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Covid-19 Exposes Why We Need Remote Monitoring In Commercial Buildings

May 8, 2020

Why Commercial Buildings Need to Invest in Remote Monitoring

Focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency, the Modern Energy Management podcast invites innovators to discuss energy best practices that go beyond the meter. In this episode, we spoke with Matthew Ganser of Carbon Lighthouse about the impact of COVID-19 on energy management in commercial buildings.

Matt is the VP of Engineering and Technology for Carbon Lighthouse, a company that offers Energy Savings-as-a-Service for commercial real estate portfolios. Using AI-driven technology, Carbon Lighthouse has demonstrated that it is profitable to reduce energy consumption, in over 100 million square feet of commercial real estate

Unprecedented Public Health Crisis

The novel coronavirus pandemic, which began in December of 2019, in Wuhan, China, has swept across the globe at epic speed creating an unprecedented public health crisis.

Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, many countries, including the United States, have issued shelter-in-place orders, requiring non-essential businesses to shut down and for residents to stay at home. While most shelter-in-place orders in the United States will remain in effect until at least the end of May, many companies like Atlassian, Dropbox, and Facebook have already asked employees to continue working from home into June, July, and possibly even later in the year. At this stage, there is no vaccine for the virus and great uncertainty looms surrounding when, or if, things will return to business as usual.

Second Order Effects Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

With much of the world sheltering-in-place, many commercial buildings bear a resemblance to ghost ships floating aimlessly in the open seas without a crew aboard. While workers are mandated to stay at home, these buildings, that were once centers of commerce only weeks ago. But not all buildings, and businesses, are faring the same.

Which Commercial Buildings Are Faring The Best During The Pandemic?

In the era of shelter-in-place, Ganser states that the buildings faring the best from an energy management perspective, are those capable of remote monitoring and control.

Unfortunately, Ganser also notes that COVID-19 has laid bare both an underinvestment in our commercial buildings as well as the reason why such investment is so important. From the process of value engineering to holding off on projects due to the difficulties associated with implementing major upgrades when a building is fully occupied, a great many building managers have been caught off guard by COVID-19 and left ill equipped to monitor their building performance remotely as a result.

Is Remote Monitoring A Pathway to Resiliency?

Ganser estimates that less than half of all commercial buildings are capable of being accessed or operated remotely. However, remote monitoring is critically important to successful energy management with or without a pandemic. The power of many energy efficiency initiatives is that they can save a tremendous amount of money without any negative impact on the occupant experience. As building managers consider how to cope with situations like the COVID-19 pandemic moving forward, Ganser expects that we will see a sudden growth in the demand remotely view and control our buildings.

Where Building Operators, Energy, and Facility Teams Should Begin

When digging into existing building systems Ganser admits, “it’s not as simple as plug and play.” Gaining remote viewing privileges often times requires hardware, software, coordination between IT providers and Control providers, in addition to other little patches to get the job done. While remote monitoring and control are completely doable, Ganser suggests starting with the ability to view and access building data remotely. Specifically, Ganser advises facility mangers to, “get your IT and Controls providers on the same page,” to reduce friction in troubleshooting, understanding how to change setpoints or how systems are running, and expanding the number of data points that are collected, trended, and stored. To get started, Ganser recommends contacting your providers and telling them that you want to make your building more adaptable to changing load conditions. Luckily, much of this work can be done quickly and with little expense.

Is Now The Time To Setup Remote Monitoring?

The advantages of remote monitoring capabilities are significant. Facility managers can save significant time while improving energy management practices. Without a clear idea on how long shelter-in-place orders will remain in effect or whether we will experience similar measures moving forward, COVID-19 has exposed why remote monitoring is needed. For commercial buildings, Ganser believes that a silver lining of this situation could be the decision to invest in much needed upgrades while buildings remain largely unoccupied. If an upgrade has been neglected because it would require construction or powering down equipment, now might be the time to make it happen.

Simplify Remotely Accessing Your Building Data with BuildingOS

Accessing your building data is critically important to effective energy management, but as Ganser notes, this is not always an easy task. In addition to multiple utility accounts, commercial buildings also have a varying degree of data available from a wide range of assets and building management systems. Seamlessly integrating data from all your building systems is where we come in. BuildingOS is a comprehensive software platform that centralized all of your utility and building systems data, automates performance modeling, and allows you to remotely understand and act on real-time performance data to continuously improve operational efficiency and reduce costs. Want to see how BuildingOS can help your facility management team monitor your portfolio remotely? Contact us today!