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When Buildings Meet the Internet of Things

Challenges of Energy and Climate

With the rapid economic developments of the early 21st century, the increased cost and gradual depletion of traditional sources of electrical energy is occurring in parallel. The fact and consequences of climate change is an additional, persistent challenge. The accurate prediction of future energy consumption is essential to achieving sustainable development.

According to statistics released by the International Energy Agency (IEA), surpassing industry and transportation, the use and occupation of buildings amounts to around 40 percent of primary energy consumption in most IEA countries.

Although developed countries in Europe and America are home to less than 20 percent of the world’s populations, they contribute to about 70 percent of the total energy consumption worldwide. Lowering energy consumption in the buildings of these countries will positively impact the reduction of energy and escalating climate crises.

Improving Energy Efficiency

The energy crisis of the 1980s led to explorations in an improvement in the energy efficiency of buildings. The result is that building designers now routinely include environmental factors, such as calculations of sunshine and wind direction, in the planning of heating and ventilation systems. In addition, building material innovations are used to improve thermal insulation, which further reduces energy use. Another principle energy reduction tactic is the use of mixed high-voltage and low-voltage electrical systems in buildings for automated cooling, LED lighting, and energy-efficient electrical appliances.

Such buildings are considered to be energy-efficient or “green” because of their contributions to energy conservation and carbon emission reduction. While many countries are actively promoting the energy-efficient construction of new buildings, there are many challenges remaining; for example, it is cost-prohibitive, and often a risk to structural integrity, to retrofit existing buildings with modern electrical systems.

Making Buildings Smart

In 2005, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) released a report, ITU Internet Reports 2005: The Internet of Things, which describes engineering concepts and their consequences in the era of the “Internet of Things.”

The IoT can be divided into the following layers: sensing, network, and application that correspond to the following architectural concepts:

  • Device — Comprised of a sensor layer to monitor and collect ambient building parameters, such as humidity, temperature, brightness, and motion. ZigBee wireless sensor networks are deployed in the form of small boxes that, once installed, automatically form a mesh network that eliminates the need for additional cabling or physical modification.
  • Pipe — IoT gateways that are equipped with interfaces to connect sensor networks with WAN-IP networks. If and when IoT gateways are disconnected from the cloud, the sensor collection platforms continue to collect data and execute controller-originated actions based on programmed policies for energy consumption management.
  • Cloud — IoT gateways forward the collected sensor data to system administrators through Building Energy Management Systems, or BEMs.

As a result, a smart building on a sunny day is lit inside by natural light because the building has compensated by either dimming the lights, or switching them off entirely. Energy consumption is lowered while the rooms remain sufficiently lit. On hot, humid days, automated buildings will cool indoor temperatures to appropriate levels and add a dehumidifying mode. Over the course of an evening, lights and air-conditioners will be automatically switched-off in unoccupied areas while lights and air-conditioners remain on in rooms that are occupied.

Buildings engineered for state-of-the-art energy management will keep and track statistics on the pattern of consumption for each device connected to the IoT network — lights, heating and air conditioning, as well as other electrical appliances within it — in order for building owners to better monitor and manage the costs for resource consumption and upkeep.

By Yu Jingwei

Huawei Switch & Enterprise Communications Marketing Execution Department

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