Navigant Research Blog

Building Sensors Reach Vanishing Point

— September 9, 2014

Sensors play a critical role in building operations, from safety and security to optimizing building system performance.  Building energy management systems, lighting controls, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are slowly incorporating more sensors as their prices fall and their values rise.  Navigant Research’s report Advanced Sensors in Smart Buildings delves into the future of the market for sensors that have built-in processors, networking capability, and the capability to sense more than one phenomenon at a time.  Yet, as design elements in rooms and ceilings, most sensors, like the traditional thermostat, are unappealing appendages with little aesthetic value.  The good news is that the ugly boxes and knobs are shrinking and may disappear from view altogether.

Redwood Systems (acquired last year by networking company Commscope) recently released its third-generation light and motion sensor.  Redwood’s approach is to capture fine-grain occupancy and light levels to deliver lighting precisely to those in offices who need it, when they want it, even with shifting levels of sunlight.  Its lighting solution and accompanying open application programming interface (API) were deployed at the San Francisco headquarters of the software management firm GitHub, then promptly customized to enable the employees to tailor light levels as they see fit.  Redwood’s sensor looks like a small lump on the ceiling and can even be embedded in LED lighting systems themselves.

Sense of Control

The next generation of sensors may not look like anything.  New materials and manufacturing techniques will hide sensors from view, either embedding them in equipment or as objects to paste on surfaces as needed.  Imagine living in a house with smooth walls and ceilings.  No light switches or thermostats in view, other than as decorative objects.  Norwegian company Thinfilm has developed a printable temperature sensor that can function as both a temperature sensor and display for a myriad of applications.  Funded by PARC, Xerox’s research arm, Thinfilm has focused its efforts on thin labels for consumer products (like produce) that have tight temperature and lifetime tolerances.  Thinfilm has also developed advanced ID cards for people that can display names and access levels to different locations.  With data storage and near-field communications capability, Thinfilm’s products have the potential to leap from smart temperature labels to flat room temperature sensors with built-in displays and network communication.

The French company ISORG is also developing a technology using printed sensors.  Its flat light sensors are designed not for occupancy or light level applications, but for applications where light level variances can be used to control equipment, like consumer devices.  And it just received $8.7 million in financing,  bringing new attention to the printed sensor space.  This technology may jump into equipment themselves, like HVAC fans and pumps, where minuscule sensors can enable more granular control and system optimization.

 

Hidden Meters Provide Visible Savings

— September 8, 2014

A fundamental challenge in commercial building energy management is in understanding where all the electrons are flowing.  Most buildings have a meter that will tell the facility or energy manager how much power is being consumed, and smart meters have contributed greatly to their insight (in some parts of the world, including the United States, groups of buildings share a meter).  And many, such as apartment buildings, have dedicated meters for each tenant.

But to find out how much power is consumed by tenants or equipment, a finer grain view is needed.  It sounds easy to simply deploy more meters or submeters, watch the data flow in, and manage accordingly.  But the barriers to additional submeters, including the cost of deployment and regulatory issues, are limiting their deployment.

Most large heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and other large equipment vendors now sell embedded energy meters with their equipment, making energy management for large systems possible, albeit more expensive.  Today, an alternative is on the rise, in the form of in-line circuit breaker meters.  These devices snap on to the feeder wires of the breakers, recording the power used inside the cable without interfering with it.  All of these companies are touting the fast and easy installation, along with the value of actionable data for facility managers.  These are compelling arguments, especially considering the vast amount of commercial space and the massive plug loads associated with them.

Thinking Inside the Box

A few companies use these innocuous looking grey boxes as the data source to manage energy, displacing the traditional meter and submeter streams and setting up an interesting set of partnerships along the way.   Pennsylvania-based E-Mon sells a line of circuit breaker submeters that capture power and can then communicate via Ethernet (or TIA-485-A) with an energy management system (EMS).  While E-Mon has its own software package, the company recently announced a partnership with Honeywell to use its Attune Energy Dashboard service.   Similarly, Panoramic Power formed a partnership with Lucid, joining its ConnectNow partner group.  Panoramic Power sells only energy services, not the devices themselves, and uses wireless as opposed to wired solutions.

Enertiv both sells devices and EMSs, using Ethernet to communicate with the EMS.  In late July, the New York City-based company received $750,000 in seed funding, indicating the interest in this space.  This interest is rubbing off on newcomer Bractlet.  The Austin-based company, receiver of venture capital and seed funding from Start-Up Chile, sees circuit-level data as a way to validate the upfront costs needed for building retrofits and a way for building and energy managers to measure the value of retrofits.

It’s a compelling business case.  When it comes to retrofits, the first question asked is, “What will this retrofit cost me?” Followed by, “How long will it take to recoup my investment?”  The last question is the most difficult: “How will I know if those savings are actually achieved?” Bractlet, along with its competitors in this emerging space, may have the right approach to answering those questions.

