The way a commercial building performs in use impacts both building owners and occupants. Operating costs, comfort conditions, and the ability of a building to meet environmental ratings and standards all have a direct impact on business performance.
Commercial buildings are under-performing, and it’s a universal problem. Buildings are wasting energy, contributing excessive carbon dioxide emissions, expensive to maintain, and fail to consistently deliver quality comfort conditions.
New data capture and analysis technologies are providing granular, measurable insight into the performance of buildings. This information enables buildings to be optimized for electricity, gas, water consumption and indoor environment conditions.
In this page, we explain what building optimization technology is and how it should be applied to improve building energy and operational performance.
Table of contents
- 1. How to assess building performance
- 2. Building analytics present new opportunities to improve the performance of commercial buildings
- 3. Optimized buildings improve energy and operational efficiency, occupant comfort, equipment lifecycles and capital planning
- 4. Applying building analytics from meters, submeters, building management systems and IoT sensors to improve building performance
- 5. Who is responsible for optimizing buildings?
- 6. How to adopt building optimization technology
How to assess building performance
Is your building delivering on its promise? What we require of buildings differs depending upon their intended use. For example, schools and universities can optimize indoor comfort conditions and lighting levels for concentration and learning. Hospitals can support different clinical environments such as operating theatres by monitoring air quality, temperature and circulation to increase sterility. For commercial buildings we expect buildings to deliver a range of outcomes for different stakeholders.
- Maintain ideal comfort conditions for air quality, lighting quality, temperature and thermal comfort
- Meet environmental standards to maintain required ratings for energy efficiency, carbon emissions, water consumed and waste produced.
- Retain or grow asset value
- Operate at lowest operating costs for energy and maintenance
- Meet environmental standards to maintain required ratings for energy efficiency, carbon emissions, water consumed and waste produced
Assessing how your building is performing requires access to real time information on the equipment, environmental impact, and the indoor environment within your buildings. Building optimization technology can collect, consolidate and interpret different types of building analytics data, allowing you to measure and improve building performance.
Building analytics present new opportunities to improve the performance of commercial buildings
While building performance improvements have often focused on equipment retrofits and energy efficiency upgrades, the truth remains that poorly run buildings deliver poor outcomes, no matter how high spec the infrastructure. Strategies for building operation and maintenance are a huge contributor to ongoing building performance, but facility managers and building owners have traditionally relied upon scheduled maintenance and planned operating schedules with little to no visibility into how energy intensive equipment is performing on an ongoing basis, across their sites.
Buildings are complex and contain many systems to capture energy and operational performance, so it’s no surprise that many facility managers and building owners have been challenged to sustain meaningful improvements in building performance.
New technology such as AI, machine learning, intelligent analytics, connected devices, and IoT sensors are increasingly becoming smarter and more accessible, enabling facility managers and building owners to capture and consolidate building analytics and equipment operational data and extract insights.
These technologies are enabling organizations to improve building performance more efficiently and to optimize the building for its intended use.
Optimized buildings improve energy and operational efficiency, occupant comfort, equipment lifecycles and capital planning
Improved energy efficiency
Many have felt the bottom-line impact of rising energy costs; however, energy is increasingly a controllable cost. Building optimization technology can detect and diagnose instances of energy waste in your portfolio, giving your actionable insight that will directly impact your energy performance.
For example, a building with highly efficient HVAC equipment may still be wasting energy because the equipment settings have been overridden manually at some point in the past – this can lead to situations such as the air conditioning operating outside of business hours, which is easy to overlook. With building optimization technology this problem can be identified, and a more efficient strategy can be developed based on the actual occupancy of the building.
Better health, comfort and productivity for building occupants
People today spend 90% of their time inside, yet the indoor environment can be 2-5 times more polluted than the outdoors. Lab-based research undertaken by Harvard University has found people working in optimized buildings perform a staggering 101 percent better on cognitive tests. Participants also reported 30 percent fewer sick building symptoms and higher rates of satisfaction with the quality of the indoor environment in optimized buildings. They even reported a better night’s sleep than those operating from business-as-usual buildings.
With key indoor environmental performance measures such as air circulation, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels being influenced by a building’s heating and cooling systems, improving HVAC performance can significantly benefit human health.
Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures to viral illnesses such as COVID-19 and influenza.
Extended equipment lifecycles
Energy-intensive HVAC+R equipment is costly and difficult to maintain. Equipment performance issues are common, and often result from long-term energy drift, changes to planned operating schedules, improper maintenance strategies, or errors during the commissioning process.
Building optimization technology allows equipment performance issues to be detected and diagnosed ahead of scheduled maintenance, conditions getting out of range or an asset failing, ensuring that you do not reduce the lifespan and ROI of energy intensive equipment.
Enhanced operational efficiency with remote monitoring and diagnostics
Supporting building operations in a traditional way through scheduled maintenance, onsite engineers and truck rolls requires significant investment in the time and expertise of mechanical engineers or facility managers, a workforce that is shrinking by the day.
What once took organizations months to undertake by way of costly energy audits can now be achieved continuously, in real-time, with automation and software intelligence. Building optimization technology can remotely monitor and diagnose many equipment faults across a portfolio, allowing more issues to be identified and triaged off site.
