Connectivity is key to maximising the benefits of building sensors

Written on 24 Sep 2015

Energy management systems and sensors in buildings are a great example of how new technology can improve the way resources are allocated. But to get the most out of this technology, connectivity is key: different systems need to be able to ‘talk’ to each other.

Microsoft has successfully tackled this issue on its 500-acre headquarters site in Redmond, Washington, which previously used disparate building management systems to manage 30,000 unconnected, sensor-enabled pieces of equipment.

Seeking to achieve a seamless smart system without embarking on a costly and disruptive mission to replace much of the existing equipment, Microsoft enlisted the help of experts in the field of commercial building data systems and created a pilot programme in 13 of its campus buildings.

As the company explains, the team developed an “analytical blanket” to lie on top of the diverse systems used to manage the buildings. The new software integrated all of the sensor-enabled equipment, enabling different systems to talk to each other and providing a wealth of data to building managers.

This data told engineers about a whole host of issues ranging from wasteful lighting schedules to hugely inefficient (but previously undetectable) battles being waged between air conditioners and heaters to keep temperatures pleasant.

According to a recent Eco-Business blog, Darrell Smith, Microsoft’s director of worldwide energy, said at the International Green Building Conference in Singapore that the problem of different building technologies not communicating with one another “is an industry problem — not Microsoft’s alone”.

“The industry has been making buildings the same way for the last 20 years, where individual components are made in silos,” he said, pointing out that this is neither efficient nor sustainable.

Other speakers at the Singapore event agreed that getting building management systems in individual buildings to communicate with each other is a crucial challenge, and one that cities need to solve in order to reduce energy and resource use.

The potential benefits are immense: the Global Commission on Economy and Climate reported recently that low-carbon cities — with energy-efficient buildings and better infrastructure — could generate savings of $17 trillion (£11 trillion) by 2050.