What is the Internet of Things and how can it help with energy management in smart buildings?
When it comes to smart buildings, the phrase ‘Internet of Things’ or IoT is mentioned a lot. But what does it mean and why are IoT solutions such a popular choice for those looking to make their buildings smarter?
This article takes a look at the basics of IoT, how it works, and explores why it is so important in the smart building world, particularly when it comes to energy management.
What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
In simple terms, the IoT is a network of objects that talk to one another via the internet. The number of these objects is increasing rapidly with new inventions being created all the time. They range from technology like smart TVs to kitchen appliances such as fridges and toasters. Other examples include wearable fitness devices.
In the case of office buildings, IoT devices include sensors that measure things like temperature, room occupancy or CO2 levels. It’s the technology that allows these buildings to talk, turning everything that goes on within them into data that can inform their future use, helping to make them more pleasant places to work, and ensuring their lifespan is maximised.
Unsurprisingly, the use of IoT within the smart building field is an area that is growing exponentially. A global study by market research firm Berg Insight found that the number of IoT-based devices in smart commercial buildings stood at an estimated 151 million worldwide at the end of 2018. They predict this figure will have reached 483 million by 2022 .
An IoT solution for monitoring and managing the energy use within buildings would typically consist of a number of sensors, which would transmit data to a gateway device. This device would then take the data and turn it into a format accessible to cloud computing platforms.
What is the cloud?
Everyday objects become part of the Internet of Things when they have the ability to send and/or receive information – for example, a desk with a sensor on it that enables you to see how often and when it is being used.
The information they collect is fairly meaningless on its own, but when transmitted to the cloud it can then be fed into online programmes which allow you to analyse and interpret the data, and make changes based on these observations – using the desk example, a facilities manager may decide to rearrange an office if their sensors show them that some desks are under-used.
Devices like sensors produce so much data on a daily, weekly and monthly basis that it would be impossible to store it all on an ordinary computer hard drive. The cloud is a space on the internet where people can store their information and access programmes to help them interpret it.
Why are IoT solutions a good choice for smart buildings and energy management?
Traditional hard-wired Building Management Services (BMS) often involve a system that is unique to a particular business. They can be expensive and time-consuming to fit, require onsite data storage, and be impossible to retro-fit to older buildings.
The Internet of Things offers estates managers and building owners a much more flexible way of seeing what’s going on with their buildings. Benefits include:
- Access to real time information that can be responded to instantly: The software on cloud platforms can quickly and easily turn the data from your sensors into usable, actionable insights. For example, if a room is too hot, your cloud programme will alert you and you can make an instant change. Likewise, if CO2 levels rise or the temperature of a piece of equipment gives cause for concern. Being able to respond to situations in such a timely manner allows you to stop problems before they start, resulting in lower maintenance costs and prolonging the life of buildings and equipment.
- Cost effective: IoT solutions can be installed relatively quickly and easily. They don’t require hard-wiring – most sensors can be stuck on to existing objects and are small and unobtrusive. They can be used in buildings of all ages and don’t require complex rewiring.
- Flexible: IoT systems are usually designed to be used with a number of cloud platforms and allow data to be transmitted using a number of the most common internet protocols (or languages) such as MQTT or J-SON. This allows for greater interoperability, enabling different systems to speak to one another and giving greater choice of the platforms you choose to use to interpret the data. Using the cloud also makes it much easier to access the information. It can be viewed anywhere you can get online, rather than being restricted to one particular computer.
- Resilient: Because your data is essentially being stored on lots of different computers, or servers, there is less chance of it becoming corrupted or lost. There’s also less chance of there being downtime – for example if your own computer or system needed repairs you’d be unable to access the data during this time. With IoT systems it’s all stored in the cloud, in multiple locations, so there is much less chance of your data being unavailable or there being a break in service.
- Secure: Storing data on the cloud means it is always safe. If it was stored on your computer and it was stolen then all the data would be lost, but using the cloud means there is always a version within easy reach. Cloud applications like IBM Watson and Microsoft Azure also use the highest levels of encryption to stop them falling victim to hackers.
To find out more about Pressac’s range of IoT-enabled smart building solutions get in touch.