Navigant Research Blog

Focus on Occupant Health and Well-Being Is Transforming the Commercial Buildings Market

— October 25, 2017

There has been growing interest and demand for occupant health and well-being in commercial buildings. Historically, occupant health policy was more limited and focused on preventing accidents and exposure to hazardous materials. In recent years, there has been a shift from the minimal safety requirements to improved health, increased productivity and performance, and enhanced occupant comfort.

Occupant health and well-being is a notable theme. The focus of the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo this November is human health. Educational sessions covering this area range from The Wellness/Energy Nexus – a Case for Effective Design (WELL Specific) to From Lab to Workplace: Research Advancing Health & Wellbeing.

Based on the human health educational track at the conference, it is clear that conference organizers and speakers alike view this as an essential building trend. It is a trend observed at Navigant Research and discussed as a driver in the upcoming report IoT for Lighting. I’m looking forward to attending Greenbuild to further explore this trend and learn about efforts to promote health and well-being through lighting and building technologies.

Motivation for Human Health in Buildings

A report from the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2013 Summit on Green Building & Human Health is titled Health is a Human Right. Green Building Can Help. While much in the development of green buildings and occupant health and well-being has progressed since 2013, the notion that health is a human right has not.

The trend to focus on human health and well-being within buildings can largely be attributed to attracting and maintaining talent in office workplaces, incentivizing students or shoppers to build environments that focus on their health. Many green building features, such as energy efficient lighting paired with more sophisticated controls, provide motivation via energy savings in addition to improving the health of building occupants. Beyond lighting, occupant health and well-being can be prioritized through improved indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and sound quality.

Promotion of WELL-Being through Standards and Certifications

Founded in 2013, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is a public benefit organization driving the promotion of health and well-being in buildings. The WELL Building Standard, launched in 2014, is based on medical research that analyzes the connection between environmental health, behavioral factors, health outcomes, and demographic risk factors that affect health with the built environment. The WELL Standard covers seven core concepts (air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind) to create a flexible building standard.

Currently, there are pilot programs in progress across various areas, including multi-family residential buildings, education facilities, retail buildings, restaurants, and commercial kitchens. The aim of the pilot programs is to test and refine how WELL can best apply to different building and space types. The standard continues to evolve based on new evidence, and to incorporate new technologies. A WELL certification is a declaration of that building’s commitment to the prioritization of its inhabitants.

Certifications Setting an Example

The USGBC has incorporated the Integrative Process for Health Promotion in the LEED certification for new construction. Participants can earn credit by beginning in the pre-design phase to “achieve synergies that promote health across disciplines and building systems.” They can also work with a public health partner to help determine how to promote health and accomplish related sustainability goals.

While the USGBC and IWBI are not required across buildings and are voluntary certifications, the significance they place on human health in buildings is helping to promote these values and drive increased focus on these trends. These organizations can provide tools and resources for building owners and managers and can help drive the adoption of building elements focused on the health and well-being of building occupants.

 

There Are No Self-Driving Cars for Sale Yet

— October 25, 2017

Let’s be absolutely clear about something. As I write these words in October 2017, there are exactly zero self-driving vehicles available for consumers to purchase in America. In fact, Elon Musk’s proclamations and pre-sales of non-existent technology aside, it will likely be at least several more years before an individual can buy a self-driving vehicle. With that in mind, the media needs to stop using the term self-driving in the context of any production vehicle.

Misleading Headlines

In recent weeks, Cadillac has conducted a cross-country media preview of the 2018 CT6 sedan with the first production application of its Super Cruise system. From the event launch in Manhattan to its arrival in Los Angeles 2 weeks later, media outlets including NBC’s Today show, USA Today, Business Insider, and Fortune have referred to Super Cruise as self-driving. In doing so, they are doing a disservice to their own credibility, to consumers, to General Motors (GM), and to every engineer working on automated driving technology.

To its credit, GM itself never calls this self-driving or automated technology. Following the 2014 ignition switch recall, GM instituted new safety review procedures on new products and those changes are reflected in the capabilities and limitations of Super Cruise.

What Is the 2018 CT6 Super Cruise?

This is a very capable advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) similar in principle to Tesla Auto Pilot, Volvo Pilot Assist, and Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot. Navigant Research’s Automated Driving Vehicle Technology report projects that these types of systems—defined as Level 2 partial automation by SAE—will account for nearly 59 million sales annually by 2026.

I personally spent nearly 900 miles with the system over 2 days. Within its operating domain, it works very well. But the key is that operating domain or definition of where the system can work. This is a supervised partially automated assisted driving system. On divided highways where there are no intersections, cyclists, or pedestrians, Super Cruise can handle steering, acceleration, and braking with the driver taking their hands and feet off the steering wheel and pedals.

That doesn’t make it automated. As the Super Cruise branding implies, this is a more advanced adaptive cruise control. The driver must still watch the road and be ready to take over when the system encounters a situation it cannot handle such as a construction zone, lane merge, or faded lane markings.

A face tracking camera similar in principle to the Face ID system on the upcoming Apple iPhone X watches for facial and eye movements to ensure the driver is alert and attentive, something no other current ADAS does. Meanwhile, high definition navigation maps prevent inappropriate use on surface streets.

Misrepresentation Leads to Unrealistic Expectations

By continuing to call Super Cruise self-driving, media creates unjustified expectations of its capabilities with consumers. GM’s design approach should reduce the sort of misadventures we’ve seen from Tesla drivers on YouTube. However, customers that bought into the media hyperbole may be disappointed with the more cautious assisted driving technologies. Even as the technologies become more sophisticated, customers burned by misleading headlines today may remain skeptical and decide to hold off on future purchases, which damages the overall goal of improving safety on the road.

