Why smart buildings are smart business

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Lisa M. Varga, CEO, Phoenix Energy Technologies

Smart Business
spoke to Lisa M. Varga, CEO of Phoenix Energy Technologies, about what makes buildings “smart” and how business can benefit from them.
Smart buildings: A buzzword today, as energy efficiency rises to the top of operational agendas in the commercial sector. But what exactly is a smart building? I suppose it depends on whom you ask.
For an architect, the building’s active and passive designs, which give a sleek look while reducing energy usage, might be “smart.” An operations executive is likely to tout the high-tech systems that run a building when evaluating a building’s IQ. And, an ordinary occupant might think a building is pretty smart if it can turn the lights off when no one’s around or auto-flush the toilet.
So, who’s right? In this case, I would venture to say that the architect, operations executive and occupant each have a leg to stand on. However, taking a step back, one might also agree that each tends to focus on the trees, not the forest.
Phoenix Energy Technologies is in the business of creating smarter buildings. So, needless to say, this is a topic I’ve spent many years contemplating. And, while the definition of a smart building is in a perpetual state of evolution, from where I sit today, a smart building focuses on three capabilities:
Communication. Planning. Reaction.
A smart building can communicate. That’s right, the building can talk to you. This includes external communication that makes the building one node in a larger network of many buildings across an enterprise, along with the building’s data (collected by sensors and systems) being accessible for analysis and comparison. To take things a step further, in a smart building, you can talk to the building. In other words, communication flows freely both ways, enabling the building to receive messages and commands from external sources.
A smart building can plan. Planning means that you have some idea as to what’s coming; for smart buildings this means predictive analytics and modeling. For a building to be truly intelligent, it needs to forecast things like future demand based on inputs such as schedule and weather, and then plan for the most efficient ways to meet that load. If temperatures spike and a demand response event is called, buildings should also be ready to automatically execute a plan based on your company’s pre-defined business processes and strategies.
A smart building can react. This is critical when things don’t go according to the plan. If, for example, a critical HVAC component such as a rooftop unit or chiller goes offline, the building must adapt its optimization strategy to minimize energy consumption and cost without sacrificing occupancy comfort. When an electricity price spike occurs in the real-time energy market, the building should be smart enough to shed load during the spike to a later time, when prices are lower.
Smart buildings are not a grand, futuristic ideal. Rather, they are a reality, in the here and now. So I suppose the question becomes, will businesses do the “smart” thing and leverage the tools and technology available to smarten up their buildings?
Lisa M. Varga is CEO of Phoenix Energy Technologies. Reach her at (877) 340-8855 or [email protected]