Kunal Sikka and Scott Hamilton
Published 1 year ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
Our buildings have long been unresponsive, mute structures for housing, work and play. But the ongoing Fourth Industrial
Revolution’s technological advances — high-speed connectivity, AI, the ability to acquire and analyze vast data streams — have enabled buildings to actively participate in their operations and use resources more efficiently.
Because buildings account for nearly nearly 50 percent of annual global CO2 emissions and 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US alone, modern solutions to reduce energy use are of paramount importance. Many corporate buildings have been in use for years; and now is the time for applying 4IR solutions to create “living buildings” that can sense, think and act — highly energy-efficient environments that can evolve with future technology.
can “sense,” through comprehensive data collection and analysis, the myriad
activities happening within its spaces. It can “think” by comparing real-time
conditions to historical data and predictive modeling, which then gives the
built environment the ability to “act” on the information. A living building
streamlines operations and helps the occupants feel more comfortable and in
control of their environment.
A building that can take direction from its occupants through an interface is
nothing new. A thermostat or a light switch both respond to direct input from a
human, but this doesn’t cross the threshold to qualify as thinking. Even a
thermostat that has been programmed to activate if a temperature climbs to a
certain level can ‘sense’ its environment, but it won’t be able to make seasonal
adjustments without additional input from people.
To have the ability to recognize changes in the interior and exterior
environment and take action requires a combination of software and hardware
working together. If the software is the brain, the many sensors and mechanisms
that interact with the physical world make up the body.
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Light switches are just one common interface for human occupants to adjust the
look and ambience of a built environment. As we move towards living spaces,
lighting takes on an even more important role, thanks to its great potential to
impact energy use. Spaces with lighting that also connect to various sensors and
with wireless connectivity can vastly improve the overall performance of a
building. Multifunctional wireless sensors that automatically adjust the
lighting based on conditions can have been shown to save up to 35 percent of
energy costs in commercial and
If the lighting system is also integrated into the building’s window coverings,
energy efficiency continues to increase. Buildings that take advantage of
natural light, dim overhead lights and open window shades during the day can
result in annual lighting energy savings up to 30
when compared to no daylight dimming and manually controlled blinds.
Occupant comfort can also be taken into account for even greater energy savings
when a connected environment automates activities to adjust HVAC systems. On
sunny days, window coverings that automatically slide into place reduce the load
on cooling systems. At times of the year when air conditioning is required,
about 76 percent of
that falls on standard double-pane windows becomes heat within a building.
Window coverings can play a major role in reducing energy loss by helping to
maintain a comfortable temperature.
To manage operations for maximum efficiency and create deeper/personal
connections with human users, living buildings should feature easy-to-use
dashboards that track energy usage in real-time. Whether the interface is
through a mobile screen, a touchscreen or a kiosk — physical structures that can
engage with people can save energy and enhance comfort. These points of
interaction can even serve as a representative for commercial spaces. The user
interface can provide helpful, location-aware information and access, in a voice
that highlights a company’s brand and commitment to sustainability. Open-source
solutions versus closed, proprietary systems offer building owners and operators
broader choices in service providers and installation contractors. Open sourcing
also enables further evolution — as building needs change, other open digital
services can be added.
An aggregated annual energy savings of 29
percent is estimated in the
commercial sector alone with implementation software, sensors and controls that
understand occupant schedules and comfort requirements, as well as detect and
diagnose equipment operation/installation problems. And some estimate that the
adoption of next-generation sensor and control technologies could generate $18
billion in annual energy savings by
If more living built spaces are brought to life, even existing buildings can
start contributing to reducing our collective carbon footprint.
Published Jul 1, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Kunal Sikka is Executive VP of Sales at Atrius - creator of solutions for sustainable buildings, streamlined operations and personal experiences.
Scott Hamilton is Executive VP of Sales at Distech Controls, which connects people to intelligent solutions.