Driverless Cars and Driverless Buildings

If you were sitting at home and I told you that there was a Google driverless car in your driveway that was going to take you to work today – Would you get in the back seat and let it drive you to work? You would be able to do other things during the drive instead of focusing on the rush hour, bumper-to-bumper traffic.

But would you have the confidence in the technology to just … trust it?

We know that the driverless car is here and it is quickly gaining acceptance as a viable technology. Like the driverless car, buildings are also becoming “driverless” from a real-time operations point-of-view. The technology is here and has already been deployed in many buildings around the world.

And for good reason.

Commercial real estate buildings consume 40% of all energy and 70% of all electricity.  So if you are a commercial building owner, it is worthwhile to make sure that your building(s) are optimized to consume the minimum amount of energy.

There are two ways to get the most out of your building:

  1. Mechanical and structural performance optimization. Ensuring the building performs the best that it can. This technology eliminates the building’s deficiencies or faults and optimizes the building for efficiency and performance
  2. Real-time operational performance optimization. Ensuring the building is run optimally, i.e. using the least amount of energy possible

These are very different mandates although they may seem similar.  Let’s use the analogy of a car further to explore the differences between the two.

Mechanical and Structural Performance Optimization

There are many ways that a car’s performance can be optimized.  Here are a few examples that most of us would be familiar with:

  • Make sure you have the right amount of air pressure in the tires. The right tire pressure will reduce wear on the tires, give you better gas mileage and make the ride better for the passengers.
  • Make sure the carburetor is providing the right amount of oxygen.  When the air mixes with the fuel, if there is not enough air mixed with the gas, then the vehicle will burn more fuel than is necessary.
  • Use grease – not only will it lubricate bearings, suspension, etc., but if it is applied to gaskets on the carburetor, it will make them easier to re-use and prevents them from sticking to the intake manifold or the carburetor.
  • Make the car more aerodynamic. The less wind resistance the car has the better the gas mileage. That’s why you see pick-up trucks driving around with their tailgates down.
  • Make sure the engine is tuned. A well-tuned engine provides the best balance of power and fuel consumption.

We could go on and on with ways to make a car perform better.

Car performance is taken to the ultimate degree in the Formula 1 racing world. The items I mention above are barely a starting point. Formula 1 teams consider fluid dynamics, different tire types for different driving conditions, airfoil shape optimization, air-cooling flow, and many other factors. If you do a Google search on ‘F1 performance optimization’, you will find reams of material on the subject.

By doing mechanical and structural tuning to make sure the car performs the best it can, you optimize the performance of the car and save gas (energy).

Likewise, you can do many mechanical and structural things to optimize the performance of a building, i.e. make it more energy efficient, in terms of how much energy is required to heat or cool the building, or how much electricity it uses. You are probably familiar with some of the ways to make your own home more energy efficient:

  • Switch to LED lighting
  • Insulate your home better
  • Get energy efficient appliances
  • Install solar panels
  • Etc.

The same types of things can be done in a commercial building but the scale and scope are much greater. Some of the things you can do cost little or no money, but there are also things that will take operational investment, like identifying faults in the building and fixing them, and there are others that will require capital investments, like replacing old boilers or HVAC units.

Honeywell has a very good service, which helps building owners with the mechanical and structural performance optimization of their buildings. It is called the Honeywell Attune Advisory Services. They state that, “Honeywell’s energy and automation experts work directly with your company to provide the information you need to make energy-efficient and money-saving business decisions.

Using state-of-the-art technology, paired with a global reach of over 10,000 energy and operations experts, Attune Advisory Services meets you wherever your buildings are on the energy-and-operational-efficiency spectrum. They provide support to gain baseline awareness of building performance, make improvements to reduce energy and operations costs, and define an ongoing strategy to manage and optimize each facility.”

Just like your neighbourhood car mechanic or even an F1 racing crew, the Honeywell team of 10,000 global experts, will help you get the most out of your building. And just like the F1 teams, they even have software that monitors performance in real time and provides reports to help you make adjustments.

But what they don’t do, is operate your building for you in real-time, in the most efficient manner. But there is another company, Building IQ, that does provide this service, and they do it well.

Real-Time Operational Performance Optimization

The driver of a car operates the car the entire time the car is en route to its destination. They accelerate, turn, brake, make adjustments to traffic conditions, navigate, etc. It is a task that requires the full attention of the driver. A driverless car takes over all these tasks from the driver. Technology is used to take over all the operational responsibilities of the driver.

Most commercial buildings have someone who operates the building day-to-day. They are responsible for ensuring that the systems that provide the heat or air conditioning are turned up, or on, well before people arrive at work and that the building maintains the right temperature all day long so that people are comfortable in the building.   They are also responsible for many other things in the building and often do not have the time to operate the building in real-time from one minute to the next. However, they may make adjustments from time to time if tenants complain about the heat or lack of heat depending on the time of year.

The driver of a car can minimize gas consumption if they drive the car by avoiding as much acceleration and braking as possible. Maintaining speed, is more fuel efficient than accelerating or decelerating. Do you drive your car and optimize its fuel consumption? I would guess that very few people do, but they could.

Driverless cars are much better at minimizing gas consumption by avoiding as much acceleration and braking as is possible. They are also better at slowing down ahead of time for congestion or avoiding congestion altogether because they get that information well ahead of time through all of their programming algorithms. They also know where the best-priced gas is and can determine if it is worth filling up at one gas station or another.   They know when the weather is going to be bad and can mitigate the impact weather has on the operation of the car.

Minimizing the fuel consumption of the car by operating it efficiently is very different from getting fuel efficiencies from a well-tuned car. In order to minimize fuel consumption of either, a well-tuned car, or a car that is very poorly tuned, you simply avoiding accelerating and braking as much as possible.

Driving a car that is BOTH well tuned and is driven in a way that minimizes fuel consumption will give you the best overall fuel savings.

The same is true when getting energy efficiencies from a building. You can increase the energy efficiency of a building by having it tuned up (Honeywell’s Attune Services) and you can operate the building more efficiently by using Building IQ’s technology. These two approaches compliment each other and should be used in unison for maximum building efficiency.

Building IQ is the leader in real-time operational energy savings for commercial office buildings.  Building IQ’s Predictive Energy Optimization reduces your operational energy consumption and cost, using sophisticated algorithms running in the cloud and connected to your building’s HVAC system.  The foundation of these strategies is a customized thermodynamic model, which has been assembled from the building’s actual energy consumption, coupled with algorithms for real time information from: the weather, occupancy, energy pricing and control system data. Building IQ can save 10 to 20% of a building’s HVAC energy costs, without impacting building comfort, because you tell it what temperature you want it to be – zone by zone.  They can save building owners energy whether their building is well tuned or is not well tuned.

Just as the driverless car takes over the real-time operation of the vehicle, Building IQ takes over the real-time operation of the HVAC units of the building.

When I asked you at the beginning of this blog whether you would get into the back seat of the driverless car and let it whisk you away to work, I suspect many of you, like myself, would be a little hesitant to jump in the car. But if you could sit in the driver’s seat and take over control of the vehicle any time by simply grabbing the steering wheel and depressing the brakes, you might not hesitate to take your first driverless ride.

The same holds true with the Building IQ technology. A lot of building operators would be hesitant to let a cloud based computer take over the operation of their building’s HVAC systems. But if they could take back control with the press of a button (and they can), then maybe its time to try and find some more energy savings by operating the building much more efficiently than the building operator is able to.

To learn more about the Building IQ technology and how it can help you save energy in your building, please contact us.

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