Turns out these walls can talk

Linking buildings to monitoring systems is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and GSA is hoping to use the IoT to cut costs and boost energy efficiency.

Shutterstock image: internet of things, connectivity.

If these walls could talk, what stories they could tell. The director of GSA’s Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings says his agency is listening.

“You’d be foolish not to take advantage of [connected devices],” Kevin Kampschroer told FCW, saying his department is ready to fully utilize the potential of the Internet of Things.

As more and more devices connect to more and more things, GSA is working to tie its vast inventory of government buildings into a network of monitoring and maintenance systems to cut costs and increase efficiencies.

Linking up smart buildings allows for notifications, called “sparks” in the trade, to be sent to building managers when faults are detected, such as the power coming on at the wrong time or a certain area consistently being inefficient, which the building manager can then quickly rectify. Individuals are still needed to respond to the data in the most appropriate way, but having IoT-equipped buildings means that all the pertinent data is readily available.

Where the IoT has the biggest impact on energy savings is advanced metering — which measures energy usage in real time — leading to direct savings in the ability to quickly adjust to demand-response pricing (when penalties and rebates are enacted for increased or decreased energy usage during high-demand windows), as well in continued optimization.

Through connecting various systems to a central control, specific systems such as individual lighting circuits can be monitored for energy use and be remotely shut off or activated. This affects not only spending on energy, but also the satisfaction of tenants. Carbon dioxide levels in conference rooms, for example, can be monitored and adjusted if they exceed levels of comfort, and A/V systems can be remotely activated before scheduled meetings.

Looking Ahead

Kampschroer works at the GSA headquarters at 1800 F St NW in D.C., a building that boasts of many of the optimizations the IoT brings: things like automated roller shades, occupancy sensors, daylight sensors, and daily desks.

When he swipes into the building, his desk, assigned for the day, has its lights and desktop powered on. When he leaves at night, if he is the last to leave the bay, the lights will all turn out. If he has forgotten to close a window, a spark will be sent to the building manager, and if it becomes a habit then the manager knows who to have a word with about shutting windows.

The GSA is “looking to expand” the number of buildings included in its Link Initiative, a major smart building effort, said Kampschroer. Those targeted for inclusion are 200 of the GSA’s 1,574 buildings, which alone account for 80 percent of the agency’s total electricity use. Eighty of those buildings are already included in the Link Initiative. “If we are going to renovate a building, we are going to connect it,” he said.

Kampschroer identified the affordability of high-quality sensors as being the area where the IoT will most significantly affect smart buildings. Light sensors were “crude” just five years ago, said Kampschroer, but are now becoming cheaper and much more reliable. 

Security concerns

The problem with having so many connected systems means that protecting the data through encryption is a “priority,” said Kampschroer.

All of the data from the advanced metering of the connected buildings goes to a central control center and is kept behind the GSA’s firewall. Moreover, all systems are tested for their integrity before being connected. But there are still difficulties regarding updating legacy building automation systems and adding them to the firewall.

Those legacy building automation systems were built by more than 16 different manufacturers, hampering their interoperability, and replacing those systems will be expensive. Because of this, Kampschroer said industry standards for the automated systems are a “necessity” going forward.