Smart building technology holds the promise of making our commercial buildings more comfortable, customizable, efficient, valuable and even lower risk.
Smart building companies developing applications using low power WAN (LPWAN) and other wireless networking technologies are bringing products to market to make our buildings smarter and easier to manage.
However, what “Smart Building” means depends on who you ask and varies from company to company by business model.
Almost any building can be made “smarter” in the analog sense either by collecting and analyzing data about aspects of its operation that were not previously collected, or by giving us greater control over the indoor environment to maximize comfort and productivity. Digital smart building technologies are exciting, though, because they allow us to collect data remotely and automatically through low cost, low or no power Internet connected devices (aka the “Internet of Things” or IoT)1.
New IoT Technologies
New IoT innovations are moving beyond Zigbee, Bluetooth and WiFi, and embracing promising LPWAN network technologies, such as LoRaWAN, Sigfox and RPMA, which reduce risk of lost communication.
Corey Menscher, founder of Perceptive Things, an early-stage urban tech startup, believes that LPWAN innovations will help enable deployment of sensors to every corner of a building with reduced hardware costs and longer battery life.
“LPWAN networks can provide vastly superior range, even indoors, while sipping power. The tradeoff is considerably low bandwidth and latency. But when a sensor is only reporting a single value or two periodically, or perhaps only when woken from low power sleep by an event, expected battery life can extend well beyond five years. Since the range on these networks is so great, you can cover an entire property in a small number of low-cost gateways…sometimes, only one. And as wireless providers build out their own LPWAN networks, sensors will be able to communicate directly with a cloud service without any intermediary gateway hardware installed locally,” he said.
When combined with software, we can gather IoT data, analyze it and present it in a way that is accessible and easily understandable to CRE2 building owners and managers.
This neatly packaged and presented information often provides insights about important building metrics such as indoor air quality, energy and electricity use, peak usage data, moisture levels and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, indoor temperature, HVAC system status, security status (are building doors or windows open when they should not be?), life safety system status, lighting levels and so on.
Smart Building Companies to Watch
Indeed, Internet connectivity in CRE is the new norm… And there are an ever increasing number of companies in the “smart building” space.
But which companies have actual customers and are moving the needle on bottom line building values and net operating income, where it matters most?
The following is a list of four smart building companies and startups that are leading by working to solve complex problems in the commercial real estate space, from mixed use office, to multi-family, to affordable housing.
New York based Sentient Buildings implements wireless Internet of Things (Iot) device networks tied to cloud connected controls enabling monitoring, automation and management solutions.
The company works with large commercial, multifamily, hospitality and institutional facilities to help them gain more control over, monitor and make building systems more efficient. Sentient has developed a proven process for making sure that IoT devices are implemented properly and consistently. The process includes commissioning of Sentient systems, which is critical for each project. Sentient Buildings offers three solutions:
- Sentient AwareNET – Sentient Buildings’ AwareNET provides end to end wireless IoT networking solutions integrating end node devices, such as thermostats, sensors, relays and actuators3. Utilizing low or no power device networks virtually eliminates the need to hardwire communication or power wiring, which reduces deployment and maintenance costs, while communicating centrally to a cloud connected remote monitoring system.
- Sentient Coretex – Coretex is a modular cloud based platform that offers centralized remote access to building operations across the portfolio. Coretex receives real time data from cloud connected building control systems and provides a portal view to all users in a building ecosystem. Owners and managers can get a birds-eye view of both building performance and building economics to help pinpoint potential issues and resolve problems quickly. There are four modules available for the Coretex system:
- CONE Performance Metrics: Measures performance of important building performance metrics including: Efficiency, comfort, equipment operations and network health.
- Real Time Management and Control: Graphics platform providing real time view of building and systems operations.
- Critical Insights: Monitors and analyzes data to identify insights or identify issues that need corrective action, adjustment, or calibration, or when it is time to notify a contractor of a problem.
- Work Order Management: Work orders can be created as needed to streamline requests for, and management of, regular and necessary services on critical building systems and equipment.
- Sentient Matrex – Matrex is a smart building controls and monitoring system that enables building owners and managers to monitor and control building systems, such as heating and cooling plants, wirelessly enabling significant energy and electricity savings from more efficient building operations.
Sentient Buildings works with building owners and managers, HVAC service companies, energy and engineering consulting firms, energy management and software providers and design and construction firms to deliver complete solutions.
New York based Cloud9 Smart is an integrated IT smarthome and smart office design/build firm focused on automation solutions to commercial and multifamily interiors projects.
The company works with homeowners, builders, developers, commercial tenants, as well as building owners and architects to make the media we increasingly interact with within the built environment more accessible, customizable and controllable for building occupants.
Cloud9 Smart works in across the U.S. and internationally delivering three approaches to its smart building technology solutions:
- Design and Build
- Design, Build and Install
For commercial offices, Cloud9 Smart can help make important Internet communications and connected media systems work better together. The company offers IT support, cabling, audio/visual, phone systems, video conferencing and high speed Internet solutions, as well as networked video conferencing systems, in-ceiling and/or in-table microphones, and customized iPad docks running Savant software. Cloud9 offers complete pre-designed and packaged solutions for commercial office tenants are available including the “Executive Boardroom”, “Conference Suite”, “Meeting Room” and “Huddle Room”.
