The three Es of remote building operation

Remote building operation is increasingly coming into its own for generating even greater value for building managers and home owners.

Technological innovation is making our cities more liveable, prosperous and sustainable, and the building sector is taking a lead role in embracing digital solutions that enable great efficiency, sustainability and productivity where we live and work. The Federal Government’s recently released Digital Economy Strategy 2030 points to the value of the construction industry to position Australia as a leading digital economy and society.

The smart building movement is all about value, and remote operation is increasingly coming into its own for generating even greater value for home owners and building managers. We are seeing this play out through the three Es of remote building operation: efficiency gains, environmental gains and experiential gains. Importantly, they empower each other. The efficiency often drives environmental savings, and better experiences are made possible through greater efficiency, and so on.

With the convenience of smartphone integration for home owners for anywhere-anytime access, and with remote access to building management systems for building managers, all aspects of a building’s energy use can be monitored and controlled without the need to be on site. In both residential and commercial contexts, remote monitoring optimises energy use and environmental value with absolute convenience. The task can now suit timing, not a person’s physical location, which further increases the likelihood of proactive, improved decision-making. And of course, this goes well beyond pure energy use into the realm of designing and managing better lifestyle experiences and better workplace experiences.

A snapshot of remote home operation

With a home smart door entry system such as ABB-Welcome you can monitor who is at your door, receive deliveries when you’re not at home, unlock your home for guests, and achieve much more from the convenience of your smartphone. You can also simulate your presence when you’re not at home as an extra security measure, creating lighting, sound and movement that make it look like you’re home. And you can control comforts such as lighting and heating remotely, so your home is ready when you’ll be there, or so you can adjust settings from wherever you are in the home – all minimising energy use through precision.

When all of your home’s systems are connected via your phone or tablet, remote operation becomes an affordable luxury. You’re sitting in your garden and realise you’ve left the lights on in the living room. Switching them off without moving from your chair is easy. Or, you’re watching TV and want to switch on your ambient garden lights to bring your outside in…or switch on your spa to preheat it without leaving your lounge…or check that your shutters are down and lights are off after you’ve already gone to bed. You can even create smart settings like a single button night mode to switch everything off, or home exit mode to turn off some features, adjust others, and put others on standby. With integration, you gain one, absolute solution that you can operate from anywhere.

Take the example of heating or cooling. Say you have a 21º environment while you are at home. When you leave your house, because the system is connected to your phone, it recognises you’ve left and turns your home down to 19º. This reduces energy use and saves money, at the same time as eliminating the high impacts of heating later on from a base of nothing when people manually switch off their system. Reducing heating or cooling to standby by just 3º can save up to 20% of a home’s energy use. And smart home technology goes further. GPS connectivity to your smart phone means your home can recognise when you’re in the vicinity and reset your home to your desired temperature, trigger your driveaway lights, open your garage and more. Or you can trigger those while you’re still at work so your home has time to adjust from its standby settings – valuable also for those remotely managing holiday homes in more extreme climates. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

Remote building management taken to the next level

For building managers, a major point of value with remote operation is remote maintenance. Not only can building managers look at what may be wrong, they can fix certain functions remotely through smart building technology. Alternatively, they might be working with a systems integrator and, through remote management, give them access to dial in and look at the problem remotely. This capability offers huge value. By the time they arrive, they may have fixed it or, if not, they know what the issue is and can come better prepared. This saves time on site and potentially avoids wasted materials from vague diagnoses, which in turn create cost savings. For building users, the gain is better up-time and productivity.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in the UK is an excellent example of this in action. It is a huge glass building with significant ambient light flooding in. With smart building technology installed, the system automatically adjusts the lights. That means you can’t easily tell if a light fitting is switched off or is broken. With a ceiling up to 40m high, reaching light fittings isn’t easy – certainly not for something that may be in perfect working order. Of course, the building’s remote management technology sorts that out. Their maintenance manager receives an automatic daily report of faulty lights, including details such as whether it’s a lamp or ballast failure. They can precisely deploy night works and cherry pickers only when they know that’s the right solution.

Emergency light testing is yet another example of the power of remote operation. Managers no longer have to go through a building. They simply open their laptop and start the testing. Automated reports take that efficiency further still. And this applies to effectively every feature integrated in the smart building system, creating savings, improving building up-time and productivity, and enabling more welcoming spaces optimised to function as intended for the maximum duration.

Particularly when a system integrates multiple data sources, it also means that energy use can be understood and optimised more readily, reducing its overall draw on the environment. For building managers, a significant advantage is the ability to monitor and manage issues in real-time. Additional savings are in streamlined operations and maintenance costs – in materials and labour – with remote operation enabling pin-point precision to further that value. For example, building managers can remotely measure energy consumption and identify areas that are not performing well so they know where to focus investigation and, potentially, investment.

With ABB’s recent acquisition of Cylon Controls, ABB is even more strongly placed to deliver new innovations in energy-optimisation and comfort. These innovations enable energy managers, building owners and facility managers better manage and control energy consumption, costs and operational efficiency within buildings.

The smarts of cumulative value

Efficiency gains, environmental gains and experiential gains – when they work in synergy they create real cumulative value. With innovative, integrated solutions already available, home owners and building managers have the technology at their fingertips to make homes and buildings intelligent with energy-efficient and future-oriented technology. A home that anticipates your return. A building that saves you 30% in operating costs. Remote access from across the room or across the globe. Climate and lighting controls that are aware of the time and date. This is the future of smart buildings and smart home living available today.

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About the author

Christian Schiemann

Christian has more than two decades of experience in the smart buildings and smart home industry in Australia, Germany and UK, helping customers to achieve more sustainable and automated building outcomes. In his Market Development Manager role, Christian is responsible for representing ABB’s building automation solutions in Australia and New Zealand, mainly with an approach of an open protocol solution (KNX), and promoting the advantages of automation across industries to stakeholders in a building process. Christian has participated as a keynote speaker at a range of industry events in the UK and Australia focusing on emergency efficiency in buildings and the impact on the global carbon footprint.
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