Powering the IoT future

Rob Morris, Country Manager for Powervar UK


The time is now to install a smart energy system

In the age of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) economy, smartphones are replacing hotel keys, and facilities managers (FM) are beginning to notice the reward in using big data to monitor customer behavior in hotels, shops and restaurants, as well as monitoring employee engagement and wellbeing in offices. By combining this with IoT, companies can improve their offering for both customers and employees (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1: There are more than financial advantages in using big data to monitor customer behavior

Expected to add £322 billion to the UK economy by 2020, big data analytics and IoT are buzzwords throughout industry today. Wall Street Journal has even called IoT as a sign of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. The technology has brought about the era of ‘smart systems’ to monitor energy use, infrastructure issues and other buildings services.

By implementing smart energy systems, FMs can monitor their energy use in a smart, reflexive way in order to identify inefficiencies, saving a business money and time as faults become quickly identifiable. 

Understanding energy needs

By 2025, buildings are predicted to be the largest consumers of energy, more than transportation and industrial sector combined. In 2014, emissions from buildings alone accounted for 37% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.  To combat this, a number of energy saving measures have been put in place through legislation.

For example, local planning authorities will need to ensure that new developments are energy efficient, and Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) have been improved to make them more user friendly. However, more needs to be done to ensure existing buildings can become more efficient in their energy use to save money and meet energy targets, which include a global commitment to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius from 2020.

Current challenges building and facilities managers face when trying to achieve this include obtaining the best price for energy, measuring financial metrics, setting and enforcing energy policies, complying with regulations and communicating a robust energy policy across an organization. And in a business setting, all of this must be done while retaining and growing profits.

In the past, it has been difficult to monitor the energy use of entire buildings, as often spaces are rented out to separate businesses that use different amounts of energy. For example, an office unit may use less energy in a day due to smart lighting mechanisms and switching off desktop computers at the end of the day. However, a call center in the same building might use its phones and computers for a 24-hour customer service line. This could skew the mean output of the building, which, in time, could lead to an energy strategy that misjudges the requirements for different businesses within a given building.

As IoT becomes more prevalent, this has become less of an issue. A building-wide intelligent energy management system means FMs can now effectively and precisely identify areas for improvement and in turn save the organization thousands of pounds in energy costs.

The advent of IoT and Cloud technologies has helped to make this technology a reality by allowing businesses to store data for years in order to make comparisons over time and identify key trends within large quantities of information. However, in a raw format, this data can be difficult to understand – and even misleading. The development of user-friendly systems now allows FMs to make informed decisions based on data they can understand and interpret clearly in graphs and charts.

The state of energy management

In response to the need for facilities managers to better understand their energy usage, Powervar created a smart monitoring system to work with IoT-enabled sensors and power management devices to give FMs a full view of their facility, including equipment and environment. ATLAS FA and Latitude FMS are a hardware unit and software package that work together to enable facilities managers to record and store granular information about their energy use (see Figure 2). This allows FMs to monitor their day-to-day energy use both to detect faults and identify inefficiencies. In most cases will lead to cost savings within 12 months of operation.

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Figure 2: ATLAS FA and Latitude FMS are a hardware unit and software package that work together to enable facilities managers to record and store granular information about their energy use

A recent government report found that many buildings had systems their occupants could not use as they conflicted with other system controls, leading to confusion and wasteful energy use. This highlights the need for a user-friendly FMS system. By using software that displays energy information in easily readable graphs and charts, energy managers are able to make well informed decisions in relation to their energy use.

One cold case

A national convenience store chain in the USA was aggressively expanding but needed to keep its operational expenditure under control to remain profitable. Each store needed to be up and running and generating sales but also had to keep energy and overall operational costs as low as possible.

After installing a tailor-made Powervar energy management system, the managers of one store quickly identified that outdoor freezer units storing soft drinks and ice were using huge amounts of energy. The data collected by Latitude FMS showed that the cost of energy to run the freezers was higher than the revenue they generated, so the choice was made to remove the outdoor freezers. The chain subsequently saved 20% on their energy bills.

The future of facility management

The information gleaned from IoT and Big Data is opening up doors for facilities managers. It can provide real insight into the state of equipment in each facility and the surrounding environment. By combining this with a smart monitoring system, FMs can get actionable insight into their facility.

For many, the journey to a big data and IoT way of business is a daunting and intimidating task, with technology moving at an unprecedented pace. With the development of user-friendly energy management systems, FMs are able to save money, monitor performance and make smart, informed decisions about energy use. Through modernizing their systems, FMs will be able to transform their energy usage and save money.