We were so excited to join Omdia and Acuity Brands in co-hosting a webinar about the challenges and solutions facing developers in the smart buildings space. Our VP and GM of Industrial and Commercial IoT products, Ross Sabolcik, joined David Green from Omdia and Trevor Palmer from Acuity Brands to discuss challenges and solutions facing IoT developers and businesses in the smart buildings space. David facilitated the conversation, and his perspective as the senior research manager at Omdia with a focus on global energy demand invited lively conversation regarding the drivers influencing innovation in this area. While it likely doesn’t come as a surprise that long term savings, cutting energy usage, and improving security are key drivers in smart building deployment, how we’re getting there might not be what you expect.
Click here to watch the webinar replay.
Focus on Energy Efficiency
The energy-saving aspect is galvanizing commercial and residential applications alike, even though one is focused primarily on ROI, while the latter is more interested in user experience. Quantifying the energy efficiency of both is important. This means energy efficiency has graduated from a nice-to-have to an essential component of any smart building project. One of the ways we measure the progress of a smart building application is simply by looking at the number of connected pieces of equipment it utilizes. Generally speaking, this number is increasing by about 10 percent year-over-year and is expected to do so for the next two decades.
And more than half of all new connected equipment falls squarely into the energy domain, including lighting and HVAC applications. These are areas where energy efficiency can be easily quantified, and like most smart device implementations, the more effectively you can demonstrate strong ROI, the faster the market will move towards adoption. An extension of being able to quantify energy savings through connectivity is bringing the same functionality to bear on business metrics, and making sure IT and OT are leveraging emerging technology. According to Omdia, adoption of smart building technology will grow at 10 percent every year through 2025 and beyond, and while energy monitoring is the single most important use case identified by building/facility managers, it’s not the end.
Integration with Existing Infrastructure
Another key theme was the ability to integrate new smart building technologies – particularly wireless technologies – into existing infrastructure. Facility managers are faced with the dual challenges of harnessing legacy equipment and technology to realize energy efficiency and improve the experience, but also to adopt tools and retrofit technologies that don’t require extensive reconstruction or building upgrades. Bridging this gap is one of the responsibilities that falls to the manufacturers serving this industry. On one hand it’s our responsibility to innovate in ways that allow customers or prospects to be successful with legacy infrastructure or the tools with which they are already comfortable with. We risk alienating the audience if we attempt to force-feed overly complicated technologies to realize gains. On the other hand, how effectively we can innovate on new solutions that can integrate with existing systems with minimal disruption will also be a key variable in adoption. Technology must make it easier to do these things, not harder.
The majority of new applications are being retrofitted into existing systems, and this is a trend we see across multiple industries. From Silicon Labs’ perspective as an IC provider, it’s never been easier to retrofit wireless functionality into a wide variety of applications and systems. That wasn’t the case just a few years ago, when operators might have struggled just getting wireless technology to work, let alone implemented. Now the bigger challenge is creating the most effective use of connected smart building solutions to achieve strong ROI for the end user.
A Holistic Approach to Smart Buildings
Once you create a wireless network for lighting control, the possibilities for that network to deliver additional value add services multiply. Even if you have the right technical solution, you still need to get the most out of it. This is where hardware, connectivity, and software applications need to be considered as a system instead of its individual components. Like a chain, any network solution is only as strong as its weakest link, and vendors should think about how the overall system can contribute dramatically more than just making room temperature more comfortable. A lighting control system for example, can be imagined as a constellation of sensors for a connected building to bring smarter, more efficient operation to more than just lighting. In fact, the savings that can be realized through smart lighting can actually be used to fuel more ambitious applications aimed at solving business challenges. In a retail environment, for example, energy savings is important, but increasing sales or effectively managing customer traffic can have a direct impact on the bottom line.
Traditionally, these problems would be beyond the domain expertise of lighting manufacturers, but more and more connectivity baked into lighting solutions is making it possible to address these issues. Leveraging Bluetooth mesh technology, for example, allows installers to easily go in and provision the network with their cell phone, without having to deal with cloud and gateway connectivity. The ease of installation allows customers to quickly get their buildings connected and consider adding on additional services beyond lighting, including location services and predictive maintenance.
For more information about how connectivity is shaping the present and future of smart buildings, you can watch a reply of this webinar here or check out the latest in smart industry from Silicon Labs here.