Patience

It’s one thing to take someone like Elon Musk at his word and assume he’s going to deliver what he promises (which he often eventually does, albeit over budget and months to years late). But by inaccurately portraying what a product can and more importantly cannot do, customer interest (and possibly safety) can be compromised. Truly automated vehicles will get here soon enough. Let’s not rush to mislabel.

 

When 5G Meets Smart Street Lighting

— October 25, 2017

It is increasingly recognized that street lights are valuable city assets that can enable various smart city services and Internet of Things (IoT) strategies. Navigant Research expects the installed base of smart street lights to reach nearly 73 million globally by 2026. One of the many elements connected to realizing the value of smart street lights is supporting the deployment of cellular networks and, in particular, future 5G networks.

What About 5G?

With the continued expansion of IoT, the number of mobile users and connected devices will increase. As subsequent data consumption increases, there will be increasing pressure on network capacity. This has the potential to cause latency problems and possibly dropped services with a detrimental effect on many IoT applications. The next generation of wireless networks will therefore need to handle more traffic at high speeds than today’s LTE networks. 5G is hailed as the solution to these and other challenges, and it promises to bring speeds 20 times faster than the current 4G networks and deliver data with less than a millisecond of delay. Telecommunications companies are aiming to commercialize 5G networks by 2020.

However, the downside of 5G networks is that cellular signals do not travel far and are easily blocked by objects. Therefore, in order to prevent signals from being dropped, 5G networks require many more base stations to relay the signals than the current 4G networks. Fortunately, small cell base stations can solve that problem. These small low power nodes can be easily attached to existing infrastructure such as street light poles and buildings. Given their ubiquity and connection to the electricity network, street light poles are viewed as a particularly effective and increasingly important means to improve the network coverage.

Convergence of Smart Street Lighting and 5G

These requirements for 5G networks are converging with other drivers for smart street lighting. For example, in February 2017, Infineon (a German semiconductor manufacturer) and eluminocity (smart street lighting solutions provider) announced a partnership to develop connected street lights with a scalable sensor hub, connectivity with support for 5G deployment, and data processing.

More recently, Philips announced plans to develop 4G/5G-enabled LED smart light poles with American Tower Corp., a real estate investment trust (REIT) providing communication towers and other transmission real estate. The smart light poles will not only house 5G network gears, but also connect to the Philips’ City Touch, a smart street lighting management platform.

5G Opportunities Expanding

As the smart street lighting deployment increases and 5G networks expand, there will be more opportunities for the two markets to be complementary to each other. To learn more about how smart street lighting can contribute to other city services, see the Navigant Research report Smart Street Lighting for Smart Cities.

 

Data Centers and Military Microgrids: The Diesel Dilemma

— October 20, 2017

If something isn’t broken, why try to fix it? This kind of thinking sums up the perspective of many owners and operators of data centers. If they feel comfortable with the technology or solution that has been in place for quite some time, the incentive to enact something new and different is small. As a result, to maintain power for mission-critical loads, data centers have historically relied upon diesel generators linked to lead-acid batteries and (perhaps) dual feeds from two different utilities.

The Uptime Institute has created de facto data center industry standards that range from Tier I to Tier IV, with the latter representing the highest possible resilience. “Human beings have an almost emotional attachment to their diesel generators, as they give data center owners and operators both comfort and a form of insurance,” observed Chris Brown, CTO for the Uptime Institute. He does not see a decline in reliance upon diesel generators. According to Brown, “Engine generator usage will likely hang on, as the emotional tie and the form of insurance will still be present.”

Despite these insights, new data highlights how existing power infrastructure does carry risks for data centers. The average power outage cost for a data center in 2015 was $740,357—a 38% increase in the cost of downtime compared to 2010. Perhaps the most disturbing statistic found in Eaton’s Blackout Tracker Annual Report for 2016 is that the increase in maximum downtime costs rose to $2.4 million.

Military Base Parallels

One analogy to the challenge facing data centers is military bases in the United States. A typical large-scale military base may feature from 100 to 350 backup diesel generators, each hardwired to a single building. In many instances, they are sized at more than 200% of each building’s peak load as a contingency for energy security. Just a simple networking of existing diesel generators into a microgrid can offer cost savings for military microgrids and data centers alike.

A study by Pew Charitable Trusts found, for example, that creating a microgrid instead of relying upon standalone backup diesel generators reduces the cost of resilience by $1 billion or more. Note that the savings vary by region, with the greatest savings for those military microgrids deployed in the PJM Interconnection transmission control area. Yet, when displacing diesel backup generators with 50% diesel/natural gas fuel hybrid microgrid, California military bases boast the largest net savings. With a 50/50 portfolio of diesel/natural gas, microgrids in the PJM territory and the Southeast ironically show an increase in cost on a dollar-per-kilowatt basis if compared to the current reliance upon diesel backup generators. This is largely a result of low diesel fuel prices in those parts of the country, and it arguably points to the need to diversify power generation sources with a microgrid beyond fossil fuels.

Annual Net Cost of Protection ($/kW of Critical Load)

(Sources: Noblis, The Pew Charitable Trusts)

A new report by Navigant Research, Military Microgrids, notes that a key to innovation lies in new business models. The same could also be said for data centers. Data centers like to control their own destiny, which often means they want to own infrastructure. Yet, just like solar leases and third-party power purchase agreements accelerated the solar PV industry at a critical point in time in its development path, similar models could also bring microgrids into the mainstream.

Does such an approach hold promise for state-of-the-art data center microgrids? Schneider Electric would like to find out. Learn more at the upcoming webinar on October 24.

 

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