February 13, 2018
From large, commercial office buildings to your own home, the Internet of Things offers an array of energy efficiency benefits. Let’s look at these in depth.
IoT for everyone
One distinct benefit of the IoT is that it’s generally available to every area of the economy, and this particularly holds true for energy efficiency improvements. Connecting devices, gathering data and personalizing the technology is the same basic premise of the IoT, regardless of whether we’re looking at a large commercial office tower, a medium-sized apartment building or a single-family home. The IoT’s scalability results in energy efficiency benefits for all.
Commercial applications: Moving beyond tracking
The IoT promises “intelligent buildings,” where management has the ability to view overall building operations and receive the data needed to improve efficiency, lower costs and improve the experience for both management and tenants.
One fundamental shift that isn’t often discussed involves the point of view of commercial building management. Before the IoT, building management churned along armed with a set of tools like spreadsheets, monthly utility bills and operations procedures. It’s important to remember that this historical approach was more focused on tracking the operations happening inside the walls than it was on optimizing those operations. (This applies to homeowners, too, by the way. They have tended to focus on getting bills paid and making sure they were “in line” with expectations. The IoT offers a new perspective on improving those bills!)
But the data gathering and processing of the IoT offers building management the ability to go beyond operations tracking and make better, informed decisions that create efficiencies and save money.
Energy efficiency is fundamental to determining intelligent building ROI. Using fewer kilowatt-hours means spending fewer dollars on utilities. Using smart lighting controls, optimizing air conditioning and heating usage, and improving indoor air quality add up to real, bottom-line savings.
Smart homes save energy — and money
Of course, rising energy costs in the form of ever-higher utility bills are a common concern for homeowners. Using more energy than is really needed is problematic for our wallets, as well as the environment.
The list of smart home energy savers is extensive and includes automated schedulers that shut down electronics overnight, and sensors that turn lights on when people enter a room and off when people exit.
But a truly smart power system in a home would monitor and manage how and when power is consumed. It could be used to control the amount of time your kids spend on their electronic devices and to turn off power-consuming appliances or systems unless they were in use. A green, smart house goes beyond turning the HVAC system on and off as scheduled. It automatically opens and closes window shades or curtains to adjust for the sun and the season.
The smart home’s meter charges the home’s power storage system during the day via solar panels on the roof, or at night when power is less expensive. That way, the home’s power-greedy appliances can use “cheap” stored electricity instead of drawing from the grid during expensive rate times. These systems are already in use in industrial applications and will soon be moving to home use.
An effective smart home would make its people smarter, too. When people are educated about how much appliances are actually costing in power, they’re more likely to turn off the appliances when not in use and to be more energy-thrifty when they do use them. For instance, it’s much more efficient to run washing machines or dishwashers when filled to capacity. Running appliances under capacity wastes power and water, not to mention detergents.
Cost-effective comfort and convenience
By using a network of position and motion sensors, the smart home controls temperature and lighting to accommodate which rooms in the home are being used at any given time. For instance, if the family is watching a Netflix movie on a hot summer night, the system would be smart enough to turn off the lights and the A/C in the empty parts of the home, especially in areas that are usually not visited by the family during those hours. After the family goes to bed, the system can then turn off the A/C or heating in the unused areas and just keep it on in the areas where people are sleeping. And since many people prefer cooler temperatures for sleeping, the system could be smart enough to slowly reduce the temperature at night and then raise it again in the morning.
The analytics behind the smart energy system are key. The system learns from the people who live in the home to make predictions about future behaviors — the number of household members, how rooms are used and when, bedtimes, who works from home and where, who gets up early, etc. Of course, simple overrides are available when needed, but the majority of patterns are absorbed by the system and used to enhance comfort and convenience settings that also happen to be cost-saving.
Beyond utility bills
There are also some less obvious energy efficiency advantages that the IoT can offer to businesses and consumers. What about unexpected expenses like accidents and equipment failures? Let’s look at water heaters, for example.
When a water heater starts to go bad, it’s typically in the form of a slow leak. This type of equipment failure can be tricky to identify. If not immediately detected, the cost of the leak can quickly add up. In many cases, the water heater continues to run, inefficiently heating the water that is traveling to the dishwasher or shower, along with the water that is leaking out. This runs up the utility bill without the homeowner receiving the benefit of enjoying all the hot water. The simplest fix is to install a water heater leak detector that sends an alarm when the tank fails. But by taking that a step further and connecting that leak detector sensor to a smart home network that includes actuators and controls on the power and water sources, the smart home can alert the homeowner and control the power and water systems.
Of course, water heaters can also fail in the form of a tank rupture that spills gallons of hot water, floods the house and creates costly damage. The same type of damage can result from a frozen water pipe that breaks. A smart home with a water flow sensor can be programmed to notice when water is moving in the pipes when no one is home. It can send a notice to the homeowner and turn off the water at the main valve, saving valuable resources and avoiding high water bills and expensive flood damage.
Cees Links explains in this “IoT Minute” video how a truly smart home could help prevent catastrophic water leaks.
Energy efficiency means saving money
Most of us recognize the advantages of the smart building or home when it comes to security and convenience, and even increased energy efficiency. But in addition to the financial benefit of cutting utility expenses, truly smart energy management reduces the possibility of damage from natural and unnatural disasters, reduces insurance costs, educates management and homeowners about power usage, and increases comfort and convenience while saving money.
More articles in this series: The Next Wave of Job Opportunities, Brought to You by the IoT (Part 1 of 5) • Will the IoT Be Secure? 3 Factors That Impact Security (Part 2 of 5) • The Internet of Things is Not of Things!