Navigant Research Blog

Commercial Buildings and Printed Electronics: Staid No Longer

— June 17, 2016

modern square and skyscrapersThe staid modern commercial building is in a state of evolution. The change is both cerebral and physical—and occurring at a rapid pace. New sensors, analytics, and controls that improve efficiency, services, and occupant comfort and safety while making the facilities cheaper to operate are coming to market. Navigant Research expects the global building automation system (BAS) market to grow from $58 billion in revenue in 2013 to $91.9 billion in 2023. This relatively modest growth does not capture the additional value that new and advanced sensors and controls—enabled with new technologies such as printable and flexible electronics—will bring to commercial office space.

A Fusion

Printed electronics can be hailed as close to the pinnacle of the digital age, a fusion of mass production, computer design, and innovations in circuit board printing and microfabrication. The domain of commercial building applications, while well-established, has the potential to be a rich application for printed electronics. This is due to two main factors:

  • Building technology is rapidly adopting fully digital controls and energy efficient applications.
  • The flexible and extensible nature of printed electronics as a platform enables close to infinite customizability of the equipment and devices themselves.

The Role of Printed Electronics

A recent white paper, jointly published by the Canadian Printable Electronics Industry Association (CPEIA) and the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), examines how printable and flexible electronics can play a role in evolving the function and operation of commercial buildings through new additive manufacturing technology. The paper focuses on the major components of BASs, in addition to lighting, HVAC, and fire & safety. It explores how printed electronics can change building operations and automation systems, enabling improved controls, sensors, and ultimately better conditions for those inside. This paper also examines the degree to which these technologies are ready for development and deployment using the technology readiness levels defined by NASA.

The white paper presents specific example applications where printed electronics can provide disruptive and compelling alternatives to some of the conventional technologies used in the intelligent buildings industry. For example, self-sensing transparent printed organic LEDs (OLEDs) could sense, at the fixture, how much light is needed, putting lighting control at the luminaire for optimal tailored lighting conditions. According to Navigant Research’s OLED Lighting for Residential and Commercial Buildings report, the North American OLED market is set to double in size in the next 10 years. At the same time, printed air quality sensors could provide a better indoor environment to building inhabitants, with cheap printed, embedded sensors being deployed in a rich network in a building.

While investment in these technologies is still needed, printed electronics have the potential to improve the performance of BASs and, in turn, increase the value of commercial space.

 

Why Even Have Meters?

— May 17, 2016

MeterFor as long as utilities have existed, they have created ways to have their customers pay for what they use.  The meter has traditionally been that tool, and many have looked to the newer iteration, the smart meter, as the nexus to enable the next evolution in the way utilities perform. Smart meters have been deployed for water utilities and gas utilities with recent fanfare. Most significantly, smart meters have been deployed by electric utilities, which are using advanced metering infrastructure as a pillar for new programs for a cleaner grid with more efficient use of power. The electric submeter is a part of that plan, enabling a finer grain look at who uses power with a tenant-by-tenant view. But is it time for us to rethink meters? Are they going to be a part of our digital future?  Certainly, we have to keep measuring use—having customers pay for the resources they use is critical, regardless of how low the cost. But with Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices, we need to rethink how resource use is reported, whether it be gas, water, or electricity.

A Clearer Picture through IoT

IoT-enabled devices—think cable boxes, commercial HVAC units, large factory machines, and data centers–are already deployed in the marketplace. To date, most of the IoT buzz has been associated with control or information flow, like a building automation system controlling an HVAC unit or a cable company sending over the latest prime time drama. With little modification, IoT-enabled devices can share how much power, gas, or water they are using at the place and time of their use. If all new devices were shipped with this technology, it would be possible to have a clearer picture of how those resources are being used than by using the aggregation tool that is the meter.

Utilities would not want meters to go away. They are a key cornerstone of how they work and, in some cases, are required by law. But as utilities strive to keep pace of the fourth industrial revolution, they may need to rethink how they want to provide better services for their customers. Approaches like circuit-level or plug-level energy reporting are not new, but if the entire electric, gas, or water system was reporting on how much it used in real time, it would provide a much clearer picture of the state of the system. This reporting could also shine a light into how much waste is present due to things like vampire loads or leaking pipes.

We’d need to have permissions and payment mechanisms resolved, and prototypes are already in development for microgrids. We’d need to have assurances that device reporting is reliable and secure, something that has already been proposed though the use of blockchain. The biggest obstacle is our existing infrastructure. At this point, it may not make economic sense to remove or even turn off meters and submeters, even as IoT devices are shipping. But there will be a time in the not-to-distant future where the meter will be viewed as redundant. It may be in a microgrid, or on a university campus.  There will be a tipping point where, for some new commercial, residential, or industrial facility, it will be cheaper to have no meters at all. On that day, we stop using the end of the buggy whip as the prototypical example of obsolesces, and we will instead recall the era of the meter.

 

Why There Are No Self-Driving Commercial Buildings, Part 2

— September 9, 2015

In the previous post, we asked a simple question: If self-driving cars are now just on the horizon for adoption, why are commercial buildings still managed by people? In that post, we addressed the first of three major factors—that buildings age and are not replaced with new technology as rapidly as cars. In this part two, we explore two other factors: the lack of fully integrated systems in buildings and the complex needs of commercial buildings.