For single family residential and multifamily projects, Cloud9 Smart can work with your team to design, program and deliver solutions using major automation systems, such as Bowers & Wilkins, Sonus faber, Séura, McIntosh Labs, Lutron, Sonance, Crestron, Control4 and Savant… However, Cloud9 Smart approaches each project from a brand agnostic standpoint, evaluating each smart home solution by client needs.
Because tenants and homeowners want higher end features that help them better control their environments, the end result is that Cloud9 Smart’s smart home and building services can make tenants more productive, boost multifamily rental apartment unit value, increase sell through rates, and/or reduce vacancy times.
What does Cloud9 Smart’s smart building technology cost? According to Cloud9 Smart, a 3,000 square foot apartment can be automated for between $50-150K.
The Aquicore data platform enables commercial buildings to more effectively monitor operating performance and building economics using Internet enabled smart meters.
Aquicore’s smart meters compile real-time data on commercial building operations and deliver actionable alerts to building owners and managers via a dashboard.
The secure Aquicore platform aggregates utility data, tracking energy and electricity consumption, as well as providing insights through its dashboard into metrics such as building occupancy, maintenance, weather and leasing activity. The platform is cloud based and accessible from anywhere using any Internet connected mobile device. The Aquicore dashboard tracks key building metrics throughout the day, week, month and year. Using algorithms, Aquicore delivers actionable insights to help meet goals, to drive efficiency in operations and ultimately result in a more sustainable (and profitable) building portfolio. By analyzing building operations in real time, Aquicore can help identify the following potentially negative impacts to Net Operating Income (NOI):
- Inefficient energy, water or electricity use
- Peak load charges
- Optimization of peak/off peak rates
- Error identification
Aquicore’s platform can also deliver alerts, in the event something looks “off”4 on and automate building operations tasks, such as processing work orders, tenant invoices and third party reporting. The Aquicore system can also integrate with third party software and open source solutions.
To help fulfill building sustainability benchmarking requirements, Aquicore offers an another advantage for CRE owners who participate in, or benchmark their building performance data against, sustainability organizations that help track energy, electricity and water efficiency, such as USGBC’s LEED O+M reporting, ENERGY STAR or the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB).
Smart building companies may provide technology and analysis, but leave you to find the right contractors to implement energy conservation measures.
If you are a commercial real estate owner seeking a one stop shop provider of energy efficiency software, plus multi-measure building efficiency retrofits and consulting services, check out Artis Energy.
Artis Energy provides a complete software and services combination to both monitor and manage energy and electricity usage, while working in parallel to identify opportunities for returns on investment through building upgrades. Artis Energy is comprised of two companies offering complimentary solutions:
- Artis Energy Intelligence: Artis Energy Intelligence offers a real-time building analytics software platform that provides visibility and insights into building operations. The software is designed to monitor utility charges, providing you with a view of energy use in real time. With a better understanding of the components of your monthly utility bill, you have opportunities to save energy, while identifying potential adjustments and optimizations to building operations. The Artis RTIS® software can help make budgets more accurate, predict future energy costs, isolate and quantify the source of energy usage in equipment and manufacturing processes, evaluate and prioritize energy investment opportunities with measurable returns on investment (ROI). Artis Energy Intelligence is a solution for tracking sustainability performance by measuring greenhouse gas emissions in real time, by source of fuel and building processes.
- Artis Energy Solutions: Leading with RTIS to analyze customer facilities and operations, Artis Energy Solutions utilizes building energy performance data, and an on-site comprehensive facility audit, to identify and prioritize customized energy conservation measures and strategies to reduce costs. These include energy management, as well as sustainability strategies, that may include high efficiency lighting, HVAC and refrigeration systems, wireless IoT energy management systems, variable frequency drives (VFDs), energy procurement, billing data analysis and utility financing and incentives consulting.
In addition to identifying opportunities for energy conservation measures, Artis Energy Intelligence can isolate other issues that directly impact the cost of energy, such as ISO peak usage, capacity tag penalties and supply charges. This detail about energy usage should not be under-emphasized… Because even brief peak demand spikes in usage can significantly increase the cost of electricity throughout the year. In other words, poor management of energy during a single billing cycle could impact your business for the entire year. (Read about how energy storage can help reduce demand charges.)
Improving building energy performance to account for these potential peaks also helps reduce the impact of GHG and fine particulate matter emissions that increases during moments of peak electricity use.5
Artis Energy also helps building owners who are tracking their sustainability performance for LEED O+M, or against benchmarks such as ENERGY STAR and the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (aka “GRESB”).
- According to Professor Duncan McFarlane, the term “Internet of Things” was coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 during a presentation at Procter & Gamble
- Commercial real estate
- In the application of smart building technology, an actuator uses mechanical motion to help actuate (open or close) important valves to control building mechanisms or systems, relays are used to electronically open and close circuits, sensors can detect and communicate changes in their environment and communicate that data to microprocessors and a thermostat senses the temperature of a system so that the system can be maintained near a setpoint
- Historical data analysis and real time monitoring of critical building systems reduces property risk in commercial real estate. The risk reduction is two-fold: 1) Building owner (first party) risk is reduced and 2) Insurer (second party) risk is reduced. Risk to insurers is reduced because (as with a fire or burglar alarm) notification of problems, such as a water leak, are identified and people are notified. Such systems can reduce the frequency and severity of water related risks.
- To meet the peak demand requirements of the ratepayers in a specific geographic area, utilities often “fire up” additional coal burning power plants to generate more electricity for the grid. These dirtier “load following” power plants, often powered by burning coal, may address peaks but cause significantly greater GHG emissions and particulate matter emissions by as much as 50%.