Navigant Research Blog

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.

 

Google Weaving an IoT Web

— June 12, 2015

Recent announcements by Google that it is developing the Weave communication protocol are expected to make waves in the building automation ecosystem, possibly to the chagrin of incumbent equipment manufactures for commercial and home equipment. Weave is centered on Brillo, the Google-developed lightweight operating system, essentially a minimalist version of Android. With Weave, Google may be trying to quickly capture the mind-share of end consumers who want and answer to the question, “how can I quickly connect all of my home systems?”

With Weave, all Brillo devices (and Nest) are self-discoverable, making them, in theory, plug-and-play. A consumer could connect the new wireless door lock with the wireless lights, all through an Android phone. The proposed ease of connecting devices was introduced in Navigant Research’s recent Home Energy Management report, as being a challenge for consumers. This integration is contingent on the wireless protocols being interoperable, as mentioned in a recent blog.

Feeling Threatened?

For equipment manufacturers that sell into the commercial markets, Weave poses a threat in two ways. First, this is yet another communication protocol to incorporate into equipment, adding a step to the integration. On the commercial side, integration firms have been stepping up to manage that issue. Weave is not the first extensible system to be developed with an easy user interface (e.g., Android) in mind (see Apple’s Homekit). Weave’s approach is not anchored on iOS, of course, and is therefore more open.

More significantly, the entrance of Google and Weave are expected to force the small and medium commercial market suppliers into a quandary. The small and medium commercial market is vast, and is in need of energy and cost-saving solutions.  These customers do not have the funds to invest in large solutions, and in some ways are like residential consumers; HVAC does not keep them up at night. In this light, do original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) keep selling single end-to-end building automation system solutions, focusing on the value of a single integrated system, or do they appeal to the ease of integration with a solution like Weave? Most small or medium-sized commercial building owners or tenants have heard of Nest. But how many have heard of BACnet or LonTalk?

During a recent Lightfair panel discussing the promise of convergence of the Internet of Things  (IoT) and automated building controls, it was reiterated that IoT-based building integration solutions exist, and are being deployed. The linchpin in wide-scale deployment will be people wanting easy solutions. Weave is certainly going to push the adoption wave; it will be interesting to see how integration solution providers and OEMs respond.

 

The Real Estate Services Shopping Spree

— June 12, 2015

You would be forgiven for thinking that CBRE stands for Can’t Buy Rapidly Enough. The company (which actually stands for Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis as a result of an interesting history of spinoffs, mergers, and acquisitions) is the world’s largest commercial real estate service and has been on a recent acquisition binge. In March, CBRE announced a definitive agreement to acquire the Global Workplace Solutions business that Johnson Controls, Inc. announced it would divest last year. Two weeks later, CBRE announced the purchase of Environmental Systems, Inc. (ESI), an energy management and systems integration provider.

Global Workplace Solutions offers services that help companies operate facilities more efficiently, optimizing real estate performance and employee productivity, particularly in the industrial, life sciences, and technology sectors. These services include everything from site selection and design, planning, and construction management to standardizing maintenance procedures and performing inventory management.

ESI, on the other hand, designs, installs, manages, and supports integrated building automation systems and building energy management systems. In 2012, ESI was selected by IBM to manage the energy use of the 50 largest federal government buildings, linking the automation systems of the buildings together on a cloud-based platform to provide enterprise-level management.

The Complete Package

Both acquisitions highlight how providing a complete portfolio of services for corporate clients is becoming increasingly important for CBRE and the commercial real estate service industry as a whole. With growing demand for green-certified commercial office space, as well as increasing awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency in reducing operating expenses, commercial real estate service providers are moving to expand their capabilities with clients. Indeed, DTZ and CoreNet Global announced a partnership that incorporates CoreNet Global’s benchmarking service into DTZ’s commercial real estate services portfolio.

Real estate services companies have historically played a less central role in energy efficiency decision-making, energy management, and energy benchmarking than other infrastructure-focused players such as energy service companies (ESCOs) and HVAC contractors. But, that seems to be changing, as corporate clients are beginning to view energy information to be as important as the other information typically provided by real estate service companies. Though CBRE’s shopping spree may be over for now, we will likely see more acquisitions by real estate services companies to fill out their service portfolios.

 

Green House Gas Emissions and HVAC

— June 9, 2015

The scientific consensus around climate change is that greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by human activities are creating a very serious problem. As a result, most major global regions have adopted targets for reduction of GHG emissions, notably carbon dioxide (CO2). The largest source of CO2 emissions comes from the burning of fossil fuels for generating electricity, powering vehicles, and providing heat. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment plays a large role in CO2 emissions, as it accounts for roughly 40% of total building energy consumption.

Thus, increasing the efficiency of HVAC equipment is a clear way to address GHG emissions. But, it’s not the only way HVAC equipment can help. Indeed, in a recent report, the World Resources Institute points out that non-energy and non-CO2 emissions account for 22% of all U.S. GHG emissions and are expected to rise. The report goes on to recommend the reduction of hydroflourocarbons (HFCs), which are used as refrigerants in HVAC equipment. However, when it comes to HVAC, what HFCs should be replaced by is not entirely clear.

Engineering Requirements

Within an HVAC system, refrigerant needs to be evaporated, condensed, and be compressed in such a way that the system can provide cool air. As a result, the band of temperature and pressure in which refrigerant changes phase between liquid and gas is narrow. Within a building, even the best HVAC systems may leak at some point in their lifetime. So, refrigerant needs to be non-toxic and non-flammable to keep building occupants safe. These requirements were met by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). However, the proliferation of these refrigerants introduced a new problem: ozone depletion. While HFCs have solved the problem of ozone depletion, they are a GHG that traps heat in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. The next generation of refrigerant needs to solve all of these problems.

So far, finding one refrigerant that is functional, safe, and doesn’t have severe impacts on the environment has been difficult. Potential candidates that have a lower the global warming potential than HFCs include R-32, which is mildly flammable, and CO2, which doesn’t fully change phase. Both have been commercialized. R-32 has been available in Japan since 2012. CO2 is being used as a standalone refrigerant in Europe and has recently been deployed in the United States. While challenges still remain, the development of these refrigerants presents the promise of reduced GHG emissions.

 

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":"Building Systems","path":"\/tag\/building-systems?page=2","date":"2\/21\/2018"}