Harnessing the power of smart buildings for energy management

Smart buildings. Smart homes. These terms come up a lot in a variety of circles and in many different contexts: energy providers use it when they refer to energy use or savings, technology companies talk about it in reference to the Internet of Things, architects talk about it when discussing achieving zero net energy. But what does it mean when it comes to an actual building, rather than a theoretical one? At the leading edge, a smart building’s systems—lighting, thermostats, energy management, occupancy sensors, security systems—are interconnected to sensors, can be controlled via an app by the facility manager or homeowner, and are programmed to respond to a set of conditions. Essentially, the building takes over and runs itself, optimizing energy use and not reliant on flighty humans to remember to turn off the lights when they leave a room. Smart buildings also provide plenty of data about energy use that can inform building owners and help them make changes to further lower their building’s energy costs.

While a bulk of energy savings (whether from a smart building or just energy efficiency) comes from lighting, smart buildings are the stepping stone to the ultimate in energy savings: zero net energy (ZNE). California has mandated that all new residential buildings be 100% ZNE by 2020, an ambitious goal that is arriving very soon. The state usually sets the stage for these types of initiatives – many states now follow California’s vehicle emissions standards, as well as other mandates that were first initiated in California. While there are many approaches to achieving ZNE, there is one component that underlies all of the renewable generation and high efficiency appliances: behavioral changes. And a smart home, with all of its sensors and interconnections, provides the information that a homeowner needs to understand which changes they need to truly achieve ZNE. Much like Prius owners, who have been found to use up to 20 percent less energy as they drive because of the information their car provides them on the dashboard, people will be able to respond to signals about their energy use from the data their smart home provides.

No longer a futuristic daydream, owning a “smart home” is now a reality, from energy-efficient solar panels to security systems. Even if the building isn’t designed to be ZNE, using less energy is becoming a priority to many consumers. Moving forward, buildings will need to have more than the current trendy finishes to sell—they will also need to be smart enough to save their owners energy—and money.

Betty Seto

Head of Department,
Sustainable Buildings and Communities

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