Smart Buildings: Giving Buildings Consciousness


More than 130 years after Edison’s bright idea transformed society and workplace productivity, lighting technology is being revolutionized. This time, it’s not just about bulbs. The transformation, in the words of one lighting-technology executive, “will give buildings consciousness."

This revolution now comes from the Internet of Things (IoT), a marriage of lighting elements, sensors, software and networked systems that not only promises to save companies enormous amounts of energy but also improve employee productivity, safety and wellness. The data being harvested from these IoT systems also are creating other efficiency opportunities within enterprises that recently were either difficult or impossible to imagine. For example, location based services that send employee location to these connected lighting systems help optimize space allocation and utilization, thereby saving thousands of dollars on real estate rent, something that is currently being installed at ARM’s Cambridge HQ.

This kind of opportunity was something John Osborne envisaged when he became ARM’s U.S. head of property in 2015.

Old building, new life
Osborne walked through ARM’s 32-year-old San Jose building, which the company had occupied for a decade and saw a chance to have ARM drink its own IoT Kool-Aid, to leverage its technologies that make workspaces smarter.

Lighting in ARM’s San Jose offices were typical of many offices sprung around the world in the past 20-30 years—fluorescent lighting that could be turned on or off at set intervals, through simple sensors and lighting controls. But advances in electronics, semiconductor and wireless networking technology now enable vastly more intelligent, cost-effective and interactive lighting automation. Lighting and thus spaces can be managed far more effectively, giving managers insights into traffic flows, occupancy trends, indoor environmental quality (temperature, humidity, daylight) there by reducing operation and maintenance costs, slashing energy bills and improving employee productivity.

“If you want to know what's going on in a building, there's no better place to do that than to watch from the top down,” said Sanjiv Kaul, EVP, Marketing, Enlighted. The eight-year-old Sunnyvale, Calif., company uses ARM IP in its smart-lighting IoT technology that ARM deployed in its San Jose building. The company is so passionate about the business that its chairman and CEO, well-known Silicon Valley executive Joe Costello, likes to say "we give buildings consciousness."

The opportunity to transform the world’s largest asset class (commercial buildings) is vast. Worldwide, there is an estimated 400 billion square feet of commercial office space, a quarter of that in North America. In the United States, 2-3 billion square feet of new commercial space is added each year, Kaul said. Buildings are responsible for a large portion of a country’s GDP. In the U.S., building operations contribute around $235 billion to GDP, support 17.5 million jobs and generate $67 billion in new earnings, thereby contributing to around 30 percent of the economy. Higher-performing buildings have been found to increase lease rates, improve occupancy rates and net operating incomes, and lower capitalization rates thereby leading to higher resale values.

The whitepaper: “Intelligent buildings: For smarter, healthier, more productive people” (ARM, 2016) on details describes many of the motivations for making buildings smarter as well as how  technology helps address many of the barriers to doing so.

The $100-plus billion lighting market lends itself well to being a great platform to help make buildings more intelligent According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 25 percent of all luminaires by 2020 will be ‘smart’.

Illuminating upside
Osborne sat down with Enlighted, one of the disrupters in connected lighting, and IOEnergy, which helps architect and install such systems to get a sense for cost, time commitment and payback. The expected returns justified the investment, according to Osborne. What’s more, Osborne was able to take advantage of utility incentives that shaved another 25 percent off the payback period.

Over a couple of weeks, workers installed hundreds of sensors in our San Jose building. The lights themselves were upgraded from relatively efficient 28w T5 fluorescent elements to even-more-efficient 13w LEDs.

Each node is hardwired into the lighting fixture for power and connected peer-to-peer by a version of IEEE wireless standard 802.15.4 back to a series of gateways. One gateway can handle 50-100sensors.

“These are basically minicomputers,” each collecting bits of sensor data 65 times per second, said Danny Krueger, CEO, of IOEnergy.

This networked technology—completely programmable—allows building managers to control everything from areas and rooms down to individual lights. Lights in the San Jose building change brightness based on occupancy in the spaces below them and the amount of ambient light streaming into a space from outside (known as daylight harvesting). The system is extensible based on the services a company wants.

Untapped potential
The value of such systems extends far beyond savings on lighting, which generally are 20 percent of a building’s overall energy costs (HVAC being 40 percent).

Switching to LEDs in and of themselves saves not only on energy but also maintenance costs. This is because the replacement cycle of the bulbs, which last upwards of 15 years is four times longer than fluorescents and 10 times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs.

Connected lighting further improve the return on investment as the rich new streams of data that it collects minute-by-minute, can be used to optimize how a building is used. A smart-sensor-based system could enable drop-in workers to find open desks quickly. It can help building managers understand traffic and usage patterns and optimize based on data rather than on gut feel.

When Osborne, IOEnergy and Enlighted ran the numbers, they believed the system would pay for itself in three years, which is considered a very good ROI in building-automation projects. The system has been up and running since February 2017, and ARM is already seeing savings over its baseline of more than 50 percent.

About the Author: Aniruddha Deodhar is Principal, IoT Solutions at ARM, where he is responsible for driving IoT strategy and marketing for Smart Buildings and Smart Cities. Before joining ARM, he spent more than fifteen years in high technology in Asia, Europe and North America in startups and venture capital firms, and mid-size and large corporations. His career has spanned roles in product development and management, sales and marketing, and business consulting.

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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