 

Managing Small Buildings’ Energy Use

— September 4, 2014

Engaging the small and medium commercial building (SMCB) market in energy management tools and solutions has been a challenge.  One reason is that the energy costs take up a relatively small proportion of energy costs for SMCB owners, compared to the massive energy bills in large commercial buildings.  Another reason is the lower penetration rates of digital controls and building management systems.  This is forcing major players to rethink how to pursue this market.  Most traditional building energy management system (BEMS) vendors essentially scale down their BEMS offerings for SMCB customers looking for better performance out of lighting and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

A new crop of firms is engaging the SMCB market with a more lightweight offering, not focusing on the details of equipment performance.  In early July, the electric utility Southern California Edison announced a partnership with FirstFuel Software to deliver rapid analysis for improved energy performance for medium-sized commercial buildings.  Using meter data analysis and building characteristics, FirstFuel will identify efficiency opportunities for the more than 10,000 medium-sized commercial buildings in the utility’s service area.  The FirstFuel system uses meter data in concert with general building characteristics to identify general building performance norms.  Following this analysis, FirstFuel develops an ordered list of energy conservation measures.  The direct partnership with the utility means that the best efficiency options will be available in real-time.

Breaking and Entering

The many pathways to engaging with the SMCB market will be interesting to watch.  While there are certainly more SMCBs than large buildings, the level of interaction and number truck rolls will hamper success unless solutions providers can focus on easily deployable tools.  Speaking of easily deployable tools, smart thermostat maker Nest (mentioned in a previous Navigant Research blog) is now getting into the SMCB market with an interesting strategy.  Partnering with Direct Energy, Nest offers a smart thermostat that can be purchased and installed by SMCBs and used to ensure customers’ energy use is optimized so that they can receive the fixed power rates they signed up for.  While this might seem like a gimmick to increase Direct Energy’s market share, it could help validate the value of efficiency management in a tough market.

And that market has potential.  In Navigant Research’s Energy Management for Small and Medium Buildings report, it is forecast that the global SMCB BEMS market is expected to grow from $231.3 million in 2013 to $1.3 billion in 2022.  Corporate commitments to reduce carbon and energy and a drive to reduce energy expenditures make the SMCB market ripe for BEMS vendors.  Other drivers, like regional policies, the increased prevalence of green building certification, and the associated relevance of BEMSs, are growing as well.  For owners and managers of SMCBs interested in energy management, the approaches will depend on their goals.  Some will want fast, low-touch solutions, like FirstFuel’s technology, while others will want the full suite of BEMS services, like that of large energy management systems for commercial buildings.  The dynamic BEMS market will be as diverse as its buildings, regardless of shape, or more importantly, size.

For a more detailed examination of this promising sector, join us for our free webinar, Energy Management Systems for Small Buildings, on Tuesday, September 16.  Click here to register.

 

An Energy Cure for Hospitals

— August 12, 2014

When it comes to energy reduction in buildings, friendly competition is a strategy that gains a lot of visibility.  In recent blogs, here and here, we’ve discussed how the U.S. Department of Energy has set up competitions for financial institutions and office buildings to become as efficient as possible.  Companies like Opower rely on peer pressure to help communities lower their residential energy bills.  The latest to join in the fray are U.S. hospitals.

The Energy to Care program, run by the American Hospital Association, takes a slightly more advanced route to creating an energy reduction competition between buildings.  The Better Buildings Challenge relies on buildings uploading their ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager data (either automatically or by hand) into the system and then submitting the results to be a part of the competition.  In Energy to Care, the ENERGY STAR benchmarking data is only the first part of the competition, and the approach used can be adapted as a real building energy management system (BEMS) to aid in ongoing energy savings.

Cost Reductions

The latest Energy to Care program is built on top of Lucid Design’s BuildingOS platform, a BEMS solution that makes integrating data from building energy systems easy and fast.  Lucid Design made its name by engaging through the development of their dashboards, commonly found in universities and government buildings.  BuildingOS offers tools to integrate data from multiple sources, including building automation systems, plug-load monitors, and renewable power generators.  Along with the data integration are visuals and analytics that can aid facility managers and sustainability professionals in their efforts to improve building performance and reach sustainability goals.

Hospitals are in need of this kind of care.  As the second-highest user of energy among all building types in terms of energy intensity and the consumers of 4% of all U.S. energy, hospitals need to leverage these tools to reduce the $8.8 billion a year in energy costs the industry shoulders.  Given the competiveness in the healthcare market, every dollar saved on operations is welcome.

In Energy to Care, the Portfolio Manager data is incorporated in BuildingOS.  Depending on the richness of the data uploaded, the hospital then has access to analytics and graphics that can quickly identify problems associated with energy use in the building.  Hospital energy managers can understand which systems are consuming more power and when power use varies beyond expected levels over the course of a day or week.  The ease of integration of these tools will make energy conservation measures easy to identify and their effectiveness measurable in the long run.  While Lucid Design will benefit from the widespread deployment of its product, the hospitals, and in turn the public, will benefit from reduced costs.

 

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