Navigant Research Blog

Speculation Over Smart Home Technology

— January 18, 2018

Over the holidays, I received my first personal assistant. Her name is Alexa, and despite the latest hype and commercial appeal, my virtual assistant remains in her box, lifeless and unused. I have reservations about engaging with a smart device that was programmed to listen, track, and record my personal habits in the privacy of my own home. According to recent consumer reports, these misgivings are common. In fact, over a third of Americans are uncomfortable using smart technology as privacy policies fail to address ongoing security issues. For some users, the convenience of voice-controlled devices, like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, is shadowed by security concerns. Data leaks and recent reports of hackers gaining access to home devices and speakers have not helped matters, begging the question, what do consumers stand to gain from smart home technology?

An Ecosystem of Connectivity

For starters, the ease of access to information and remote-control capabilities of home appliances have helped users save a lot of time and money. Energy efficient solutions like smart thermostats and internet-connected lights paired with other smart devices have helped consumers reduce monthly energy bills. Products like Amazon Echo act as a smart home platform for connecting various Internet of Things-enabled devices, like security cameras and remote-controlled cooking gadgets. Consumers already using some of these devices are more likely to install additional ones as they discover new tasks for machines to handle. Throw in the added convenience of a voice-activated assistant and the benefits of connected home technology start to become more convincing for even the biggest skeptic. Yet the real risk of hackers taking advantage of these features remains as the growing transfer of control from homeowners to smart devices is left unprotected.

A Silver Lining

Despite ongoing security concerns, smart technology offers consumers the opportunity to lead more efficient lives. Yet for users to reap the full benefits of these devices, privacy and security concerns must be addressed. Doing so attracts long-term buyers, securing data and customers in one fell swoop. Since innovation leads regulation, privacy policies for this technology will require continuous revitalizing. Proposals like the European Union’s cybersecurity certification framework represent steps legislators are taking to confront these issues. Vendors can also play a role by being more transparent about their offerings and educating consumers on where risks lie and how best to avoid them. Understanding how the tech works and where faults exist may convince hesitant consumers, like myself, to give it a go and take advantage of what these smart devices have to offer. For more information about smart home technology, check out Navigant Research’s Digital Assistants and AI in the Home.

 

IoT: Building Awareness – Part II

— January 4, 2018

Today’s facility managers are faced with the challenge of assessing performance while trying to sift through endless streams of data. People want better data, not just more, as constant flows of information can sometimes muddy the waters for decision makers. The integration of various subsystems in building automation further deepens this web of connectivity, which is why commercial buildings today are looking to smart building technology as a way to better facilitate and manage system operations. Knowing how a system operates is imperative to business development and economic growth. Thus, companies are starting to focus on the primary element of those systems: building occupants.

Stand Out from the Pack

As “IoT: Building Awareness – Part I” explained, the Internet of Things (IoT) has had a significant impact on intelligent building designs. The increased sophistication of smart technology has created a more competitive business market, making it difficult for companies to outperform their competitors. As intelligent building systems become better at adopting the latest technologies and connectivity strategies, the challenge for businesses becomes knowing how to leverage their competitive advantage. Focusing on occupant satisfaction may give companies the leg up they need in a market where customer loyalty and employee retention is becoming a major challenge. This may also be beneficial from a branding perspective, as the growth in IoT services has made it difficult for companies to differentiate themselves in a world of streamlined automation. Focusing on occupant satisfaction takes a more holistic approach to facility management by helping businesses and employees—and the buildings they occupy—become more efficient through enhanced decision-making capabilities.

Management 101

You can’t improve a system without knowing how it operates. News of partnerships like the one between Lucid and Cushman & Wakefield are becoming more mainstream as businesses look to advanced software solutions and intelligent integration for understanding performance operations. Advanced sensors and data analytics that track tenant behavior provide valuable information into system operations and allow facility managers to make better decisions on how to upgrade their offerings. This is important from an efficiency standpoint because it helps managers understand where areas may be underperforming, why, and how to address those issues. For example, building owners can cut down on utility costs if they know which rooms will require less heating or cooling based on the number and location of occupants.

It’s a Win-Win

Businesses and employees also stand to benefit from this comprehensive approach, as various studies stress the relationship between comfort level and worker efficiency. Researchers at the University of Warwick’s Department of Economics reveal causal relations between employee well-being and company performance. This study, along with several others, shows that employees are happier and more engaged in areas where they feel comfortable and can be more productive. Facilitating occupant satisfaction can also strengthen employee retention as happier employees are more likely to succeed in their careers. These findings are important for business owners justifying investments toward creating amicable office environments through smart building technology.

 

IoT: Building Awareness – Part 1

— December 12, 2017

Marcus Aurelius once said, “That which is not good for the beehive is not good for the bees.” Conversely, what is good for the bee is good for the hive—a metaphor not lost on Internet of Things (IoT) and smart building integration. A paradigm surrounding the building automation space is developing as businesses begin to focus more on occupant experience. Smart building technologies are widening the building investment landscape to include tenant engagement and satisfaction. Value-generating technologies, like IoT-enabled devices, make it easier to manage energy and businesses. Building owners are able to leverage existing communication platforms, capitalize on energy efficiency, and promote healthier lives with healthier buildings.

