Mar 31 2020

How Smart Building Technology Is Shaping Federal Agencies

Government agencies can turn to an array of sensors and data analytics platforms to enhance energy efficiency and optimize building operations.

A smart building typically looks like a regular building, with bricks and glass windows, but at the heart of a smart building are sensors that drive building automation. 

Internet of Things sensors and devices monitor HVAC and lighting, motion, humidity, electrical controls, access control and video security. The data from those sensors then feeds a variety of controllers that can help IT and operations staff automate building management. 

As the General Services Administration notes, smart buildings lead to “greater tenant satisfaction, reduce energy cost and environmental impact, and decrease operational inefficiencies.” 

Smart buildings are a growing market. According to ABI Research, the market for smart building solutions will grow at a 32 percent compound annual growth rate over the next eight years to create $2 billion in software and services revenues by 2026.

David Eye, a senior consulting engineering architect at Schneider Electric, notes that in the past, building management systems did not monitor factors such as how many people were in a room or entering a building, or other, more granular aspects of a building’s operations. Now, with intelligent building management systems, sensors can gather information on everything from the types of gases in a room to the level of light entering a building and movement in a room. 

“IBMS can take action based upon the desired optimization from an occupant,” Eye says. “The concern is to be able to drive that occupant’s comfort and safety and security.” For example, some customers may want the windows of a room to become tinted automatically if a certain number of occupants enter it. 

Government agencies are using smart buildings, and the technologies that undergird them, to drive operational efficiencies and ensure they have reliable sources of energy. 

Smart Building Technology: Types of Smart Sensors That Collect Data

Smart building sensors come in all different types and flavors. Some are integrated sensor packages that have several sensors inside of them to measure temperature, humidity, motion and the number of occupants in a room, Eye says. 

These sensors then send data to controllers over a variety of wireless protocols, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy and Zigbee. 

Those controllers can then be set up to keep climate within a certain range, for example, or to run the lights based on an occupancy schedule. They may also monitor systems performance and alert facility managers to potential problems or system malfunctions.

Michelle Meisels, Deloitte’s engineering and construction practice leader, describes four key technologies of smart building automation systems:

  1. HVAC: Smart HVAC controls help limit energy consumption in unoccupied building zones, detect and diagnose faults, and reduce HVAC usage, particularly during times of peak energy demand.
  2. Smart lighting: Smart lighting includes advanced controls that incorporate daylighting and advanced occupancy and dimming functions to eliminate overlit spaces.
  3. Automated system optimization: ASO uses advanced technology to collect and analyze building systems’ operational and energy performance data and to make changes in operations based on external factors such as occupancy patterns, weather forecasts and utility rates.
  4. Distributed energy resources: These are energy generation and storage systems placed at or near the point of use, independent of the power grid. DER examples include combined heat and power, solar photovoltaics and other renewables, and battery and thermal storage.

MORE FROM FEDTECH: The Army is exploring smart city Internet of Things tools.

How Smart Building Data Is Aggregated and Analyzed

Agencies that deploy smart building solutions can take two approaches to aggregating the data they collect from sensors, says Matt Groom, federal account manager at Schneider Electric’s Power Solution division. 

One is via local software for one building, in which data is aggregated in a database solution such as Microsoft SQL server. Using this method, operations teams can perform their own analysis and plot trend lines for energy usage, building occupancy, temperature and other factors, Groom says. 

Another approach is analysis at the enterprise level in which data from different sensors is aggregated and put into a piece of software backed by artificial intelligence, according to Groom. Such a tool could tell IT or operational technology staff that it might be more energy-efficient to run one chiller at full capacity than two at half capacity. 

Brandy Henson, director of federal strategic accounts at Schneider Electric, says that the company is seeing federal clients deploy smart building tools for their electrical needs as well, for solutions such as microgrids or quick uninterrupted power supply. Those solutions can use software to make decisions based on DERs, she says. 

Eye suggested thinking about smart building systems in three layers. The bottom layer is the sensors and endpoints that collect data and are connected via an IP backbone. The middle layer is the edge network layer that enables IT and OT staff to interface with the sensor data via a single pane of glass and pull data from network and facilities operations centers. That data can be viewed on- or offsite. The top layer is the AI-based software that analyzes the data. 

READ MORE: Discover how the State Department sues smart building technology to save on energy usage. 

The Benefits of Smart Building Technology for Government Agencies

How a government agency uses and benefits from a smart building solution is entirely dependent on the agency, Groom notes. For example, the GSA, which manages approximately 95.6 million rentable square feet of space in 190 federally owned buildings in the Washington, D.C., area, is “all about operating buildings efficiently” Groom notes, via the “least amount of watts per occupant or whatever that building’s mission is.” 

On the other hand, the Air Force or the Army are squarely focused on their missions and energy reliability. They need to have primary, secondary, tertiary and even quaternary power sources that are resilient. 

Henson agrees and notes that most civilian agencies use smart buildings to save on energy usage while “mission readiness is by far more important on the military side.”

Some agencies are looking for guaranteed energy savings via upgraded building automation systems.

“In the federal segment, it’s all about thinking of easy ways to guarantee savings,” Henson notes, via building automation system upgrades, switches to LED lighting and temperature monitoring. For example, the Air Force’s Yokota Air Base in Japan is engaged in a $168 million project to upgrade its entire building automation system and construct a microgrid.

Ultimately, smart buildings can “enhance the user experience, increase productivity, reduce costs and mitigate physical and cybersecurity risks,” Meisels says.

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