A Deeper Opportunity for Building Energy Management Systems

Intelligent Buildings: Energy Savings from Smart Controls

RMI Outlet, February 24, 2016. Image credit: MichaelGaida


Commercial buildings consume a lot of energy. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technology Office, the cost of energy to operate the 5.6 million commercial buildings in the United States is estimated at $180 billion per year. The systems that heat, cool, ventilate, and light our buildings account for about half of the energy demand in buildings. As the U.S. building stock has matured, a diverse range of technology has been installed to manage the operations of these systems. The automation and controls industry was long led by huge manufacturers that offered complex and costly systems designed to meet the needs of the largest buildings. These systems were run with proprietary and closed architectures that were expensive and complex to maintain. Integration across these systems improved with ASHRAE’s BACnet data communication protocol in the largest buildings, but there was still room for innovation. There was great opportunity for more cost-effective solutions for comprehensive management of large portfolios and solutions for smaller buildings.


There is a lot of buzz around technology and having data available at your fingertips for all aspects of life. From wearables to smart thermostats accessible with our cell phones, we have become accustomed to an ease of access to information. This reality has a twofold impact on commercial buildings. On one hand, our expectation of the experience within our workspaces is changing. We want to experience the same kind of technology-enabled comfort and convenience in our offices that we can experience in our homes. This pressure is apparent to commercial building owners and managers and helps influence the adoption of intelligent building technologies, including BEMS. On the other hand, the proliferation of devices can mean more data, but not necessarily better data. This can lead to confusion in the marketplace, but also opens the door to differentiation between intelligent building technologies. BEMS are effective tools for translating data into actionable information. This is key to realizing return on investment (ROI) for intelligent buildings. The analytics that characterizes BEMS use algorithms to identify equipment failures, performance anomalies, and space utilization. These tools help make sense of the growing streams of data as more devices become a part of the commercial building infrastructure. The result is that customers are investing in BEMS because these tools translate data into actionable information for performance improvements that have positive impacts on their bottom line.


The Internet of Things (IoT) is all about the secure, scalable, and integrated communication of data. Energy efficiency is a measurable benefit associated with operational changes to building systems such as lighting and HVAC. The savings on monthly utilities bills was the first story BEMS software providers introduced when the market emerged. As the IoT has led to more investment in devices in commercial buildings, many non-energy benefits now come in tandem with BEMS.

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