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Blog: Buildings, Energy and Emerging Internet of Things Technology

Buildings eat energy—to the tune of almost 75 percent of the total electricity consumed in the U.S. They also emit about 40 percent of our Co2 (our greenhouse gases). That’s a lot of pollution but it’s expected to double in less than 20 years unless we speed up our current conversion from fossil fuels to renewables. Suffice it to say that buildings leave a big imprint on our environment and the people who work in it.

But there’s a potential solution in Building Automation System and Building Management System (BAS/BMS).

BAS/BMS control and optimize a building’s HVAC, lighting, security, and fire systems (to name a few) toward reducing energy consumption and lowering operating costs. Automated building systems have been around for quite some time and are a mature technology, but these systems are currently undergoing a fundamental change due to technological advances.

Wouldn’t it be great if each asset in your building (from a door or a coffee pot to a chiller) had a sensor in it that was connected to the internet and could be accessed and controlled in real time by your mobile phone?

What if a work order for your BAS was automatically issued based on a measurement of pressure, a vibration, a temperature, an air flow, a room’s occupancy, the presence of a greenhouse gas, or the presence of a chemical or leak that falls outside acceptable limits?

Today, you can issue that work order with the help of technology and analytics encompassed in the Internet of Things (IoT). Some estimates put the number of connected “things” that will have sensors sending data to the cloud at over 50 billion within the next 20 years. That marks a quantum change on CRE and facility management—as well as just about every other profession.

The Promise of IoT

Perhaps the best IoT definition comes from the Gartner company: “The Internet of Things is the network of dedicated physical objects (things) that contain embedded technology to sense or interact with their internal state or external environment. The IoT comprises an ecosystem that includes things, communications, applications and data analysis”.

All of these assets are streaming data to the cloud. Service providers (vendors with lots of resources, such as Google, Microsoft, GE, Amazon, etc.) are taking this data, which comes in all kinds of formats, performing analytics to integrate the data, and then modeling the output based on probabilities to generate outcome predictions. Results can be accessed by anyone in the world who has a device connected to the internet. As storage gets cheaper, as analytics and software become more sophisticated, as data becomes increasingly interoperable, as more devices go on line, more and better decisions about a building’s operations will be made as a result of IoT technology. The only thing slowing this process is the fact that the IoT-based technology revolution has outpaced our ability to deal with the accelerated pace of change taking place—including some very real security, cyberhacking, and privacy issues that still need to be solved.

The currently available IoT-based applications deal with optimizing energy and BAS—the low hanging fruit. There are lots of sources surrounding this already, just do a quick online search for “FM Internet of Things” to get a feel for what’s out there.


Eric Teicholz, IFMA Fellow, chairs IFMA’s Sustainability Strategic Advisory Group and co-chairs the Internet of Things initiative He is a professor emeritus at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and the author/editor of 13 books dealing with Facility Management technology.

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