SMART TECHNOLOGY & THE POWER OF BUILDING AUTOMATION
We all know the annual celebration of Earth Day. What started as an annual day of peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental policy reform has become a day of action, celebrated in almost 200 countries. In some communities, the celebration continues for an entire week, known as Earth Week. Across the world, citizens will be planting trees, cleaning up litter, turning off electronics to save energy, using public transportation, walking or biking, and much more. But what about the other 364 days of the year? What else can we do to safeguard our planet for future generations? Can we literally build a better tomorrow?
The green av technology buildings of tomorrow are designed to be sustainable, adaptable, and efficient – but they are more commonly referred to as “Green.” What does it mean to be Green? Green buildings consume less energy and water, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the environment. The most widely-used and recognized certification for such buildings is the LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED was developed in the mid-1990s by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Since then, the LEED standards have constantly been evolving to better reflect and incorporate new construction methods and technology. Today, there are over 80,000 registered and certified LEED projects worldwide, representing around 13.8 Billion square feet of building space, with an additional 1.85 million square feet becoming certified every day.
LEED has grown from its origins as a single building standard for New Construction to a comprehensive system of standards including but not limited to the following categories - New Construction, Major Renovation, Core & Shell, Schools, Retail, Healthcare, Commercial Interiors, and Homes. Any building can be Green - and almost any building project can be LEED Certified. New construction projects are first registered with USGBC/LEED, and accumulate a number of points based on their design, construction, operation, and maintenance. The number of points a project earns determine its certification level. Within the current LEED standard, there are four levels - Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
Automated Smart Lighting
Smart energy technology plays a big part in the achieving and maintaining LEED standards. Since lighting alone represents about 38% of the total electricity usage in commercial buildings, more than any other building system, Lighting Control Systems are a must in Green building design. One company that has been at the forefront of Lighting Control, energy savings and sustainability is Lutron. Joel Spira, the company’s founder, invented the first practical and affordable solid-state electronic dimmer back in 1959. Lutron estimates that its dimmers alone save nearly 10 billion kWh and nearly $1 billion in energy costs every year. Today, Lutron offers what is known as “Total Light Management”, which includes devices and automation solutions for Lighting Control, Motorized Window Treatments, Daylight Harvesting, Energy-Efficient Lighting Fixture Ballasts and Drivers, and Environmental Sensors. In total, Lutron’s solutions can contribute to 46 out of the 110 possible points in LEED.
A vast majority of commercial spaces are over-lit, which wastes a significant amount of energy. Interior lights are often running at full power when there may already be an ample amount of natural light in the space. While typical office lighting levels are ideal for paperwork tasks, they can be 2-3 times brighter than what is ideal for computer usage and presentations using projectors or displays. Lutron’s integrated lighting control systems reduce energy usage by dimming and controlling light fixtures. These systems are available for every type of space, and scale up from single rooms to entire buildings and campuses.
A standard dimmer will use 4-9% less energy than a standard switch, even at 0% dimming. When dimmed, even greater savings can be achieved. On average, dimming a standard incandescent or halogen light source reduces energy use by 20%, and will allow a bulb to last up to 20 times longer. Maintenance and operating costs are drastically reduced.
Automated Smart Shades Can Save Lot's of Money
Motorized shading systems save energy by reducing and reflecting direct sunlight, which reduces heat gain within a space and the load on HVAC systems. Shade fabrics can be fitted with a white or silver backing to further reflect incoming sunlight. Fabrics generally fall into one of two categories. Sheer (or dim-out) shades allow a certain amount of light to filter through, while still reflecting direct sunlight and UV rays away from a building’s interior. Blackout shades, along with integrated side channels and sills allow no light to pass through, dramatically reducing heat gain and eliminating glare within a space. By using separate rollers with both shade fabrics, the proper amount of natural daylight can very simply be controlled and maintained.
Daylight harvesting leverages Lutron’s native integration across all of its product lines to manage both the electric lighting and natural daylight within a space. For example, on a sunny day, the system will automatically dim or turn off the interior lights and open the shades, constantly making adjustments to both systems based on the position of the sun and the fluctuation of exterior lighting levels. By maintaining the proper balance between the two light sources, companies can save energy while still offering the proper amount of light.
With the onset of more energy efficient bulb and fixture types, such as LED and CFL, dimming has proved to be a challenge. These bulbs do not operate the same way that traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs do. Lutron’s Ballasts and Drivers allow these bulbs and fixtures to dim all the way to 1% in some cases, which further saves energy and provides the additional benefits that come with dimming, such as longer bulb life, and lower maintenance and operating costs.
Lutron offers a wide variety of environmental sensors which do everything from single room control to integration with their larger, building-wide systems. Daylight Sensors constantly measure the amount of light in a given space, and serve as the basis of a Daylight Harvesting System. Lighting levels are automatically adjusted based on the amount of available daylight. Occupancy and Vacancy Sensors automatically detect when someone enters the room and switch the lights on. When the room is no longer in use, they ensure that the lights are never left on.
Lighting control is only part of the equation, however. Most modern offices are fitted out with Large Screen Displays, Projectors, Printers and Copiers, Personal Computers, Server Racks, and more. All of this equipment represents another 20% of electricity usage.
Many commercial electronics carry the Energy Star label, which means that they adhere to a strict set of standards when they are powered On, Off, or put in to Sleep mode. On average, electronics that are Energy Star certified consume 25% less energy. Since they use less energy, they can also contribute to LEED certification, in addition to Energy Star certification.
Smart Audiovisual Technology for Green Buildings
Projector technology has evolved in recent years to include Laser Light Sources, which do not use a traditional bulb. Since there are no bulbs to replace, the total cost of ownership is much lower than that of a traditional projector. There are several other advantages, such as higher brightness, and much longer lamp life – more than 20,000 hours in some cases, and nearly instant on/off – no “warm up” or “cooling down” period required. They can also run at half brightness which saves energy and further extends the projector’s life cycle.
These commercial electronics are often tied into larger integrated systems, and that is where control system manufacturers such as Crestron, AMX, and Extron can further contribute to energy savings. In many ways, this is the pinnacle of smart energy technology – the point at which all of these separate systems communicate and work together to conserve energy. Control systems provide a single interface from which a company can monitor and control all of its technology systems – Lighting, Shades, HVAC, and AV. In addition to constantly working towards introducing more efficient products themselves, these companies can take control of any 3rd party Displays, Projectors, Amplifiers, and more, scheduling them to turn off at the end of the day, or integrating with Lighting Control Systems’ environmental sensors to power them down when a room is unoccupied. Devices and controls can also be “locked out” to prevent unauthorized usage.
Building a better tomorrow means much more than just constructing green buildings. We must consider how these buildings will be used, who and what will occupy them, and how they will impact the environment. Modern offices rely heavily on technology, and since technology is always changing, it can be easy to take for granted. Those of us in the AV Integration industry are constantly looking for ways that this same technology can be leveraged to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create a more sustainable future for all of us.
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