How LED Lighting is Driving a Revolution: Connected Buildings

Bill Plageman, Vice President of Marketing and Product Development at Amerlux


Remember when a lighting “revolution” everyone talked about was the transition from traditional lighting systems to light-emitting diodes (LEDS)?

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Figure 1. LED lighting controls now serve a key entry point into building automation systems, which uses interconnected networks of software and hardware to monitor and control all the building’s electrical and mechanical systems

The “lighting revolution” is old news now.

Building automation is the new bedrock-shifting event unfolding within the building world now, and it too is being spurred by advancements in LED technology and controls.

The premise that lighting should be independent from other building systems is now antiquated thinking—nor is it even true. Today, LED lighting is a fundamental part of the future of building automation.

In fact, lighting now serves a key entry point into building automation systems, which uses interconnected networks of software and hardware to monitor and control all the building’s electrical and mechanical systems. With a centralized, computer-based building automation system, facility managers and building owners can manage and integrate numerous types of applications. Everything from security and crowd-occupancy monitoring to HVAC and lighting communities are enabled and interconnected a single platform, collecting and delivering the essential data facility operators need to make the quick, informed decisions they’re paid to make.

Instead of expending needless capital and time on a full-fledge retrofit or installing any entirely new set of building operation controls, facilities managers and building owners today find it far simpler and cost-effective to make one key upgrade: install new-age LED lighting controls.

And the benefits are plentiful.

All the disparate systems formerly independent of one another now come together to automate occupant comfort, safety and productivity, as well as energy efficiency, inside and outside the buildings at the press of a button or touch of a screen.

But is investing in an engineered smarter building and installing a building automation system the smart decision for all building operators and owners? Are modern building automation technologies, an increasingly valuable tool for properties of all sizes, worth the cost?

It’s worth looking into—starting with the engineered benefits of building automation systems, and how they make it easier and reduce costs for commercial property managers and building operations managers.

Decreases In Energy Expenditures

U.S. federal statistics underscore that the buildings sector accounts for about 76% of electricity use and 40% of all primary energy use and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Most of that energy, the research suggests, comes from two building systems: HVAC and lighting.

IHS Markit reports that buildings without building automation systems are considerably less energy efficient than their technology-advanced counterparts because they often have climate and lighting control systems that operate at times, like at nights or on weekends, when the buildings are mostly unoccupied. “Even on workdays, the systems that lack building automation systems may be unnecessarily cool, heat or light infrequently used rooms or floors in an inefficient manner that is expensive for building owners,” the analysis concludes.

Installing a building automation system drastically reduces this energy usage and helps save on utility bills by ensuring the HVAC and lightings systems are appropriately managed through automatic control devices, including sensors and timers. Facility managers can also collect and store data about their building’s energy usage and efficiency, in turn helping pinpoint areas in need of drastic improvement.

The U.S. Department of Energy, citing a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) report, says that investing in building automation cuts commercial energy consumption by approximately 29%, saving thousands in energy costs.

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Figure 2. With a building automation system, a facility manager can be everything and do everything: A virtual superintendent, a savvy real estate mogul, an HVAC technician, a lighting whiz, even an expense-crunching and motivational guru, getting the most out of their workforce and their tenants’ workforce

Increases in Workplace Productivity

Can you really ramp up workplace productivity with a building automation system? Yes, according to a three-phase study from Canada’s National Research Council.

Per the report, a building automation system enhances three significant corporate productivity pillars: attraction, retention and engagement among employees—and the findings should come as no surprise.

Research has long emphasized how the lighting, temperature and air quality of an office play leading roles in the moods, cognitive functions and overall health of its tenants, a trip that substantially impacts their workers’ productivity and their employers’ bottom lines.

Smart buildings with building automation systems utilize controls such as presets, sensors and dimmers to automatically adjust the space’s temperature levels as well as its lighting temperature and intensity level, improving comfort and reducing complaints simultaneously. And when comfort improves, so does productivity, the research underscores.

That means big bucks for building owners, tenants and companies.