Building optimization software can also help facility managers diagnose equipment faults that may not be easily found through traditional methods, such as short cycling of compressors or leaking refrigerant. These issues can require 24/7 monitoring to identify, which is difficult, if not impossible, to do with scheduled maintenance.
More informed, data-driven capital planning decisions
Oftentimes, aging plant equipment may be unilaterally upgraded in an attempt to achieve energy efficiency gains, regardless of how that equipment is actually performing. With building optimization technology, you can identify equipment that is not functioning as it should, allowing you to make more informed, data-driven capital planning decisions.
Applying building analytics from meters, submeters, building management systems and IoT sensors to improve building performance
Building optimization technology enables the capture and analysis of different building operational data streams across a portfolio to digitize facilities management and improve building energy, comfort and operational performance.
Building optimization technology solutions consist of hardware and software.
Hardware, such as physical meters, submeters, IoT sensors, and gateways, collects and communicates equipment performance data. Software receives, monitors and analyzes this data to deliver actionable insights to the people that need them.
Many buildings have rich data sources in place such as meters, smart meters, submeters, sensors and building management systems (BMS/BAS). The more granular the data, the greater potential for insight and savings.
In this section we discuss how building optimization software using utility meter, submeter, BMS data, and Internet of Things (IoT) sensor data can be applied to improve building performance.
Building optimization with utility meter and submeter data
Most large buildings have access to interval meter data that can be monitored and analyzed, allowing facility teams to identify, investigate, and eliminate energy waste events in your buildings and across your portfolio.
Using historical meter data, building optimization technology can generate weather-normalized expected profiles for a meter or submeter, and monitor that meter’s actual consumption against its expected profile on an ongoing basis. When actual consumption peaks above expected levels, automatic alerts can be sent, allowing swift resolution of problems. Building optimization for utility meter data has been used to help detect issues such as power spikes during facility operating hours, water leaks, and equipment or facilities that are running out of hours for extended periods of time.
Building optimization with utility meter data is most commonly applied to electricity meter data, but it can also be applied to water and gas submeters when data is accessible.
Access to meter data in 15 or 30 minute time intervals, available in an open source format such as CSV.
Building optimization technologies can alert a facilities team to a problem before it shows up on your utility bill, or as a disruption to daily operations.
Because utility meters or submeters typically measure aggregated loads from various equipment, it’s often not possible to pinpoint the exact root cause of an anomaly. Using meter data to identify operational deficiencies in HVAC systems, for example, is challenging as wastage can be incremental in nature and become hidden in energy profiles. Additionally, submeters are expensive to install and maintain, and are often plagued with issues (such as not being installed or commissioned properly).
Building optimization with utility meter or submeter data can identify equipment operating outside of scheduled hours, or when actual consumption peaks outside of expected consumption during operating hours.
Building optimization with Building Management System data
HVAC typically accounts for 40% of total building energy consumption in large commercial buildings, so optimizing the performance of your HVAC equipment can have a big impact. Many large commercial buildings have a building management system (BMS) or building automation system (BAS) installed to control HVAC equipment operating schedules, which can be a valuable data stream to better understand and improve equipment performance.
Building optimization technologies that leverage BMS/BAS data include automated fault detection and diagnostics (AFDD/FDD) using Software Metering to capture equipment-level data..
A 'SoftMeter' is a software-derived energy meter for electrical motors and thermal plant that combines equipment performance specifications with actual operating data from building management systems (BMS) to calculate energy demand, consumption and other performance metrics in real-time. This is achieved without referencing any physical submetering or current transformers. SoftMeter data is transmitted to the cloud where out of the box fault detection and diagnostics rules are applied to detect the most common, costly and fixable issues in your HVAC systems. Many of these faults can be rectified with simple fine-tuning of your BMS settings.
In large and complex buildings that have a centralized HVAC system and a building management system / building automation system (BMS/BAS) – such as commercial office buildings, large retail shopping centers, hospitals, university and state government buildings.
A building management system, nameplate data and operating schedules for the monitored equipment. In the event that BMS data is not provided in an open-source format, a BACnet gateway device is required to translate and transmit data.
SoftMeters provide equipment-level energy transparency, don't require installation and are less costly than physical submetering. SoftMeters have been specifically designed for HVAC equipment and are ideal for scenarios where traditional submetering is prohibitively expensive or impractical to install on every item of equipment (such as RTU's, fans, pumps, chillers, cooling towers & boilers).Unlike other more costly energy efficiency strategies (such as plant upgrades), optimizing the performance and efficiency of existing HVAC systems can provide immediate reductions in energy use and energy costs. The returns on investment can often be measured in months, not years.
Whilst the accuracy levels of SoftMeters are high, they are not billing-grade, so the technology cannot replace physical submetering for things like tenant billing or measurement and verification. It is common for SoftMeters to compliment existing physical submeters as they add a deeper level of transparency and insight.
