Tackling energy-efficiency complications in IoT buildings

The world is advancing more toward digitization with technologies like virtual reality, edge computing, artificial intelligence (AI), etc. Using such technology to operate on its own with minimal human dependency is now being termed “smart”; a few common examples of which are smartphones, smart watches, and smart cities. And whenever someone talks about cities, the very first thing that comes to mind is buildings, which are the most essential requirement for any human being. This creates a never-ending demand for resources to keep the building running as long as people live there.

Now, with the introduction of the concept of smart cities, buildings are seen as the primary structure that requires digitization to make them smart. On the other hand, with the rapid expansion of digitization and development projects, the energy demand is also growing at a faster rate. In modern society, residential and commercial buildings are one of the highest power-demanding fields as they are expected to meet more complex performance requirements than ever before. In developed countries, the energy consumed by buildings alone is between 20-40 percent of the total energy consumed. This makes it a major contributor to the production of greenhouse gasses, due to which global warming is now reaching an alarming level.

By using digitization again, this time for saving energy, more energy-efficient measures can be taken in a building. Using technologies like IoT (Internet of Things) and renewable energy sources, new or existing buildings can be transformed into nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEB). These buildings are able to generate most of the energy required locally using alternative sources, thus having less to no impact on the environment. This creates a huge opportunity for energy savings, and there are already different approaches in place. IoT is one of the most important technologies to reduce energy consumption and achieve sustainable development goals.

Understanding the Integration of IoT in Buildings

The prime purpose of any IoT device is to provide seamless internet connectivity, no matter where they are deployed. This has the potential to allow seamless interaction between gadgets and appliances in intelligent spaces, with or without human intervention. With internet connectivity becoming easily accessible even in remote locations, these smart devices are now present everywhere, ranging from simple sensors to household appliances and smartphones. Smart buildings consist of a lot of components that can be made “smart” using IoT with the goal of lowering power consumption and making the building more environmentally friendly.

IoT solutions enable the effective utilization of renewable energy placed in buildings with the help of smart algorithms and cloud-based technologies through the internet. Users are given flexibility through this, which contributes to developing smart and sustainable cities. According to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) of Europe, the term "smart buildings" refers to almost zero-energy buildings with sensor systems for intelligent monitoring, automated control, diagnostics, fault detection, and supervision that react to environmental factors and user demands.

Buildings have an indefinite number of operations taking place that can be used as a source to collect data for IoT devices to optimize and support building energy-management systems. For example, employing indoor human detection and positioning systems can be used to control lighting conditions, window blinds position, and the overall HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system. The WS2812S RGB LED with integrated driver chip from Seeed Technology offers an intelligent lighting control and signal reshaping amplification drive circuit.

Furthermore, architectural programming can be utilized to integrate IoT solutions at an early stage of construction. This increases project efficiency by cutting costs and avoiding redesigns that are done for existing buildings.


Typical layout of a smart building to achieve energy efficiency (Image credit: Energies 2022, 15, 5991)

Measures to Achieve an Energy-Efficient Building

While optimizing energy efficiency, all stages of the building’s life cycle should be taken into account, as the future of sustainable buildings lies in the performance data acquired during such stages. Each type of building has different static and dynamic factors that affect energy consumption, which can be modeled based on the collected data. This model enables us to quantify the data and propose strategies for achieving energy efficiency. Keeping all these factors in mind, the following measures can help attain an energy-efficient building:

Monitoring the Building

As there’s no common design for every building, gathering data like energy consumption, behaviors of building occupants, total energy generated by installed renewable sources, etc. becomes the first step toward energy use optimization. This data is used to create models that can be used to control the devices in an energy-efficient way while keeping in mind that the comfort of building occupants should not be compromised. The MD-42688-P multi-sensor wireless module from InvenSense provides data collection and monitoring that is suitable for IoT applications.

Automation System

With IoT devices in place, many operations inside the building can be automated with the help of sensors. Subsystems like HVAC and lighting can be controlled based on the presence of occupants. Even the security of the building can be improved by tracking undesired behaviors or the unwanted presence of someone in a secure area. The SEN0395 sensor from DFRobot is one such product that can detect human presence in the range of 9 meters using wave radar technology.

Feedback and User Involvement

The operation of all these energy-efficient systems revolves around the occupants' comfort factor; therefore, occasional user feedback also becomes very important. This helps the system to adjust its operation continuously and allows the user to be an input to the underlying systems.

Preparing for the Future with Energy-Efficient Designs

A lot of research has already been done to come up with concepts that can have a significant impact on the way energy is utilized inside buildings. Initial solutions were based on simulation tools with varying capabilities to evaluate the entire life cycle of a building. Later on, with the help of the energy-efficient measures discussed above, infrastructures are built, which might sometimes become a constraint in terms of cost and difficulty in deploying. Now with the advancements in AI technology, AI is seen as a way to make intelligent decisions to solve the above problems. All these techniques are the stepping stones toward the future of smart buildings.


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