How building data can help utilities make informed customer operation decisions

Green Energy

By 2021, there will be over 3.6 billion connected devices installed in smart commercial buildings, making up a very significant proportion of all connected devices. For the first time, this smart technology allows us to understand and control our environments like never before. 

Understanding performance on items such as lighting, security and HVAC control can significantly shape our environments to enhance the health and well-being of building occupants. And behind this technology is data analytics, which improves building functionality on multiple levels.

Similarly, with the introduction of technologies like internet of things (IoT), utilities are forced to adapt to the increasing digitization of the industry, especially in the world of increased customer choice. All the while, utilities must still maintain stable grids with affordable and quality energy supply.

The importance of utilities embracing new technological trends, rather than “racing to be second,” was recently discussed by Dr. Franz Strempfl, who, according to Greentech Media, said, “We need more free room to make pilots, to make new, innovative projects. Maybe 50 percent of these projects will end in disaster. It’s not a pity to have this, because we learn from failure way more than from success.”

Like many forms of technology, building IoT provides valuable insight for utilities looking to increase customer engagement and make informed operational decisions. Here are a few ways utilities can capitalize on smart and green building data.

Real-Time Solutions and Insights

One way that utilities can use IoT and data to enhance customer experience is through the promotion of products that focus on real-time results and insights. For example, smart thermostats are part of a growing number of energy efficiency tools developed in recent years that are monitored and controlled remotely by users. The thermostats have been shown to reduce customer energy bills, and in large numbers, they could significantly reduce electric grid load, especially during hot summer months when air conditioning use is high.

In addition to smart thermostats, real-time commissioning is also a great way for utilities to take control of smart building data and IoT technology. Real-time commissioning uses high-resolution wireless sensors to capture building environmental data coupled with smart-meter energy consumption data to optimize building performance, thermal comfort, and indoor air quality. Achieving this optimal balance reduces energy consumption while improving occupant comfort, which also increases productivity and reduces absenteeism.

Scheduled performance checks on HVAC equipment do not necessarily equate to the re-commissioning of the HVAC system. The performance of the HVAC system will drift over time. The inefficiencies can result from insufficient maintenance or changes in the use of a building. Building areas that were once comfortable become insufficiently or overly cooled/heated, leading to occupant complaints. Without question, energy efficiency suffers in this scenario.

This ongoing process resolves operational problems, improves tenant comfort, and optimizes energy use for existing buildings. On-going real-time commissioning can also significantly extend the useful life of HVAC equipment. By reading and analyzing various aspects of energy use, such as HVAC and refrigeration, utilities can offer new touch-points and solutions for these necessities.

Real-time commissioning also goes beyond HVAC and can be applied to a whole building. Arbnco’s Real-Time Commissioning solution utilizes energy modeling, wireless sensors, and reporting for consistent real-time data capture throughout the building. Through establishing commissioning services, utilities can directly facilitate cost savings and further options for customers.

The Importance of Energy Modeling

One of the most common methods utilities can utilize to increase customer operation decisions is offering building operators and commercial customers energy modeling. Energy modeling compares how multiple combinations of building systems and components perform to optimize energy efficiency, minimizing  the overall investment. 

Modeling provides options that identify and allow businesses to decide on the best combination of projected energy cost savings, initial expenditures, incentives, payback duration, and energy use per square foot. One example is Xcel Energy’s Minnesota Energy Design Assistance (EDA) program, which provides energy modeling services to customers as they begin new construction and major renovation projects.

Another example is Arbnco’s complete software suite for green building initiatives, which includes energy modeling. This software further ties into other sensor-driven, and real-time features that benefits utilities, customers, and occupants.

Utilities are traditionally seen as providers, but with technology and programs like the examples above, they can become more than providers  Adopting energy modeling solutions for buildings helps utilities become collaborators and expert resources for strategic energy management.

A Deeper Dive into Wellness & Air Quality

Even the most thoughtful green building programs often overlook one of the most important pieces of the initiatives – the occupants themselves. As we focus on energy and cost savings, sometimes the well-being and health of the building occupants are overlooked. That’s why more companies, such as Senseware and Arbnco, have implemented sensor technology to track air quality and occupant health. 

Poor air quality is becoming one of the biggest environmental concerns of our time. In the UK, air pollution is the fourth most significant threat to public health, falling behind cancer, obesity, and heart disease. A 2019 study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, linked 13 percent of global asthma cases directly to pollution. In the UK, asthma deaths have increased by a third over the last decade, according to the ONS.

Air quality and comfort correlate with human well-being and performance. Indoor carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations above 1,000 parts per million (ppm) have shown to result in a drop in productivity. Low ventilation rates have also been shown to deliver up to a 9 percent dip in performance, as well as symptoms like headaches.

Sensor technology is used in various ways, either reporting directly to the operators or, as seen in Arbnco’s solution, used in a larger system which adjusts features in real-time to improve quality. As part of a larger smart building initiative, utilities should feel motivated to implement sensor technology that focuses on wellness. Not only is this an attractive measure to operators and residents, but sensors are used in a broader picture of building operations and work alongside modeling and real-time solutions.

While these are just a few ways utilities can increase their involvement in green building technology, the concept remains the same. If utilities want to expand customer touchpoints, it makes sense to take part in solutions that offer both cost savings and occupant comfort. 

By adopting new technological measures, utilities are more than just providers of energy, but collaborators and partners in building operations. 

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Brian leads Strategy and product management and arbnco's North American operations. He is a senior energy executive with 20+ years expertise in Energy Efficiency and Distributed Energy Resources program design, operations, and business development. He has defined services and software go-to-market solutions with executive decision makers, strategic partners, regulatory & policy thought leaders with extensive stakeholder outreach.  Brian has a demonstrated track record forming deep strategic relationships and driving industry leading market innovation.

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