The 4 Golden Principles for Smart Building Systems

In the 1970's, Jimmy Carter urged Americans to embrace energy efficiency as a way out of the country's oil crises. He insisted that his fellow citizens sacrifice for the country by donning a sweater and turning down their thermostats.

Shivering, he insisted, was the new patriotism. He even insisted on having his picture repeatedly taken wearing a wool cardigan, and termed the struggle for energy efficiency as the "Moral Equivalent Of War." His political opponents soon made a habit of showing the goofily sweater-clad president at campaign events and mercilessly pointed out that his favorite term could be summed up by the acronym M.E.O.W. Needless to say, President Carter lost the 1980 election.

Fast forward 30 years and we are on the forefront of a revolution in energy efficiency. But this time is really different. Instead of sacrifice and discomfort, the new wave of energy efficiency technologies are based on waste reduction. Instead of manually turning down thermostats, everything is automated.

At IDC Energy Insights, we are exploring the arena of commercial building management systems, which we call smart buildings. These systems offer to chop off between 30 and 50 percent of the cost of energy for a typical commercial building. Some ideas have already failed. Others are on the verge of a tremendous buildout. The differentiators between the failures and the successful systems are what I call the four golden principles for smart building systems, enumerated here:

1) Non-Intrusion: If a system requires the inhabitants of the building to be uncomfortable, it will fail. The key to energy efficiency has nothing to do with making people suffer, it's identifying and eliminating waste. An intelligent sensor system that recognizes hot and cold spots and adjusts the ventilation system accordingly will go farther in reducing energy costs than any attempts to turn down thermostats by fiat. One example is Cavet Technologies' fluorescent lighting control equipment, which can reduce energy costs for lighting systems by 20 percent without anyone noticing a difference in brightness.