Navigant Research Blog

Safer, Stronger, and Brighter Streets through Lighting Controls

— October 6, 2016

SmartCityWhat impact do street lights have on a city’s populace? According to Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, street lights make the city’s streets “safer, stronger, and brighter.” This is the justification being used for the launch of a new service that allows residents of the district to report street light outages via text message. The challenge with city street lights is that they have a greater impact on how citizens feel than on more quantifiable measures.

The conventional wisdom says that brightly lit streets reduce crime and traffic collisions. Yet, a 2015 study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found little evidence of harmful effects of reduced levels of street lighting on road collisions or crime in England and Wales. Researchers analyzed 14 years of data from 62 local authorities that implemented strategies such as switching lights off permanently, reducing the number of hours that lamps are switched on at night, dimming lights, and replacing traditional orange lamps with energy efficient white light LED lamps. Empirically, permanently switching off lights did not lead to an increase in crime or car crashes.

But it is too simplistic to conclude that better street lighting has no impact on a community. Another study, this one published in Safety Science, found that well-lit streets make pedestrians feel safer. Politicians, the ones who often shape street lighting decisions, get elected by what the electorate feels to be true, not what actually is true. Moreover, advanced control of street lights can reduce energy and save money.

Where DC Gets It Wrong

Washington, DC’s street light outage monitoring plan relies on residents reporting which of the city’s 70,000 street lights are out. At one point, crowdsourcing a problem like this was innovative; the ubiquity of smartphones and other connected devices only recently permitted such engagement. But, as noted in Navigant Research’s Outdoor Lighting Systems report, adding controls and communication networks to street lights enables municipalities to reduce energy consumption and make monitoring and management more efficient.

The City of Oslo, Norway faced the same challenge in 2010 (back when crowdsourcing was still a thing). The city relied on reports from residents to identify street light failures for its 55,000 street lights. Oslo wanted to make repair crews more efficient and also be able to reduce light levels as needed. In response, the city connected its street lighting into a single remotely accessible network that allows monitoring and control of light levels through Internet-based applications. The move reduced energy use by 62% while also reducing lamp downtime.

 

Cybersecurity and Intelligent Buildings

— September 12, 2016

Intelligent BuildingFor several years, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have been converging. In commercial buildings, building automation systems (BASs) are trending toward more IT integration as building owners and facility managers see the value the technology creates. However, this increasing connection and interconnection of building systems also exposes them to malicious attacks from cybercriminals.

There have been a number of high-profile cybersecurity attacks recently, from Anthem to Sony to Target. The FBI now ranks cybercrime as one of its top law enforcement activities. Most of these attacks have focused on stealing credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other forms of personal information. But it’s important to remember that these types of attacks are not the extent of the damage that could be done. The Stuxnet worm was designed to attack programmable logic controllers and was discovered in 2010 after it had ruined almost one-fifth of Iran’s nuclear reactors. In some ways, this attack served as a proof of concept of attacks that could target building systems.

Building Vulnerabilities

Cyber attacks on computer networks are a ubiquitous and constant threat, costing victims hundreds of billions of dollars in damages each year. Organized crime groups, disgruntled employees, adversarial nation states, and even hobbyists are constantly scanning systems to identify entrances into networks. Poorly designed and maintained BAS networks can serve as access points for attacks.

Should companies really worry about the impact of a breached BAS network? It seems like the worst that a hacker could do is turn off the lights. Of course, in critical facilities (such as hospitals and data centers), disruption in building conditions can have direct operational impacts. But the threat is greater than that. A cybersecurity breach launched through a building management system (BMS) or BAS can also compromise the integrity and security of corporate networks that are operating within the building.

In 2012, security researchers Billy Rios and Terry McCorkle identified a vulnerability in the Tridium Niagara AX Framework that would allow such an attack. The team uncovered the ability to execute a directory traversal attack, which allows access to restricted directories and the ability to execute commands outside of the web server’s root directory by downloading and decrypting the file containing user credentials from the server.

In 2013, these two security researchers were able to bypass the restrictions of the BMS at Google’s Wharf 7 office in Sydney, Australia using the vulnerabilities in the Tridium Niagara AX platform. By this point Tridium had issued security patches to eliminate such vulnerabilities, but the patches were never installed in this facility. Facilities managers are accustomed to operating with equipment lifespans that reach as long as 20 years. Constantly identifying and updating building system software is a fundamental shift in thinking—and one that a sophisticated tech giant like Google apparently could not manage.

Making Buildings More Secure

Building networks were never created with security in mind, and the sophistication of hacking is evolving at an incredible pace. Traditionally, breaches of security followed a flow of infiltration to aggregation to exfiltration. However, attacks are now rarely restricted to a single system and are now designed to propagate after infiltration. Moreover, the threat isn’t just technological—it also includes social engineering by obtaining account information through spying or misrepresentation.

The IT industry has established protocols for monitoring and protecting computers and IT networks against these attacks. These protocols are well understood, as are the responsibilities that each IT stakeholder has to adequately defend a network. But these are new concepts in building systems, and there is a lack of clarity among most stakeholders. IT departments may expect facilities departments to manage cybersecurity threats of buildings systems, or vice versa. Alternatively, both groups may expect the solution vendor to provide a security solution out of the box.

