Navigant Research Blog

The Information Reality behind the Intelligent Building

— June 9, 2015

Big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the buzz when it comes to intelligent buildings. A slew of vendors are tagging their solutions and coming to market with a message of cost-effective intelligence that will redefine how we live and work in buildings.  But are we ready?

In mid-May, I attended Haystack Connect, an event that brought together a vibrant vendor community tackling the reality of the development of the intelligent building.  The panels and conversations circled on a vision for open-source data modelling via Project Haystack. According to Project Haystack’s website, the project is an open source initiative to streamline working with data from the IoT and to standardize semantic data models and web services with the goal of making it easier to unlock value from the vast quantity of data being generated by the smart devices that permeate our homes, buildings, factories, and cities. The applications the project focuses on include automation, control, energy, HVAC, lighting, and other environmental systems.

Two lessons learned: First off, big data is a marketing tagline, but building owners want to know what it does for them. Second, the IoT can generate a whole lot of information, but the key is accuracy and action.

Big Data: More Isn’t Necessarily Better

The demand for intelligence is ubiquitous, from smartphones to smart watches, and the notion of data-driven decision-making is helping to accelerate customer demand for smart buildings. Getting the data from large existing buildings and making sense of what it means across an enterprise is no small feat. As one speaker put it, “This problem is not the domain of the data scientist.”  In other words, there is building technology and engineering expertise that has to be a part of the equation. In the Project Haystack world, this is about cleaning and processing system information with consistent approaches via tags that speak the same language. Without common naming, analytics can hit a wall.

The Promise of Data Granularity

The trajectory for device connectivity is impressive, and underlying the evolution in technology adoption is the maturation of cost-effective tools that make actionable building intelligence accessible to an ever-growing audience.  Wireless sensors and controllers can not only add granularity to the assessment of building performance, but also open the door to smaller facilities that have been out of reach for the legacy building controls industry.  The exposure of new applications to a wider audience is a critical step in the process of market maturation for smart buildings. As these solutions become adopted across customer segments, market awareness and business value will only increase.

 

More EVs Might Mean Changes to Parking Garages

— May 27, 2015

The adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) seems to be unstoppable. In Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts, Navigant Research estimates that plug-in EVs will make up 2.4% of total worldwide light duty vehicle sales by 2023. EVs will thus have a profound impact on the electrical grid, but how will they affect buildings?

Currently, the most visible impact has been the proliferation of electric vehicle charging stations. Driven largely by LEED requirements and state-level incentives, many commercial buildings have dedicated parking spaces for EVs. Indeed, in some markets, EVs have enough of a presence that commercial buildings are installing charging stations in response to demand from the market. But, increased adoption of EVs may necessitate new paradigms for the design of parking garages.

The Solution to Pollution Is Dilution

Parking garages need ventilation. In addition to the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change, internal combustion engines also emit a lot of other pollutants that are terrible to breathe. Parking garages need to exhaust these pollutants and replace them with fresh air in order to be compatible with human life. Building codes dictate the amount of air that needs to be exhausted based on the worst-case scenario: if every car in the garage was running at the same time.

This approach made sense when sensors and controls were expensive and difficult to use. However, with the sophistication of modern systems, demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) is becoming an attractive alternative to reduce energy consumption. DCV uses sensors to monitor air conditions and match the delivery of ventilated air with the actual need of the space. DCV saves substantial energy because the airflow that a fan provides has a cubic relationship with the power needed. As a result, halving the airflow of a fan reduces the power consumption to one-eighth of the full airflow. Some systems can reduce peak kilowatt-hour demand by up to 95%.

Unlike internal combustion engine vehicles, EVs do not create emissions that need to be exhausted (that happens at the power plant). So, in a future with all EVs, garage ventilation requirements can be drastically reduced. But, in the meantime, the presence of EVs in parking garages translates to greater savings through DCV operation.

 

ZigBee, Thread Find Common Ground

— April 29, 2015

Two key technology groups have taken a step toward interoperability that should make it easier for smart home devices with different capabilities to work in unison in the coming months and years. The ZigBee Alliance and the Thread Group have agreed to collaborate to enable ZigBee devices to operate over Thread’s protocol.

