Smart Tech Retrofits for Office Buildings Can Cut Energy Bills by 18%

smart technology building retrofit energy savings
Boston, Massachusetts. Credit: Qusai Akoud

Smart buildings that rely on interconnected technologies can provide building owners and occupants significant energy savings, a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) concludes. In particular, the average office building can save 18% of its whole building energy use through smart technologies.

“Smart Buildings: A Deeper Dive into Market Segments” by the ACEEE’s Christopher Perry takes a close look at commercial buildings including office, retail, hotel, and hospital buildings. Published in December, the report notes that offices represent the largest commercial building sector based on energy consumption, the number of buildings, and floor area.

Interconnected technologies, which is how the report defines “smart,” offer numerous benefits. Occupancy sensors, smart thermostats, and other HVAC controls can reduce conditioned and ventilated air to low-use or unoccupied areas of an office, the report notes. Similarly, smart lighting controls lower or turn off lights when employees aren’t there. Perry also highlights smart outlets and advanced power strips that control office equipment plug loads.

“These technologies can display real-time data, diagnose faulty equipment operation, and reduce energy waste,” Perry writes. “Although building operators have had the ability to schedule their equipment for many years, more recently equipment can be connected (wired or wirelessly) and controlled from one central point, responding to changing conditions inside and outside the building.”

At the same time, the tech provides non-energy benefits. “Studies suggest that improved lighting and ventilation can help raise employee productivity,” the report says. “Insights based on smart building data can also help a company optimize the office floor plan. This, in turn, can improve a company’s bottom line and increase the value of the building.”

Perry outlines several key smart technology opportunities for Class B offices in the United States — a sector composed of more than 1 million office buildings and 16 billion total square feet. They are: HVAC, lighting, energy management and information systems (EMIS), and telecommuting.

With so many employees away from their desks more than half the time, telecommuting can help justify smart building upgrades, Perry points out. “Fortune 1000 companies are starting to revamp their work spaces to reduce energy used to condition air and to light these spaces when they are vacant,” he writes.

The report also articulates key barriers to adoption. One is the lack of submetering in some office buildings, making efforts to save energy more difficult than a situation where tenant spaces are submetered. Small office tenants may also be challenging to reach with energy efficiency efforts, Perry says. Additional challenges include treating offices as short-term assets, guaranteeing quick paybacks, the smaller budgets of Class B and C office buildings, and cybersecurity.

Despite the barriers, commercial building retrofits and upgrades are picking up steam. Last fall, JPMorgan Chase announced plans to retrofit more than 70% of its Detroit branches with LED lights and new building management systems. And an IoT lighting system from Gooee is being put to the test in CBRE’s Amsterdam office.

Perry sees a bright future, writing that “the sooner the average commercial building becomes smart, the sooner smart buildings can develop into smart cities connected to a smart grid, adding value to our lives and revolutionizing US energy efficiency in the process.”

Mark your calendars: The 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver. Learn more here.

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