When it comes to heating and cooling operations, there are now more options than ever to pursue “smart” devices. If your building has rooftop units, it is now somewhat affordable to put together DIY IoT-enabled smart thermostats that can provide wireless control, trending data, and lightweight analysis. But, how valuable is all of this information? The answer is… not very.
There is relatively little value in having this technology work independently. The true value comes from having one platform that can collect and analyze these data streams at scale, turning the hardware into a commodity —insofar as data is concerned— of a larger integrated system. The more data becomes available through the hardware, the more context layers can be added for modeling and analysis, which in turn leads to better, more fiscally responsible decisions regarding the building. Context and scalable data created through the commoditization of hardware can be the difference between treating the symptoms and treating the disease.
The importance of scale cannot be understated. Take convenience stores as an example. Refrigerated cases within these stores are commonly the biggest energy consumers. If you are looking at the amount of energy that a single store is using to power these refrigerated cases it is easy to accept this as being the norm since there is nothing to compare it to. However, if you take a broader view and have data on the refrigerated case energy usage from a few dozen stores a clearer picture will develop. That one store might be abnormally high in its refrigerated case energy use, indicating that service, repair, or replacement may be needed. That one store might be one of five stores that have high-energy use. Now, a broader trend will begin to surface. Perhaps all the stores are being serviced by the same company that is improperly calibrating them or perhaps those five stores are using older technology that desperately needs to be replaced.
This hypothetical situation can easily be applied to the control of buildings and their cooling and heating operations and equipment. In this case the hardware that is being commoditized from a data perspective is the Building Management System (BMS) rather than a refrigerated case. Traditionally, the role of the BMS has been to control the building. However, it is its ability to push data to the cloud that is important for the future of energy management. Intelligent energy management platforms, like our own 5i platform, are using BMS systems as data sources and proxies to implement cloud-control. These systems can also remotely implement changes within a building based on machine-learning models that require more computing power than is resident in the BMS. Thinking of a BMS this way is really treating the BMS as an IoT system, except it’s already deployed with zero incremental cost.
This ideological shift has also created opportunities within small- and medium-sized buildings to forgo traditional BMS strategies and embrace a pure IoT configuration. Big box retailers have enough pressure from online giants which puts enormous pressure on resources devoted to facilities. With multiple locations that are similar in size and function, these big box retailers can truly benefit from an integrated portfolio approach and the benefits that scale can afford them. Doing so can make them their limited facility resources proactive rather than reactive.
This movement of turning hardware into commodity sensors for cloud-based platforms will continue to be propelled by the built environment’s shift to embrace IoT technologies. Scale will be key for developing actionable, accurate insights that deliver on the promise of IoT in built environments.
Steve Nguyen is VP of Product and Marketing at BuildingIQ. He loves products and ideas that transform markets or society. Whether they are transformative in and of themselves, or because they are enablers, he’s driven by creating the stories, teams, and strategy that make these agents successful.