Image credit: Prescriptive Data/Nantum Building OS
The office as we once knew it has changed. The pandemic forced many office employees to work from home. While some companies hope to welcome employees back to the office, employees aren’t fully on board. A Pew Research Center study found that 54 percent of employees who can work from home say they want to continue to do so after the COVID-19 outbreak subsides, and 64 percent of teleworkers indicate they would be uncomfortable returning to the office.
Companies that plan to bring employees back into the office are scaling down office space and are rethinking the open-concept design to accommodate flexible work scenarios. As the use of office space shifts, building vacancies will reach nearly 20 percent across the U.S., and fewer employees will work in each office.
Maintaining empty or sparsely populated offices is an operational challenge. HVAC systems consume the most energy in commercial buildings. The system has to work well for the employees in the building, but not waste energy maintaining vacated spaces. Having a smart HVAC system can help property managers do both, while also lowering operational costs.
The Ins and Outs of Air Quality
Smart HVAC systems integrate artificial intelligence to help property managers monitor a host of factors, including air quality and temperature, two of the biggest concerns of office workers.
Monitoring indoor air quality protects against the spread of irritants and viruses. Bringing outdoor air into the building typically improves air quality, but it can introduce other types of irritants, such as pollen, and will almost certainly increase energy costs.
Office temperature is impacted by many variables, from sun exposure to flooring and furniture materials, to the frequency of doors opening. AI can analyze sensor data on indoor temperature, humidity, and airflow, and overlay that against outdoor weather conditions, furniture placement and absorption, human traffic flow, and the number of people in a space and where they are located.
Automated HVAC systems can allow office managers to create multiple small zones within a larger space, even an open one, to address high use areas or sunny spaces. AI and machine learning can identify patterns, automate adjustments, and ultimately provide bottom-line savings to building owners.
Building Management Systems Bring Big Savings
A smart HVAC system is even more effective as part of an integrated building management system. Prescriptive Data’s Nantum OS energy management system is one example of this. Nantum OS uses machine learning to assess historical HVAC use performance and to predict occupancy patterns. Combined with data from other connected utility systems and energy rates and tariffs, Nantum OS determines the most efficient operating levels for each system.
The Nantum solution is powered by Intel-based edge and cloud computing systems. The Nantum IoT gateways integrate Intel® Celeron processors, the CMS Servers are based on Intel® Core processors, and web access is supported through Intel® XEON processors. Property owners access a dashboard that provides real-time details about building performance and can even suggest ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
Rudin Management, a property management company in New York City, has deployed the Nantum OS energy management system. A study conducted by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) looked at eight of Rudin’s buildings during a six-year period and found the company saw annual savings of nearly 10 percent in occupied buildings and more than 13 percent energy savings in unoccupied spaces annually, netting Rudin $5 million in savings overall.
The expectation that all employees will return to the office full time is neither likely nor pragmatic in the short term. Smart HVAC systems can ensure property owners are meeting tenant needs in an efficient manner, without blowing the bottom line.