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IoT and HVAC UK. What's the reality?

Technologies including Internet of things (IoT), (Ai) artificial intelligence, (Ar) Augmented Reality and building information modelling (BIM) are all spoken about as cutting-edge industry trends, but uptake remains pretty slow, there’s lots of talk about new technology and innovation in the built environment, but not a lot of action.

Why? Possibly because of lack of trust in how it works and misunderstanding around cost. Companies need to trust in the technology and want to see results now, not later. So IoT and HVAC UK. What's the reality?

Back in 2017 there was an article in Modern Building Services magazine (MODBS) stating that clients are unprepared for Smart Building innovation.

4 years later has anything changed? Yes there have been technology advancements and yes we have had 18-months of C...D-19 to deal with but that aside what is holding innovation back?

What has changed however are the return-to-work employee expectations, rising energy costs and requirements for increasing energy efficiency, which are forcing businesses to change the way they approach building operations.

Slow Adoption

It would be easy to think that making the shift towards IoT- can be adopted by almost anyone. But it’s not, and it might be that there is a perception that – without full understanding that the steps needed to make their buildings or facilities IoT-ready is somewhat daunting, and possibly expensive?

The fact is nothing has really moved on in real terms in the last 4-years, adoption has been slow.

In a post-COVID world, IoT technology can track the extent to which general office areas, meeting rooms and other spaces are actually being used, and in a way that is much quicker and cheaper than hard wiring sensors via a BMS.

Remote monitoring and real-time occupancy is more appropriate than ever with ongoing uncertainty over how offices will be re-occupied.

It’s easy for us to write about how this sensor does this and that etc. and suggest the potential for savings, innovation and optimisation that IoT systems provide and a substantial return on investment.

However If I was in the buyers shoes, I would say prove it! Give me some actual and proven case studies. Here is what is actually happening with IoT as of July 2021.

IoT- integration and automation

Cross-system communication is real-time monitoring, optimisation and automation between local/key IoT systems and control systems. Much of the IoT’s value lies in its ability to integrate the various components and BMS systems that comprise any modern building, where these various devices can collaborate.

For many BMS providers and system integrators there is a mixture if IoT and BMS integration, but its very piecemeal

Benefits in the workplace

How then does this benefit building occupants in practice?

There are significant opportunities for improved efficiency, sustainability, and productivity in an IoT-optimised environment.

Imagine an office that is partially occupied. IAQ sensors, integrated through the IoT to the BMS, will detect a change in the CO2 levels of the office and set off a chain of actions. Such as increasing ventilation, switching off heating, ventilation and lighting systems and putting the un or low occupancy areas into a low-power mode.

The IoT- connected BMS will also enhance the experience and performance of a building’s occupants.

There is a clear correlation between an employee’s output and their ‘thermal comfort’ - their physical and psychological reaction to the air temperature of their environment.

An IoT’s ability to measure and respond to its surroundings, specifically to temperature and relative humidity, will ensure that employees are at their most comfortable.

Healthier and happier staff invariably contribute to increased productivity and higher retention.

Cheaper condition based maintenance practices rely on the monitoring capabilities of an IoT system. M&E maintenance is cheaper and more effective when a building’s devices are communicating with one another.

Environmental Control

Monitoring CO2 levels, ambient temperature, and relative humidity in specific areas throughout the day. Monitor when door and windows are open or closed, tracking over time to automate building management processes.

Coupled with live occupancy data to manage space usage, using IoT sensors to implement demand-controlled HVAC and lighting systems that control for air quality and temperature can help keep the environment comfortable for everyone, while ensuring they are provided the healthiest atmosphere possible.

It’s harder for failures and malfunctions to go unnoticed when an IoT to BMS can detect a fault instantly and automatically schedule maintenance, all without human input, and also send an alarm to say “I'm not feeling very well”

What’s happening in homes, with heating, lighting and security systems which can be accessed from anywhere, is now available in the commercial space. IoT systems gives people increased ability to change the way commercial and hospitality buildings are operated.

Remote monitoring and sustainability in buildings and facilities management

Powered by IoT, remote monitoring has the potential to provide buildings managers with vital, real time data on a variety of issues, from building health and asset lifetime, to energy efficiency and waste.

How does IoT remote monitoring work?

With the development of IoT sensors with long battery-life, you can monitor almost any mechanical/electrical device and room of any building from anywhere. IoT sensors can be retrofitted to older equipment in buildings to give them the ability to become somewhat smarter.

An example of this technology is the EnviroLogik system, which monitors multiple systems in a building, including air/water temperature, refrigerant pressure drops door/window opens, IAQ, Energy consumption, and water leaks etc.

Each sensor monitors a particular asset. Using a single gateway to connect up to 200 mixed sensors linked to a single Lorawan gateway, the data is then securely transferred to a custom dashboard for customer analysis.

Automatic alerts or triggers are sent out when urgent action needs to be taken – i.e. if refrigerant or water is leaking or a particular section of pipework has not been flushed in line with legionella compliance.

Managers have access to all the data they need to make informed decisions about other aspects of buildings management. Floor by floor environmental conditions can be displayed in reception areas to give reassurance about cleanliness and IAQ.

With quick and easy installation which avoids disruption of legacy systems, and straightforward integration, remote monitoring has the potential to be infinitely scalable, while remaining unobtrusive to the workforce.

Additionally, there is advanced security and that no connection to buildings infrastructure. The development of new sensors and interconnectivity and application of these systems is ever evolving, as IoT and capabilities grow.

Predictive maintenance management

M&E Maintenance is an integral part of facilities management but it’s not always ideal to follow the SFG-20 std maintenance processes.

Predictive maintenance is one of the key benefits of IoT remote monitoring. With instant real-time data available, stakeholders can see where problems are starting to happen and take decisions to repair an item before it fails. This proactive approach reduces the need for pre-determined planned preventive maintenance..

HVAC optimisation

HVAC systems are one of the largest energy drains, while at the same time the quality of the indoor environment and temperature comfort play an big part in employee performance.

If a building is too cold or hot, has poor lighting or limited ventilation, it impacts on employee health and motivation. With IoT multi sensors, managers can actively monitor and control HVAC according to building use. Using HVAC assets and redesigning the working spaces are being employed to maximum effect will have a great impact on the wellbeing of the occupants, and the energy bills.

The Well Institute building standard is being increasingly adopted across many corporate real estate portfolios which in turn will help with employee wellbeing.

Compliance management

Legionella control and monitoring is a significant compliance priority but manual compliance testing and flushing routines is expensive.

IoT Remote monitoring of water temperatures can show managers where action needs to be taken – i.e. how much water has flowed through these outlets and when? Has the water temperature reached the required temperature? – ensuring compliance without the waste of a full system flush. Again, providing managers with an audit trail necessary to support all decisions made.

Whats next for IoT?

Adoption, trialling, stating out with a small area or monitoring key plant that gives real benefit to landlords and management companies and can pay for itself through energy savings and integration with BMS systems are vital.

Hardware and software go hand in hand. No point buying a load of sensors on Amazon and then trying to connect it to a graphing software just wont work. Work with a partner that has the experience and track record with many sites that can work across many industries

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