Beyond the Basics: The Evolution of Engineering and Design for Next Generation Smart Buildings by Aaron Allsbrook
March 10, 2020
Smart buildings have been around for decades, in large part in alignment with energy conservation and the LEED certification movement.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is globally active green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building (or smart community) was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance through energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of natural resources.
Investing in new builds of LEED buildings proved that connected systems, which can lower lights, automatically adjust HVAC, prevent water leakage and more paid back nearly immediate dividends through cost savings.
For example, Orlando’s NBA arena, the Amway Center, was the first to earn LEED Gold certification, achieved nearly $700 thousand in annual energy cost savings initially, and around $1 million over time.
But the upside benefits have more to do with commanding premium rental prices, as decision makers in business become increasingly aware and supportive of green workspaces.
According to a green building report by WorldGBC, green premiums range between 0% to 12.5% (the majority are between 0%-4%). LEED Silver or Gold green premiums range from 0% to 10% and LEED Platinum premiums command premiums of 2% to 12.5%.
But that’s not all – in the U.S., building owner are eligible to receive a federal tax credit of up to $1.80 per square foot on new and existing commercial buildings when they demonstrate a 50% heating, cooling, water heating, and interior lighting savings, as designed to meet ASHRAE standards.
The definition of smart buildings today is expanding, and as the industry matures, more architects, engineers, interior designers and developers are collaborating on driving even more innovation in the category.
What is a smart building today and in future, and how can engineers and collaborative teams design connected building systems?
Developers, owners, leasing teams and occupant’s expectations for their experience in smart buildings are rising, driven by awareness but also by the rapid adoption of smart home solutions, including smart doorbells, automated lighting systems, smart appliances, digital power meters (connected to smartphone apps), and more.
Terms like the “Internet of Things,” “smart” and “connected” are frequently in use, and generally understood.
Today smart building systems go way beyond basic, with systems that can talk to each other, can be managed remotely, can “talk” to humans through notifications and alerts, and make life inside those buildings safer, healthier and more pleasurable.
But with increasingly sophisticated applications, like people counters, facial recognition and other biometric access systems, suddenly designers and engineers need to be tuned into how the technology works, and implications on data security, privacy and even ethics need to be considered.
As multiple layers of connected systems are installed, either in new builds or in retrofitting or “brownfield” scenarios, having a unified vision and strategy can make or break the success of large smart buildings (and campuses of those smart buildings). For example, which sensors will work best for which applications? How will the data be managed locally (“edge computing”) and/or in the cloud? What are the ramifications of connecting to the Internet via WiFi when supporting a device which may need an energy source or the conservation of battery power? How does one select and manage multiple vendors – are their solutions open or closed, proprietary or easily integrated? Who owns the data generated by a wide variety of connected systems? What can be done with the data – and what cannot or should not be done?
According to the “Building Efficiency Initiative,” a smart building is defined as a building that delivers useful services that make occupants productive at the lowest cost and environmental impact over the building’s life cycle. But that definition leaves out the latest solutions being implemented which can be managed automatically, using artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA).
This innovation won’t stop, which is further rationale for ensuring networks and applications are converted to make sense of a variety of subsystems, which operate independently but can also share information through APIs and other means.
To meet these challenges and to successfully participate in the development of super smart buildings in the future, owners are increasingly pulling in trusted consultants at the beginning of the design process, as part of the engineering process, including details down to the best way to run fiber, to install antennae, to orchestrate between systems.
The process starts with best practices and research brought together in support of the owner’s vision for the space and the offering it powers for the tenants they wish to attract.
Traditionally, owners’ goals have included energy and water optimization, real estate efficiency and occupant or employee productivity. They intuitively understand the savings possible in operating the building, and while they can get a validated ROI on lighting systems cost savings, energy costs are only a fraction of what it costs overall to maintain the building (which is where predictive maintenance has come into vogue, along with other new innovations).
More and more smart buildings now include mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems which, when instrumented with sensors, capture massive amounts of data every day. The owners should own this data, and there should be a solid data architecture and mining strategy to produce actionable insights and improve business metrics (fewer accidents, less downtime, lower costs and higher tenant satisfaction scores).
Given our experience in building extensive smart building and smart venue solutions, working with architects, designers and engineers, it makes no sense for data to be stored and analyzed in “silos”.
Data from building infrastructure management systems or lighting control system databases can now elegantly be integrated into a central control system, capable of ingesting, storing and overlaying data from disparate systems. A single “source of truth” database that can be fed is the foundation data integrity, accuracy and – importantly – cybersecurity.
Exciting smart building community-based initiatives are well underway, including Project Haystack and Brick Schema, which are being developed in conjunction with ASHRAE (The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers with more than 57,000 members in more than 132 countries worldwide.)
These initiatives include collective efforts to properly tag data so it can be more effectively used and manipulated by analytics platforms, and can be shared using APIs, but only when they are well-documented and secure.
The best indicators for success in developing smart buildings is a sound understanding of what is expected in terms of flexibility, convenience, control, metrics, measurement, automation and security. It’s a noisy space, given how fast smart buildings are growing, and owners can become bombarded with a panoply of vendors claiming their solutions are best. An important caveat? Understand all licensing agreements and avoid being locked in based on proprietary solutions.
Flexible, scalable, running on-premise, fully integrated with your enterprise system, and ready to implement, we designed the ClearBlade Enterprise IoT Platform to defy all limitations, and to put control and creativity into the hands of the architects, designers and engineers who can then extend secure, scalable and simply better smart building features to their clients.