The threat of cybersecurity is beginning to change attitudes and has created interesting challenges in the commercial building controls market. Awareness and education of building owners and operators remain a persistent challenge. Some are completely unaware of the potential damage a cyber attack on building systems can cause their business. However, even building owners and operators who are aware of and concerned about the vulnerabilities of their building systems are often unaware of what to do about the threat. Relatively few facilities have robust defense strategies in place.

Join Benjamin Freas at the Navigant Research webinar The IoT Transformation of Buildings on Tuesday, September 13 at 2 p.m. ET to learn more about cybersecurity risks in the buildings controls market.

 

Keeping Cool Without Climate Change

— August 3, 2016

HVAC VentAs a heat dome lingers over much of America, many are grateful for air conditioning. Though some credit air conditioning with shaping our history, evidence is emerging that it may also be putting humanity at risk. Globally, stationary air conditioning systems account for nearly 700 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions, roughly the same emissions as all of Germany. The future may herald even more emissions as the growing wealth and growing populations of developing countries prompts the greater adoption of air conditioning.

Changing the current environmental influence of air conditioning is imperative to avert the catastrophic effects of climate change. In a new report published by the U.S. Department of Energy, Navigant outlines the changes in air conditioning technology needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and highlights the R&D pathways to get there.

From Air Conditioning to Energy System

One of the next-generation air conditioning technology research areas highlighted in the report is the integration of air conditioning and other building systems. Fundamentally, air conditioning is the transfer of heat from inside a building to outside a building, which requires the use of energy. Meanwhile, additional energy is spent creating heat for other needs: domestic hot water, cooking, and manufacturing processes. At times, buildings may require both heating and cooling just for thermal comfort. This happens during temperate days where the sunny side of a building may need cooling while the shady side needs heating, or in the scenario of the notorious space heater under the desk.

In a perfect building, waste heat could be reused productively. This is a fundamental shift from individual building processes to a building energy system. Indeed, this is already beginning to happen. Ground-source integrated heat pumps that provide space heating, space cooling, and water heating are already commercially available. Energy recovery ventilators similarly transfer thermal energy between air that is exhausted from a building and fresh air brought into a building.

Deeper building integration is not only necessary, but forthcoming. Axiom Energy, Ice Energy, and CALMAC all have solutions that turn air conditioning and refrigeration systems into energy storage, folding these systems into the Energy Cloud. Moreover, air conditioning controls are beginning the transition into the Internet of Things as more data from different sources can be used to optimize performance. This pivot to an energy system and deeper integration can transform air conditioning from a threat to humanity into a resource that meets the changing energy needs of the world.

 

The Coming Storm for Commercial Real Estate

— July 6, 2016

Intelligent BuildingTo many, the world appears on the brink of financial distress. Of course, to some, the world always appears on the brink of financial distress. But recent events—including Brexit, emerging market malaise, and a slowdown in China—have rattled some investors. According to Pimco, one of the world’s largest bond-holders, another challenge is on the horizon.

In a report titled U.S. Real Estate: A Storm Is Brewing, Pimco highlights the confluence of factors that may lower commercial real estate prices by as much as 5% over the next 12 months. Part of the challenge is the current valuation of commercial real estate. Rather than being driven by fundamentals, it has been driven by capital flows as investors bought commercial real estate as an asset. Since the fourth quarter of 2009, office rents have risen by about 15%, yet overall office prices have doubled—those capital inflows are growing unstable and may even reverse. Acquisitions by real estate investment trusts (REITs) have already dropped, and many REITs may shift from net buyers to net sellers.

Moreover, post-financial crisis regulation (such as Dodd-Frank) makes it more expensive for banks to hold commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBSs). Banks have traditionally served as market makers for CMBSs, and a reduction in their holdings can cause problems with liquidity in the market, translating to higher borrowing costs for landlords. Moreover, more than $200 billion of CMBS loans will mature over the next 3 years, which will likely prompt more selling. Altogether, valuations for commercial real estate in the United States are under threat.

A Very Efficient Storm

So, what can owners of commercial real estate do in the face of falling valuations? Improving the energy performance of their buildings is a good start. A report by the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub found that buildings with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or ENERGY STAR labels commanded premiums of 6% for rents and 15% for prices. Beyond better valuations, better energy efficiency also results in better net operating income. Energy savings lower utility builds, reducing operating expenses.

Performing energy efficiency retrofits can be an effective hedge against the risk of falling valuations. In its recent Energy Efficiency Retrofits for Commercial and Public Buildings report, Navigant Research highlights the market for the technologies enabling better efficiency in existing buildings. Despite the benefits, though, energy efficiency has stubbornly ranked as one of the lowest motivations for performing retrofits overall. Building owners have prioritized maintaining operations and minimizing labor costs. However, the coming commercial real estate storm may bring winds of change to energy efficient retrofits.

 

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