Software meters focus on detecting and diagnosing the most common faults and inefficiencies within HVAC systems such as equipment operating outside of schedule hours, motors working harder than expected under part-load conditions or starting and stopping too frequently (short cycling), chillers or boilers not staging up and down in the most efficient manner. Software meters can also be used to identify peak demand contributors and therefore opportunities to minimize future peak demand events.
Building optimization with Internet of Things (IoT) data
It’s estimated that there will be 18 billion internet-connected devices by 2022. For the property sector, IoT will enable new data driven services within the property sector.
In portfolios where energy and facilities management constitutes a significant cost and impact to the business, but there is no building management system installed, low-cost IoT sensors are now widely available.
It’s now possible to achieve deeper energy and operational management in organizations with smaller, multi-site portfolios such as retail stores, schools, small multi-site food retailers, service stations and bank branches.
IoT sensors gather data from equipment such as HVAC+R or data on indoor environmental quality (IEQ). A secure communications network feeds that data back to a central location in the cloud. The data is received by a third party application that applies rules and analyzes the data to provide actionable insights for facilities teams. Sensors can be deployed to measure the real time performance of energy-intensive equipment such HVAC+R, as well as indoor environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, air circulation, CO2, VOCs, occupancy and movement.
Can be used to monitor energy-intensive assets in small, multi-site buildings where no building management system is installed, such as retail, banks, schools, food retailers, and service stations. In buildings where a BMS is installed, IoT data can provide an additional layer of information on indoor environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, CO2, VOCs, light, movement, and occupancy. IoT solutions can enable control (on/off functionality) for any monitored device.
Sensors to collect the data, a communications protocol to transmit the data, a gateway/data hub to receive and encrypt the data, and a third party application to receive, display and analyze the data.
IoT is inexpensive to deploy, provides a rich layer of information and can be used in any building or piece of energy consuming equipment. With IoT sensors you can contextualize data with data interactions – external data, data from other systems, portfolio wide data (e.g. work-order records), and access information that wouldn't be possible for a human to do effectively or efficiently. Additionally, you can centralize control with IoT systems, using two way communication to turn equipment on and off as necessary.
While sensors are becoming less expensive to purchase, for many organizations there is a labor investment required to send someone to a site to install and maintain the sensors. During installation, the sensors must be tested to ensure they are properly placed/within range. When sensors break or run out of battery, they must be replaced.
Building optimization technology with IoT data can detect equipment operating outside of schedule hours, indoor environmental conditions falling out of range, spaces being occupied outside of expected hours, and can turn equipment on/off.
Who is responsible for optimizing buildings?
The facilities management ecosystem is made up of building owners, building service providers (in-house or, increasingly, third party providers) and building occupants. Like other industries, key shifts are occurring in the commercial real estate market that are challenging traditional roles and responsibilities. So who is responsible for ensuring buildings perform at their best — building owners, or building service providers?
The answer is both. Both building owners and building service providers must play a role to optimize building performance, and building optimization technology is relevant to both parties.
Building owners must communicate how buildings can support core business objectives
Building owners are best placed to understand the key function of a building and the outcomes the building occupants and investors desire. To ensure buildings perform at their peak, building owners should work together with service providers to communicate these core business objectives, so that building service providers can execute the maintenance strategy needed to support their business. Together, building optimization data can be shared between both parties so that building service providers can provide a higher level of service, and building owners can verify building performance outcomes.
Building service providers must deliver optimized buildings to support business objectives
An increasing amount of building performance management is being outsourced to third parties such as mechanical service contractors, facility managers or other building services firms. Currently, most building services providers offer service level agreements built around scheduled site visits, the number of truck rolls, and the hourly rate of engineers or maintenance professionals sent to sites to reactively solve problems, or deliver to a planned maintenance schedule. Increasingly, to deliver on the expectations that have been lifted across other industries, building services staff will be expected to deliver more tangible benefits than are currently outlined in their service level agreements.
We recently commissioned a study to investigate the current level of building optimization technology adoption among building service providers in North America.
How to adopt building optimization technology
Building optimization technology is creating new opportunities for those owing and operating buildings. If you’d like to adopt building optimization technology across your portfolio to improve building performance, consider the following eight steps:
Rather than thinking about technology in isolation, consider what benefits or efficiencies you are trying to deliver.
Seek to understand how a selected technology will help you achieve your service objectives quickly and cost effectively.
Baseline your current level of maturity in order to understand the effort and investment required to meet your the target maturity level.
Assemble a team that consists of stakeholders from all parts of the business such as senior executives, building operators, field technicians and IT managers to help determine the appropriate maturity level to target for each factor of service delivery.
Map out the approach which will be taken to achieve these goals and the desired use of technology. A successful technology strategy will focus on the integration of software, people and processes to create a value proposition that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Selecting an appropriate technology provider to partner with can help manage risks such as technology implementation challenges, workforce training and system integration.
A successful roll-out of a technology-led service strategy should follow a phased approach that includes process development and team training, implementation of pilot projects to provide proof of value and resolve implementation challenges, and then a gradual expansion of projects to all relevant sites.
The success of any technology implementation program will hinge on building trust and a sense of comfort in the technology. Securing early project wins (i.e. significant cost savings) will help to build trust and project momentum.