning these two system controls can create enormous savings year over year.
Data Communication and Physical Security Infrastructure
Within the last few years, building design has begun to utilize integrated data communication and physical security infrastructure. As buildings compete for occupancy, building-integrated, IP-enabled data communications networks (structured cabling, copper, fiber, and associated connectivity solutions including wireless connectivity) have become standard. At the same time, building-integrated physical security (surveillance, access control, carbon monoxide monitoring and fire alarm/suppression systems) have also become necessities. Utilizing an IP-enabled data communication network manages costs making it not only possible, but practical as well.
Making the "Smart" Decision
Although many of these technologies have existed for decades in some form or another – and maybe have all been integrated into the same building – they functioned as a collection of separate and distinct systems, operating independently of each other. The growth of smart building technologies, like IP enabled data communication networks, allows everything to be connected and easily controlled. Combined with that is the substantial increase in PoE wattage within the last five years, making it a suitable power delivery option for most building systems.
A secure converged building, with an integrated IP enabled data communications network allows real-time monitoring of light level, temperature, and occupancy. All equipment operates on one network, providing unmatched personal comfort to occupants who can connect their devices to lighting or heating controls, among others. Placing all devices and equipment on a single infrastructure enhances business operations while reducing expenses to achieve a secure, scalable facility.
Choosing to utilize these new, converged IP networks provides a flexible migration path for future growth and allows faster, easier customer response than ever before.