As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly receded into the background during 2021-2022, returning workers had a common concern: how can we protect our health at work? Having seen the effects of a contagious disease running rampant through many companies, workers could be excused for worrying about their own offices as potential breeding grounds for infections.
In the effort to facilitate a move back to the office, an array of competing approaches, technologies, and devices are vying to bring new levels of monitoring and control to building environments in a market where building owners, operators, and tenants are incentivized to make buildings more appealing.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact the U.S. real-estate market, specific sectors began to show signs of moderate recovery throughout 2021. With the deployment and increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines during Q1 and Q2 2021, many U.S. states completed phased “re-openings” of their economies, ending stay-at-home and lockdown orders, and eliminating real estate capacity restrictions.
Indeed, the impact and lasting effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic are placing new pressure on commercial building management systems, driving new demand for ways to ensure a healthy office environment. Traditionally, sensing in the commercial building market has been tied to establish systems, such as HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), fire and safety, and access control, but a range of additional environmental sensing technologies, sensors, and devices are coming to market at a time of great upheaval in the commercial building market.
Many new sensing technologies and multi-function sensing devices are gaining traction and providing a path to smart sensing that will enable commercial buildings to adapt to the changing demands from commercial building owners and tenants alike. According to a report from technology intelligence firm ABI Research, sensor shipments will grow from 18.5 million devices to surpass 300 million by 2030, a CAGR of 35%.
Continued concern over occupant safety and environmental impact as well as more flexible space utilization are showing a need for greater realtime building-management intelligence. Increasingly applications such as occupancy sensing can be supported by a variety of approaches, including microphones, cameras, motion sensors, pressure sensors, and even radar, all delivered in realtime.
Gaining insight into building usage, sensor deployment can be selected based on efficacy, cost, and end-user comfort. In addition, there are competing sensor technologies within each of those approaches, again with their own strengths and weaknesses. As occupancy sensing, air quality and energy management, space utilization, and preventative maintenance push further into commercial building operations, systems integrators, building-management providers, and sensor and device developers along with manufacturers will have to ensure they select and integrate the best technologies for as many applications as possible.
Temperature Monitoring in Smart Buildings
One primary aspect of smart buildings is the ability to adjust temperature based on current environment conditions. To do so, the building’s temperature must be monitored closely to stay within the specified “comfort zone.” A limitation in most buildings is that temperatures are only monitored where the thermostat is installed. Room Alert from AVTech Software, for example, provides visibility into temperatures throughout the building by making it easy to deploy sensors everywhere in the building. This can help identify inefficiencies with a building HVAC and possible energy wasted over heating or cooling an area in the building.
Another aspect of environment monitoring that’s closely related to temperature is humidity. Overly humid conditions can be just as uncomfortable as an office that’s far too hot (or too cold). It can also damage equipment or cause premature corrosion or mold and mildew issues.
Room Alert offers several temperature and humidity sensors (both internal and external), which allow buildings to accurately monitor the environment conditions on an ongoing basis. If the temperature gets either too high or too low, a notification can be sent to the building’s facility manager immediately.
Trend Tracking and Preventative Maintenance
Environment conditions will change over time as the seasons change, but internal conditions may also change due to HVAC systems aging and potentially not working as they were intended. Tracking temperature and humidity trends gives facilities managers in smart buildings multiple indicators of heating and cooling systems that aren’t working as intended. A HVAC that is drawing more current but not effectively cooling an area may indicate that a filter needs to be changed or condenser recharged. Preventive maintenance on systems helps reduce replacement costs as well as provides constant comfort for building tenants.
OSHA has recently embarked on an awareness campaign to warn employers of the dangers of heat related illnesses, and how the high temperatures in many parts of the country this summer and fall are leading to an increase in incidents. Part of OSHA’s guidance includes monitoring conditions to warn of situations that could be hazardous to employees.
A Market Getting Smarter
Deploying sensors is one part of the smart office approach. The overall smart building market was valued at $82.55 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $229.10 billion by 2026 at a growth rate of more than 11.33% during the forecast period (2021-2026), reports Mordor Intelligence. And that is only part of the market. The United States commercial real estate market is estimated to be valued at more than $1 trillion and is expected to record a growth rate of more than 3.5% during the forecast period.
Growing energy concerns accompanied by increasing government initiatives on smart infrastructure projects are driving the market’s growth positively. Solutions, such as the BEMS (building energy management system), infrastructure management system, and intelligent security system, are being adopted for smart buildings. BEMS is integrated, computerized systems for monitoring and controlling energy-related building services and equipment, such as HVAC systems and lighting, among others.
As energy conservation has become more important, demand for smart buildings has increased. Reduction in energy consumption is a primary concern among commercial building owners and managers to save money. According to the U.S. EIA (Energy Information Admin.), almost 40% of the energy consumed in the country powers commercial and residential buildings.
However, the market growth is expected to be hindered due to a lack of competent experts skilled in assessing smart-solution systems. Professionals operating in the field need to be aware of the design changes and installation in the context of future needs. Failing to do so may lead to complications.
Building Energy Management Systems
BEMS have gained popularity because of the increasing interest in energy conservation and savings. A building energy management system can control and monitor the building’s energy needs. Bigger buildings require advanced building and predictive analytics, building optimization and continuous optimization, demand response, automated building control, and enterprise integration, while small-sized buildings require a system that can provide information on incentive availability, historical billing analysis, and behavioral, educational, and retrofit suggestions. BEMS plays a key role in fulfilling these requirements.
Additionally, government initiatives, such as Europe’s EPBD (Energy Performance of Buildings Directive) and the U.S. CBI (Commercial Building Initiative), are forcing public authorities and businesses to step up their efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption at the community level. There is also rising pressure for increased uptake in energy-saving and cost-effective solutions within countries such as the United Kingdom, particularly across smart buildings and cities.
North America Leads
North America, one of the leading markets for smart buildings and the IoT (Internet of Things)-enabled smart devices, witnessed the increased application and acceptance of smart building solutions. North America holds the prominent share of the market owing to the presence of the high volume of early adopters in the United States and Canada. The region is expected to dominate the global market, owing to its developed infrastructure that can house smart automation solutions in residential and commercial segments.
Energy management systems are another major segment. The United States is among the major markets for HVAC systems. According to the EIA, HVAC was the most energy-intensive application in commercial buildings in the United States. Building operations managers have been concerned about HVAC monitoring and management for decades, and they normally use complicated sensor networks and servers to monitor all of the data.
One of the advantages in the U.S. and Canada is the extensive availability of high-speed internet. Deep internet penetration makes North America an ideal hotspot for the IoT, AI (artificial intelligence), and smart-buildings projects. Consumer spending capabilities for newer technology also augments the adoption and drives the vendors to launch new solutions targeting different needs. With reduced semiconductor and sensor costs, more and more companies and start-ups are working together to produce better smart-building technology.
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