Strike Two

A self-driving car is (most simply) an intelligent operator running a single integrated system. While cars, and the related physics, are not simple, the equipment is engineered, designed, and built to operate perfectly from day 1. And the user (the driver) never has to open the hood or have any knowledge of how a car works in order to operate it. Commercial buildings are a different story. A new commercial building may contain over a dozen HVAC, lighting, fire, safety, water, and conveyance (e.g., elevators) systems by a dozen manufacturers. Ideally, the controls of these systems are easy to integrate. Ideally, the connection to the control system is standardized. Ideally, the installers programmed the building correctly. Ideally, the instruction manual for the building is easy to understand. But the ideal is not the norm, as evidenced by the existence of building commissioners. The skilled building whisperers are trained in tuning new and existing buildings, which are notorious for drifting back to undesirable behaviors. In order to be self-driving, a building would have to have all systems ready to run in concert from day 1. This is not going to happen in the near future. Strike two.

Strike Three

The complexity of a building’s performance is not to be overlooked. While an autonomous car has the challenge of navigating and managing a lot of unknowns, such as environmental conditions and traffic on the road, a building has far more daunting challenges. A small office building with 50 offices may have over 100 zones it needs to control, with different usage patterns and tenant needs. In most commercial buildings, people can come in on weekends for an hour; some like their offices bright or hot, others like it dark or cold. There is also no standard limit to how many control points or sensors are needed in a building, and with sensors dropping in price, the data volume associated with buildings is set to rise. Cars can be viewed as one controlled zone moving through a rapidly changing environment; buildings can consist of more than 100 zones, changing consistently over the day, but inconsistently with personal needs. Strike three.

Self-Driving Buildings in Sight

Yet, there are approaches currently in practice that are inching toward a self-driving building. Building automation and building energy management systems are learning to incorporate more data points and better algorithms for improvement through initiatives like Project Haystack. While true building optimization is a goal for the industry, the near-term achievement is more realistic. Commissioned buildings with analytics and automated solutions will lead to improvements in individual systems and result in fewer truck rolls. At the extreme, zero net energy buildings are the pinnacle of high-performance buildings, as they are designed to minimize energy—all systems must work in harmony from day 1. As these advanced buildings and intelligent systems grow in number, the concept of a self-driving building, with no human in the loop, is in sight. However, these advances will be adopted incrementally as building technology ages out. Buildings of the future may indeed be self-driving. But it will take some time, expense, and the coordination of the many stakeholders involved.

 

Why There Are No Self-Driving Commercial Buildings, Part 1

— September 4, 2015

Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles are being developed, researched, and taxed with vigor. In a recent report, Autonomous Vehicles, Navigant Research described how this technological landscape will evolve. From a distance—and with perfect 20/20 hindsight—cars are a perfect match for incorporating intelligence. Autonomous vehicles are going to succeed in removing the human in the loop—delivering the key services and value we desire: getting from place to place in a comfortable climate with the right music mix. But what about the other technological systems our society relies on? The concept of the self-healing grid is helping to make the U.S. electrical system more resilient. Driverless transit systems, or people movers, are now a common sight, especially in airports. This is the first of two blogs that explore why the self-driving paradigm has not been fully present in commercial buildings, even with the vast recent technological advances.

Building automation, which we’ve reported on in our Commercial Building Automation Systems report, focuses on feedback systems for individual systems, like heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) or lighting. The goal of the system is to perform according to a specification, providing key services (lighting, heating, and safety) to commercial building inhabitants. Yet, regardless of the advances in building automation, there are few examples of large commercial buildings operating without a human in the loop. In most commercial buildings, facility managers play a key role in problem solving, installing new equipment, and ongoing maintenance. But why is there still a human needed for the system to run? If they can put a man on the moon or have a car drive at 65 miles an hour without a driver, why can’t buildings be operated and maintained without a person involved? In what ways are buildings so different from other automated systems? There are three major factors: the nature of the building life cycle, the lack of fully integrated systems in buildings, and the complex needs of commercial buildings.

Strike One

First, it is important to look at the life cycle of buildings. Over 94% of U.S. commercial buildings are more than 4 years old, and more than 81% are more than 12 years old, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, from the 2012 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). At the same time, the average age of a car on the road today is 11.4 years. That means that every 11 years or so, there can be a complete turnover in the automotive stock. In contrast, few new commercial buildings are being built every year, with fewer opportunities to incorporate advanced technology. While many more buildings are being retrofit, most buildings retrofit only one system at a time based on capital investment schedules. It is also likely that most large buildings have at least one low priority maintenance issue that is continuously put off into the future. So, compared to cars, we are not going to see the commercial building stock turn over in a decade or two, short a major disaster. Strike one.

In the next blog post, we’ll continue to explore the lack of fully integrated systems in buildings, how buildings have to address so much more complexity compared to cars, and some changes that are coming in building automation technology that will move the ball.

 

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