How Energy Harvesting Can Improve Smart Building Management

The Internet of Things (IoT) is already helping buildings to become smarter. As IoT technology and applications are increasingly capable of connecting thousands of sensors and allowing for real-time data collection and analysis, buildings will become more efficient and user friendly. From door locks to lights and beyond, there is a host of existing IoT applications that can turn any building into a smart building.

While these smart applications that are already in use can help companies to operate more efficiently, many smart devices still require costly batteries. Imagine thousands or tens of thousands of various edge-connected and battery-powered devices in one large building or warehouse. The costs of replacing batteries can add up and quickly, not to mention the harmful materials can leech into the environment when batteries are improperly thrown out. In some cases, batteries dying is a minor inconvenience. Take your smart thermostat, for example: if it goes out you no longer can regulate the temperature inside your building. In other cases, it could be much more serious – for example, if a carbon monoxide sensor stops working and were not able to detect the leak and alert the consumers of danger. Luckily, during the past few years there have been new technologies that are helping to significantly extend the battery life of connected devices, and even enable some to operate without any batteries at all, averting these unwanted scenarios.

One way that connected devices can prolong battery life is with a low power radio implementation that supports the latest Bluetooth 5.0 standard. The Bluetooth 5.0 platform has four times the range, two times the speed and eight times the bandwidth than that of its predecessors.

Another approach to reducing power consumption is to leverage functions like low-power radio and on-demand wakeup. Low-power radio technology is designed to enable connected devices to operate with minimal power, maximizing battery life. On-demand wakeup technology allows devices to listen for incoming transmissions (such as sounds) while remaining in a very low power state.

This battery-extending technology is also especially helpful for sensors that need to be placed in hard-to-reach spots, such as those monitoring for temperature or motion. Once a sensor is placed, building managers will not need to worry about retrieving the device repeatedly to recharge it or replace the batteries. The sensor will work for the lifetime of the device on the batteries that came with it.

Some smart building applications ideal for energy harvesting are those also geared towards improving sustainability and cutting down on energy costs. IoT platforms can be used to monitor the energy consumption patterns within a building and analyze the data to produce targeted recommendations for reducing energy use. Sensors can monitor a facility around the clock and provide insight into how and when the facility uses energy. This smart building data can be used to increase efficiency and strategically reduce overall consumption for optimal building operations.

Another application ideal for energy harvesting are sensors that can be utilized to monitor the well-being of a building or facility with increased visibility. For example, water leak detectors help notify building owners about early-stage pipe failures and will activate valve shut-down to prevent severe water damage. Additionally, temperature and vibration metrics of critical assets – such as an elevator – can reveal potential or ongoing issues and flag the need for inspection. When paired with system analytics, sensor inputs on inclination, crack formation and humidity exposure can help monitor the structural integrity of a building.

Door card readers and electronic badges (eBadges) are also used often in smart buildings, along with locationing beacons which can help people navigate indoors. Since a smartphone GPS is not very helpful for navigating around a large facility, some buildings take advantage of indoor locationing beacons based on Bluetooth 5.0 to send information to the users’ smartphone, so they know exactly where they are at every moment. Another popular use case is automated lighting systems that use sensors to detect movement and turn the lights on or off, saving electricity when a room is not occupied.

In recent times, the physical workspace and hybrid work from home are changing the usage of office spaces. By having sensors that monitor the occupancy and usage of common employee facilities, office and / or building managers can configure the space for better utilization. Low power Bluetooth sensors that monitor occupancy help collect that data for such applications.

Traditional office and commercial spaces are changing as IoT applications and connected devices are presenting new opportunities for operating, monitoring and servicing facilities. As the number of IoT and smart building applications continues to grow, it is critical to implement these battery-free solutions, such as energy harvesting, to support this new era of connectivity in a more sustainable way.

Srinivas Pattamatta is VP of Marketing and Business Development at Atmosic Technologies.

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