Business executives often talk about the importance of running companies efficiently. Sales trips can be replaced by phone calls and offsite corporate retreats don’t need to be held at five-star resorts. Yet there are opportunities to save money and support sustainability using a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. Merging the two, businesses can decrease energy usage, improve air quality and save money.
In 2018, United States energy consumption rate was a record high 2,258 gigatonnes of oil equivalent, or GTOE, an increase of 3.5% over the previous year. (GTOE measures the amount of energy created by burning a tonne of crude oil. The measurement unit is often used in the energy industry.) That increase was primarily driven by demand for electricity and gas.
Office building optimization
While it’s tough to know exactly how much energy is wasted each year at work, businesses can do a lot to reduce usage. What office employee hasn’t walked past an empty conference room that has the lights shining and TV blaring? Companies can decrease energy usage in buildings by utilizing smart controls (often programmed with IoT and AI) to better connect occupancy and energy consumption.
“Using AI and IoT to tell a building when we will arrive or when we leave can reduce energy waste by as much as 50 percent from today’s baseline, and have a major impact in reducing operating costs while improving sustainability and resiliency,” explained Brad Dockser, founder of the global energy solutions provider Green Generation.
Over the past year, Green Generation worked with Ohio’s General Services Administration to install LED lighting, update air conditioning units and place new water heating systems at three government buildings. The upgrades are forecasted to save over $80,000 in electrical and water costs the first year.
It’s not just offices that can improve energy use. Many grocery chains have swapped out fluorescent lighting for LED lights in the frozen and refrigerated food sections. These lights use less energy and create less heat – which also reduces the amount of needed refrigeration. When combined with motion sensors, the lights in the frozen and refrigerated cases only turn on when shoppers come near.
Changing lightbulbs may seem like a small step, but it’s an important one. “Lights in our homes and offices still account for a substantial part of our energy use,” explained Matt Daigle, CEO of Rise, which provides sustainable options for building and home improvement projects.
These smart lighting systems have IoT-connected motion sensors and only turn on when movement is detected, he explained. In offices, such systems can be particularly impactful in hallways and staircases that are only occasionally in use. At home, driveway lights can be programmed for use only at night.
Cleaner factories and plants
Beyond lighting, energy consumption on individual office or factory machines can be optimized. For example, when WattTime’s recommended “smart plug” systems are installed on devices, batteries and thermostats, they can continuously monitor and update power data from grids and automatically switch to the cleanest available energy supplier.
Factory and power plant emissions can also be impacted. Under the Clean Air Act, businesses are required to meet specific standards, explained Professor David Nadler, department chair of Environmental Technology and Sustainability at the New York Institute of Technology.
IoT sensors embedded within smokestacks and chimneys are able to collect large sets of data, examining chemical emissions such as sulfur dioxide compound concentrations and local meteorological conditions with an understanding of how each may impact the other.
“This has led to the advancement of the Integrated Support Vector Regression Emission Monitoring System (i-SuVEMS), a machine learning tool that can predict emitted gases by electrical demand,” he explained. Through engineering and administrative controls, energy providers can use such prediction modeling tools to adjust output and help meet their sustainability requirements.
Not a Magic Bullet
Although AI and IoT offer several potential advances for creating sustainable homes and buildings, Daigle advises careful implementation. Many IoT technologies are designed to increase energy efficiency, but analyses may fail to look at the “mega energy footprint” — how these savings compare to the energy used to generate them.
“The Internet of Things offers an opportunity for companies to improve their sustainability and to increase energy efficiency and performance,” said Daigle. “As with all aspects of sustainability, IoT is not a fix-all solution. The actual daily process of learning to live sustainably will allow businesses to take full advantage of the possibilities that the Internet of Things promises.”
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