Advanced sensors helping "dumb" buildings

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With energy costs following a seemingly upward trajectory in many parts of the world and climate change on the political agenda, there is an ever-increasing focus on achieving greater energy efficiency to generate cost savings. Today, commercial buildings represent a huge source of energy use but these buildings are, for the most part, inefficient. The majority of sensors currently used in buildings are incapable of making intelligent decisions in real-time.

Hans Olav Lien/Wikimedia Commons

Efforts to make buildings smarter and more energy efficient have given rise to a new class of advanced sensors, allowing building systems to better anticipate and respond to changing conditions, according to Navigant Research.  These devices can create environments that are both more productive for occupants and more operationally efficient for owners.  New, advanced occupancy sensors can match ventilation rates to the number of people in a room, thus providing benefits of reduced energy use and improved air quality. There are also sensors that can periodically self-calibrate and correct for drift, allowing them to be used for better monitoring and maintenance of equipment. Meanwhile, advances in sensing technologies are enabling the deployment of low-power wireless sensors deeper into buildings than ever before.

"For a building to be truly considered smart, it must be able to automate the operation of its various subsystems with minimal human interference," said Eric Woods, research director with Navigant Research.  "Although this is still a nascent market, sensor technology has advanced rapidly, [with sophisticated products coming to market] to meet rapidly growing demand in the coming years."

New sensing technologies that draw little power are making it possible to deploy sensors deeper into buildings than ever before, according to Navigant.  These more autonomous sensors represent a less expensive route to flexible deployment than hardwired devices, as they obviate the need to run wiring for power supply.  Sensors that can be spread throughout more of the building in this way provide much more granular data for a more complete picture of the building environment, thereby enabling greater efficiency in terms of energy consumption. 

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