The two groups will define a specification that will allow the ZigBee applications layer to function over Google-backed Thread. The aim is to simplify product development for device manufacturers and give consumers a better experience as they connect devices and services in the home—an early-stage trend often called the Internet of Things (IoT).

New Connections

Specifically, the effort will make it possible for ZigBee devices, such as Philips Hue lights, to connect to a network that natively supports Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which Thread does. The new specification will be focused on the ZigBee Cluster Library, which standardizes software functionality such as energy use, home automation, and lighting. The new specification is expected to be available sometime after June of this year.

Despite this cooperation, the two organizations are still committed to acting independently, and there’s not yet been any indication that they will merge their efforts. As pointed out by the EE Times, the move can be seen as a defensive one for ZigBee, which has been around for years but has lagged the trend toward 32-bit processors and IP networks.

Plenty of Rivals

In addition, the nascent IoT market still has many players and standards vying for dominance, or at least a significant share of the pie. Besides ZigBee and Thread, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, the AllSeen Alliance, the Open Interconnect Consortium, and the Industrial Internet Consortium all have a stake in this ecosystem. In other words, this is a crowded space, and remains fragmented for now.

Even with that fragmentation, utilities and energy management providers need to pay attention to the ZigBee-Thread détente. It could be the needed big step toward device and service interoperability that unleashes a burgeoning market of connected and intelligent devices like thermostats, appliances, and lights. This one move is not going to get it done alone. Others will need to alter their stances, or risk missing out on the expected boom. Of course, Apple could still go it alone with HomeKit, but proprietary solutions are hard to scale. And it is likely that most other vendors will seek more open standards so that the overall market can flourish, and not get stuck in silos.

 

Seeking Reliable Power, Hospitals Go Local

— April 21, 2015

A few weeks ago, Hitachi in India announced that it is working on a pilot at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital in New Delhi that focuses on energy efficiency. The project has three major goals: to upgrade the facilities of AIIMS, install a highly efficiency data center, and incorporate the data from the energy management system (EMS) to optimize the facility’s overall performance. This is the latest example of energy management coming to the fore in healthcare facilities. The drivers and barriers for advanced energy management in healthcare are detailed in Navigant Research’s recent report, Energy Management for Healthcare Markets.

The energy management for healthcare market expected is to grow from $949 million in 2015 to over $2 billion in 2024, driven by government regulation on one hand and corporate strategy on the other, both working to keep costs low for hospitals. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy conservation measures have been employed by hospitals at high rates, yet our research shows that the integration of these system with digital EMSs is less universal.

Surviving Disaster

Improving the energy posture of hospitals can also help them become more resilient. After events like Hurricane Katrina (when the failure of hospital power systems was citywide and catastrophic, as revealed in Sheri Fink’s devastating account, Five Days at Memorial) and Hurricane Sandy, hospitals are incorporating plans to function without utility-based power in the face of a disaster. At the simplest level, a highly energy efficient hospital running with efficient HVAC and lighting systems would need less power than an inefficient one. But the hospital’s ability to leverage onsite backup power can make the difference, literally, between life and death in a disaster.

One Wisconsin healthcare system has taken the concept of resilience to its logical extreme. Gunderson Health System has endeavored to generate its own power from a myriad of sources. This includes burning biomass from waste wood, employing dairy waste digesters, using methane captured from local landfills, and gathering power from wind turbines on farms in the area. Gunderson claims to be the first energy-independent healthcare system in the world. More significantly, the system presents itself as an example of a locally powered healthcare facility, proving that it’s integrated into the local community.

Going Micro

Unlike Gunderson, most hospitals use diesel generators for power backup. These generators are seldom-used but ready to deliver backup power when needed. And if you’ve ever been near the hospital when they’re running, you know how unpleasant they are to be around. While the price of crude oil has dropped in global markets, electricity prices have not universally fallen. The use of fossil fuel-based generators as backups poses an interesting question: If the price of gas stays low, as forecasted, will hospital facilities shift their use of petroleum generators to essentially become microgrids, to save costs?

Although most facilities are not prepared to do so at present, it’s highly likely that all new healthcare facilities will introduce more flexible backup power, to avoid more Katrinas in the future.

 

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