Moving the productivity needle even a wee bit can provide more financial and ROI gains than other cost-saving measures like decreasing energy, operational or leasing expenses. A World Green Building Council analysis says staffing expenses make up 90% of an office-based business. “It’s information like this that makes clear the business case for people-centered investment decisions in our buildings and workspaces,” said officials at JLL, a commercial real estate firm, when they released the report.

Reduction in Capital Expenses

The building automation systems and controls that power today’s fleet of IoT smart buildings help facility’s systems run smoother, better and faster without the maintenance headaches of regular breakdowns, malfunctions or failures.

It does this by utilizing predictive analytics that allows for proactive maintenance of soon-to-be failing devices and systems before they fail, saving in repair costs and lost time.

Less wear and tear mean less repair and upkeep expenses. Facility managers need less maintenance equipment. Same with personnel. That’s a lot of savings right there. How much? About a quarter of building costs are related to capital expenses, whereas nearly three-quarters are used to operate a building over its lifecycle, research shows.

Building automation systems decrease equipment operating costs by 15%, and the Metropolitan Energy Coalition estimates that BAS controls can yield savings between $0.20 and $0.40 per square foot for most buildings. One more note: Per the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, smart building technologies save the average office 18% in HVAC costs, 28% in plug load and 33% in lighting energy. Meanwhile, Gartner estimates that smart lighting system installation can reduce energy costs by 90%.

Surges Property Value

Any investment made in a building’s infrastructure—lighting, HVAC and control systems included—can be marked off as an asset on a balance sheet, which increases a structure’s property value right off the bat.

The European Commission report on Macroeconomic and Other Benefits of Energy Efficiency reveals that an intelligent, higher-performing building can conservatively add $0.10 per square foot—or as much as 11.8% in lease value. It can also yield 5% to 35% higher sale values.

Also, only 15% of commercial buildings are considered “smart.” This finding is enticing smart building owners and facility managers to seek and value the benefits of smart, interlocked building automation systems to differentiate themselves from the competition with outdated systems.

Perhaps most important: Building automation systems and controls allow engineered structures to meet, even exceed, the hard-to-reach requirements for achieving sought-after certifications such as LEED, Energy Star and WELL building standards.

These certifications and the smart building structures they’re awarded will continue to swell in value in the marketplace. For good reason, too: Energy-efficient BAS lower building’s environmental footprint, single-handedly supporting corporate responsibility and bold green initiatives –a triple-bottom-line performance for profit, people and the planet.

Increases in Safety, Situational Awareness and Crisp Decision-Making

People are the most valued asset of any building. An engineered structure was built specifically with them in mind. So should its security.

An intelligent, cloud-based building automation system can double as a building’s central nervous system, increasing facility managers’ situational awareness and decision-making by providing a holistic new view of their IoT smart building.

BAS systems do this by using lighting controls to connect to a facility’s security systems and cameras, in turn, increasing safety and backing up critical data and intelligent video. Much-needed peace of mind is provided, whether it’s by monitoring for suspicious activity or automating people countering to adhere to local ordinances and avoiding physical threats.

Smart alerts are sent, and preset actions are implemented the moment risk is identified via sensor technology. Building operators can also lock or unlock any part of the facility remotely at any time, as well as have sensor lighting ward off possible intrusions by brightly illuminating would-be intruders.

At the click of an app or platform control, it’s real-time supervision—a multifaceted skillset even the most exceptional security force cannot equal.

A Greener Bottom Line

With a BAS, a facility manager can be everything and do everything: A virtual superintendent, a savvy real estate mogul, an HVAC technician, a lighting whiz, even an expense-crunching and motivational guru, getting the most out of their workforce and their tenants’ workforce.

For instance, building automation systems can shine a see-all light on every corner and aspect of a facility, fending off trespassers and giving the people-counting guy at the front door, back door and every other door a deserved break.

And building owners and operators can give themselves a break—a financial, certified-winning one, something that supports their mantra of saving the planet and their building by putting their tenants and the environment above all else.