The Internet of Things (IoT), put simply, is a Wi-Fi-based network of computing devices that are embedded in “things,” and capable of both receiving and sending data. This facilitates information exchange and interplay between the “things”, i.e., the devices we use throughout a day—a mobile telephone, computer, car, security system, refrigerator and so on.

Within a connected smart building, IoT can help improve the operation of expensive, energy-using equipment. Much of this equipment is controlled and managed with individual devices that can be connected to improve the performance of lighting, security, mechanical equipment, life-safety, hospital devices and so on. For example, HVAC systems are an excellent platform for IoT, improving sustainability and occupant environments.

 

When considering installing new IoT-enabled HVAC components, or rewiring existing legacy systems with sensors or connecting to building automation system infrastructure, weigh the below pros and cons against business objectives and cost savings.

 

Pros:

 

1. Efficiency and Seamless Comfort

 

Commercial buildings must adhere to the industry standard for occupant thermal comfort, and (based on surveys) often fall short on this goal. Factors that impact a building’s temperature and air quality include occupancy fluctuations, who is coming into and out of the building, seasonal air quality and temperature, presence of chemical and biological hazards in fresh air entering the building, and fluctuations within building “hot spots” such as conference rooms, auditoriums and specialized areas.

 

Even with fully automated thermostats and building systems, there is no way for a building engineer to make adjustments in real time under these complex conditions. Moreover, commercial buildings still account for 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Many engineering innovations (including modern HVAC systems) have made inroads towards greater efficiency—however, leveraging building automation systems data analytics to allow facility managers to make real-time adjustments can significantly cut energy usage, improve occupant comfort and save on operational costs.

 

2. Connectivity

 

Most buildings today have robust internal networks, or building automation systems, communicating to devices that perform useful functions. The value of IoT is in connecting these networks and devices to control and gain new information, solve problems and optimize functionality.

 

Smart thermostats like Hive and Nest are just the start. By connecting different components of HVAC systems and attaching sensors that communicate, control of air and temperature quality could be limitless. A smart system can, for example, decrease ventilation flow when nobody’s inside the building, saving energy and money. Sensors fitted into air purifiers can detect the fluctuation levels of pollution in the building air, responding by cleaning the air in the most efficient way possible, saving on hours of constant use. Increasingly, energy companies tailor the cost of power throughout the day, so it costs more when it’s in highest demand. A connected thermostat can automatically adjust the temperature according to those prices, delivering optimal comfort and cost savings for the user at the same time.

 

3. Real-Time Maintenance and Problem Solving

 

Mechanical and electrical equipment breaks and can remain broken for long periods of time, sometimes without the facility staff even knowing it’s broken. With loT, however, building managers no longer have to walk around physically to look for problems or respond reactively to complaints from occupants. Ultrasonic or vibration sensors in your HVAC equipment can store data that can “sense” performance changes and alert facilities managers that a problem is developing, all in real-time.

Your HVAC system’s ductwork is essential to the overall performance. This can be monitored easily, accurately and in real-time using sensors placed within the duct systems with the help of IoT solutions to provide continuous data on airflow, temperature, and pressure. The information gathered can be used to schedule maintenance, renovation or a total overhaul, while getting more value for the investment and extending the useful life of the HVAC system.

 

Cons:

 

1. Cybersecurity and User Data Privacy

 

With 200 billion connected devices by 2020, and total business spending on IoT solutions topping $6 trillion by 2021, IoT is proliferating at an unprecedented rate. With this comes considerable cybersecurity and user data risks: mobile devices, complex connected system webs, data collection volume and user encryption. This necessitates an effective and proactive operational contingency plan for smart building systems in the event of either a cybersecurity breach, a natural disaster or other temporary disruption of services.

 

Business may have to hire a consultant that can assess threat vulnerability hierarchy according to building system, stakeholder device (user access) and interconnected data center(s), and then build a holistic security risk management plan. This plan would need to take into account physical protection of IoT devices, as well as a complex cybersecurity model to integrate remote cloud infrastructure, firmware and authentication protection.

 

2. Device Compatibility

 

As more devices and HVAC components from different manufacturers become interconnected, the issue of compatibility in tagging and monitoring arises. Although this disadvantage may not be as big of an issue if manufacturers agree to a common standard, even after that, technical issues will persist.

 

IoT requires a sophisticated and broad range of technology partners to work together to be successful. For buildings with legacy HVAC equipment that still has remaining useful life, it may prove challenging to connect to smart thermostats, data centers and other mobile networks for optimized performance and return on investment. Any failure or bugs in the software or hardware could have serious consequences and liability for building operation and occupant wellness.

 

3. Cost and Training

 

One of the barriers to introduction of IoT technology is cost, particularly for large, square footage or portfolio investments. This can typically run from the hundreds of thousands for simple light and cooling sensors to the millions for extensive security and operational equipment.

Some office leases are structured to pass all utility-related expenses to tenants, who are not willing to spend extra for upgrades, especially if upfront investments can take years to recoup. Other times, tenant improvement budgets for renovations are capped, and occupants would rather spend on more conventional features.

With the immense real-time, data collection capabilities and opportunity for energy automation also comes user adoption and training. After all, if data isn’t used to maximize HVAC and thermostat performance for comfort, indoor air quality and energy efficiency, then it isn’t worth the upfront cost of installation. Facilities managers will continue to be a conduit between interpreting data and optimizing building settings and crucial repairs before these roles are ultimately fully automated. This may result in steep learning curves and the need to train employees or hire additional support staff (thereby adding to the cost of implementation).

 

The decision to connect your HVAC and building automation system to an IoT framework is entirely dependent on business objectives, term of investment, energy consumption and waste, as a percentage of the building’s net operating income, and what you need your HVAC system to do.

 

To make the most of your investment, consult with the knowledgeable experts at Therma for consulting and installation guidance.