Better Building, Better Business

Building automation systems with IoT-enabled sensors can not only increase energy efficiency, but also improve worker efficiency, leading to more productive businesses. Research finds that comfortable work environments enhance business productivity by improving the health and satisfaction of its workers. Advanced sensors, like those in Amsterdam’s building superstar The Edge, have given building managers better information on how building space is being utilized by monitoring occupant behavior. This is important because the more we know about occupant behavior, the more we are capable of creating environments that will optimize worker performance. Studies on the effect of building systems in schools also found that indoor air quality and thermal comfort have a direct effect on concentration. Classrooms that are thermally comfortable with lower levels of pollutants increase student learning, resulting in higher levels of student performance.

Show Me the Money

The advantage of investing in smart building technology is twofold, as these systems are not only more sustainable and energy efficient, but potentially more lucrative as well. Businesses operating within these smart systems are better positioned to make financial gains, as employees are more productive. Reports like JLL’s 3-30-300 rule suggest that prioritizing tenant satisfaction and well-being creates larger payoffs for building owners and investors—more so than savings on monthly utility bills would alone. The study finds that “a 2% energy efficiency improvement would result in savings of $.06 per square foot, but a 2% improvement in productivity would result in $6 per square foot through increased employee performance.”

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The argument stands that smarter buildings make better workers. Smart buildings are attractive from a business perspective, as these technologies enable employees to be more productive and less distracted by time-consuming administrative tasks, such as booking conference rooms or scheduling in-house meetings. The more comfortable the worker, the better work they will produce. This, in effect, raises the value of the business and contributes to the overall value of the building. In terms of ROI on smart buildings, focusing on occupancy satisfaction takes a bottom-up approach that supports greater integration and interoperability, improving bottom lines across the board.

Connectivity Is Key

The paradigm surrounding building management systems is shifting as more attention is being paid to occupancy experience. We know that effective operations and maintenance through IoT-enabled devices improve building performance. Why not apply that same logic to worker performance? The significant effect data analytics continue to have on the uptime of building systems could equally improve the livelihoods of the people operating within those structures. Facilitating better working environments optimizes worker efficiency, adding value to businesses and buildings. What is good for the worker bee is good for the hive (and hive investors), as smart technologies continue to add value to both residents and buildings alike.

 

Could New Trade Deals Create a Cloudy Forecast for the US Solar Market?

— November 1, 2017

After a lengthy investigation, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) unanimously voted in favor of pursuing protectionist policies on imported solar equipment. The panel found that imports of crystalline silicon PV cells and modules have caused serious injury to the US solar industry, rendering some firms incapable of competing in the global market. To insulate US solar companies from the practices of foreign producers, the ITC agreed to grant President Trump the authority to implement trade protection policies.

Renewable Energy Often Needs Government Support

As cost structures do not always reflect the environmental benefits of green technology, the integration of renewable energy (RE) often requires some form of government aid such as tax incentives, customs duties, or import tariffs to support nascent industries. For instance, Germany’s feed-in tariff scheme under the German Renewable Energy Act created financial security for investors, allowing for healthy market competition within the region to thrive.

Subsidies and tax breaks can also assist solar producers and manufacturers in their efforts to vertically integrate themselves along the value chain, especially when market prices become volatile. For example, a company producing solar cells may want to vertically integrate upstream by manufacturing polysilicon, or integrate downstream by installing PV equipment.

Government support can help alleviate cost impediments associated with integration along the value chain. The spillover effects from German policies, along with other market forces, have created an economic environment suitable for solar technology innovation and deployment. This has allowed Europe to represent 80% of global demand for solar panels for much of the 2000s.

A Global Trade

However, the efficacy of protectionism for the US solar market is up for debate, as the preferential treatment of domestic manufacturers may end up doing more harm than good. Comparative advantages and market imbalances within the RE industry have led to an increasingly globalized supply chain and a growing reliance on international trade. In fact, 87% of all US solar installations use foreign-assembled panels, which means that restrictions on solar imports would increase costs for US consumers. This could severely limit the integration of solar energy and US adoption of clean energy practices as a whole.

US Solar Market

The size of the US solar market at stake within the broader RE industry is grounds for concern. A substantial tariff could lead to the loss of 88,000 US solar energy jobs out of an estimated 250,000. US-based manufacturers have even spoken out against the use of trade sanctions due to the detrimental impact it would have on the entire solar industry.

In fact, researchers at the University of Chicago found that the primary driver of solar industry growth in the United States has not been manufacturing, but rather the increase of installations caused by decreasing costs of solar products. This study highlights the fact that solar employment in the United States is not dependent on manufacturing but on several other subsectors within the market such as installation, sales and distribution, and project development. The US decision to invoke protectionist policies may end up protecting cell and module manufacturing at a great expense to these subsectors.

Policy Ripple Effects

The ripple effects from these new tariffs would be far reaching. Many US businesses depend on competitive pricing along the entire value chain, not just in manufacturing. The solar industry represents one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Consequently, the decision to implement such policies could darken what was once a bright future for a critical industry.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Digital Utility Strategies, Electric Vehicles, Energy Technologies, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Transformations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Courtney Marshall","path":"\/author\/cmarsh","date":"1\/21\/2018"}