Integrating Systems a Key to Building Efficiency

June 5, 2013
By
Earth Rangers security-swipe1

Integrating systems such as access control with control and automation can produce efficiency gains that save energy and money, as was done at the very sustainable and tech-savvy Earth Rangers Centre near Toronto.

We’ve said it before: Some serious efficiencies—including energy efficiency—can be realized by integrating systems such as lighting, HVAC, security and audio/video in buildings and homes.

And the key to a lot of it is security. Home service providers like ADT, Comcast, Verizon, Vivint, Alarm.com and others know this well, as they sell “smart home” and “connected home” services allowing remote control of lights, surveillance cameras and thermostats from smartphones. Though the core of their offerings—the big draw—is security.

People will pay for security monitoring in the home—hello, recurring revenue—and tying security or access control to systems like lighting and HVAC makes sense to shut devices down when the system is armed. Leave and arm the system, and your lights turn off, the AC dials back a few degrees, and you save energy and money.

This thinking is coming to the commercial building market. Control and automation companies are eager to connect to existing building access control systems to operate lighting and HVAC as well as audio/video. And there are plenty of benefits.

In business, of course, it’s all about the money. And if business can save money on energy and space costs, all the better.

“If you do have a bona fide security system, if you do arm it, what better time to say the building is unoccupied, is secure, so now it’s time to shut some things down and save money,” says Kirk Phillips, product manager with security systems provider Elk Products.

At the green-tech filled Earth Rangers Centre near Toronto, a security system interfaces with Schneider Electric’s Continuum building automation system not only to shut lights and systems down when the system is armed, but allows the facility to dynamically schedule the building’s time of use, meaning systems that are needed for occupied hours only run when people are actually in the building.

“The top three expenses of a business are people, space and energy,” says Mike Carter, director of Integrated Building Solutions with control and automation company AMX. “Bringing all the technology together within the building can help companies make all three of those—people, space and energy—more efficient. Once you tie all of them together you get the old adage about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.”

Hotelling Models for Offices

Some businesses where largely mobile workforces render corporate spaces less than 50 percent occupied are adopting hotelling models that assign workspaces when people do come into the office.

With a control and automation system you can dynamically adjust an HVAC system to accommodate how many people are there and reassign them to common areas to minimize the amount of space that needs to be climate-controlled.

“The biggest driving factor is efficiency in the workplace,” says David Silberstein, director of Channel Development for control company Crestron. “Anything I can do to make the entire process more efficient for people should be done.”

Conference rooms can be made more efficient with scheduling functions so A/V systems start up automatically and shut down equipment when security occupancy sensors detect no one is in the room. This saves energy and saves employees from wasting valuable time waiting for systems to boot up.

Still a Tough Sell

A lot of building efficiencies are possible with systems integration. But it can still be a hard sell, due to the number of stakeholders involved, the fear of new technologies, the complex process that can be involved in getting one system in one silo to communicate with another.

“Sometimes it takes the heating and cooling guys to get used to getting signals from the alarm system rather than a motion sensor. The biggest hurdle is getting people used to a new way,” says Crestron’s Silberstein.

“People want to be more energy conscious and realize more savings, but whether they’re turning into product sales I don’t know,” says Elk Products’ Phillips.

It’s just a matter of time before systems integration becomes the thing to do. Stakeholders need to get accustomed to the idea. Now some are opting for the easy, low-hanging fruit of efficiency measures identified by virtual energy audits. And they should look for the easy stuff to do first. Once that happens, they’ll seek more efficiencies. And control and automation will be the answer.

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