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By Joël Désiré
From the April 2024 Issue


What can we expect regarding smart spaces in the next 12 months? The surge in 5G networks supports the correlative growth of the Building Internet of Things (BIoT), with more than 3.25 billion units projected to be installed in commercial buildings by 2028. These ubiquitous connected devices, through data compilation and analysis tools, automatically manage a building’s heating, ventilation, security, lighting, and other systems.

“Managing built spaces with automation will support facility executives’ long-term decarbonization goals.”

We anticipate six major trends tied to the growing automation of smart spaces that will build throughout 2024, all sharing the watchwords of “sustainable efficiency.” Companies and commercial building owners will feel pressure to improve their carbon emissions scores. Managing their built spaces with automation will support them in long-term decarbonization goals.

Investors, shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders are showing more support for companies that prioritize sustainability. In turn, organizations will increasingly focus on optimizing energy use in 2024 to lower their carbon footprints. Here are the areas we expect to gain more attention over the next several months:

1. Keeping Building Performance Top Of Mind To Reduce Waste

Optimal building performance considers the indoor space quality in balance with how resources are distributed. A vital first step for understanding building performance is a comprehensive evaluation to identify system efficiencies and energy waste issues. Tougher regulatory climates are pushing for better building performance in large markets. Commercial buildings in New York City, under its Local Law 97, are now required to collect data for spaces over 25K square feet and track carbon emissions. Every ton over the corporate limit will trigger fines.

As these influential markets become more regulated in tracking carbon emissions, we expect to see other regions also gear up to bring commercial building performance to the forefront. Other cities, including Boston and Vancouver, have announced similar mandates, which will likely spur landlords to invest in their properties to optimize their investments. Moving from simple systems to programmable systems and identifying how to heat, cool, and clean a building according to its real occupancy will go a long way to ticking off performance KPIs.

2. Artificial Intelligence’s Superpower: Energy Reduction And Equipment Optimization

AI is rapidly advancing in the energy sector, especially in corporate real estate and smarter grids. Because it can compile and analyze vast amounts of data, AI can adapt systems to real-time scenarios depending on occupancy and external temperature factors, anticipate patterns, and proactively identify equipment maintenance requirements.

AI will help buildings become more self-sufficient, thanks to advanced autonomous technology applications supplementing IoT sensor networks. AI programs will not be able to do everything themselves, but they will function with less human intervention and know when to stop and ask for help, such as when they recognize anomalies.

This increased adoption will further advance the technology and accelerate the capabilities. AI is also vital for technicians managing complex equipment, as it can collect and analyze thousands of internal and external variables to predict outages and recognize when something is wrong. Remote maintenance and access teams will increasingly depend on AI to monitor equipment and energy utilization.

smart spaces
(Photo: Adobe Stock/Diversity)

3. Retrofits Over New Construction

There’s more value in upgrading what already exists instead of constructing new buildings to both reduce the embodied carbon emissions around manufacturing steel and concrete and to preserve the aesthetic qualities of historic structures. Demolishing older buildings to build new ones expends significant energy and hastens the loss of cultural heritage and continuity. Updating older buildings adds the benefit of new energy-efficient features and can be done while preserving the integrity of the building’s original design.

Smart energy retrofits involve installing new hardware and software to reduce a building’s energy utilization while improving occupant comfort. It can also include replacing windows and adding programmable blinds that respond to excess solar glare, installing motion-sensitive lighting, and adding security. For large commercial operations, buildings are the most liquid assets. Stock markets veer up and down cyclically, but buildings’ value remains generally stable. An optimized, retrofitted smart building, no matter how old it is, will hold a higher value of the building over a structure that is not upgraded.

4. Strengthening IT And OT Border To Increase Cybersecurity

Smart building connectivity has transformed how a building’s essential systems communicate, and this interoperability brings immense advantages in service and functionality. The line between IT and OT departments has become blurred as HVAC, parking, lighting, building access, and more are connected through IoT networks. However, this level of automation creates new security issues. OT networks can be more vulnerable to cyberattacks than main IT networks because of less aggressive monitoring. Cross boundary connections can make OT systems the equivalent of unmonitored back doors into a secure computer network.

Boosting cybersecurity is critical as operational technology can be a pathway for hackers. A growing threat in this era of geopolitical instability is the transition from “cyber-finance” to “cyber-physical” breaches, i.e., state-sponsored, large-scale attacks against critical infrastructures, with the attendant risk to people’s health and safety.

Taking proactive measures to secure these OT networks will lower the risk of cyberattacks and ensure safety and security. Methods include implementing firewalls to control network access; walling off networks by floors or zones to create distinct borders between the IT and OT departments; encrypting communications between authorized devices and operator terminals to identify unexpected patterns that may occur on the OT network; establishing virtual private networks (VPNs); and staying on top of software and security patch updates.

5. Surge In Electric Vehicles Requires Managed Charging

More cities are investing in electrification infrastructure to lessen pollution and lower carbon footprints. Los Angeles is leading the way and is working to make EVs more available to a broader swath of residents through cash incentives. It now has more than 17,000 EV drivers and more than 5,000 public charging stations, 614 of which are free EV charging stations. A concern is managing peak charging loads, which can pressure public grids and potentially cause outages.

Building Security: Facing Converging Cyber-Physical Risks

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As transportation becomes increasingly electrified, local governments are paying closer attention to how charging stations affect the grid. Because EV systems are part of a building complex, they will likely become more regulated. Building managers will need comprehensive tracking tools to ensure energy is allocated for peak demand and to avoid penalties.

6. Clean Indoor Air Is A Top Health Concern

We expect to see more air-quality sensors installed as businesses proactively manage indoor air quality. In the wake of COVID-19, indoor air quality has become a vital concern to consumers and employees who do not have the option of remote work. They want to be sure they are in a space that has healthy air, especially when the air outdoors is polluted from wildfire smoke or other kinds of environmental issues.

Clean indoor air has been shown to carry a productivity bonus —a Harvard study reported that the benefits of ventilated, clean air calculate to about $6,500 per individual annually. Air filtration systems are essential to indoor health, as they can help to lessen the spread of airborne germs and promote the dispersal of purified air throughout a space. 

smart spacesDésiré is the Product and Solution Launch Manager for Distech Controls. He is passionate about designing products and services that leverage the latest technologies and support innovative business models to develop differentiating digital offerings.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

Check out more technology and facility management news in previous Facility Executive Tech & FM Columns.


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