VERGE Boston: M2M's 'huge leap forward' on energy savings

At VERGE Boston yesterday, panelists explored machine-to-machine communications, the burgeoning but poorly understood technology that experts predict will constitute a $1 trillion dollar industry by the end of the decade.

Machine-to-machine, or M2M, technology enables all kinds of devices -- heating valves, wireless sensors, in-flight recorders, and more -- to collect and share reams of data with analytics software that can in turn help systems function with near-perfect efficiency.

The sustainability implications of M2M are immense. With applications in fields as varied as energy, building management, transportation, and agriculture, M2M has the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 9.1 gigatons annually. That's equivalent to the 2010 emissions of India and the United States combined.

Panelist John Schultz, who directs AT&T's sustainability operations, noted that investments in M2M could produce carbon dioxide reductions equal to all renewable energy sources combined. Savings in resources like water and fertilizer could be equally significant.

Joining Schulz on the panel were Mark Bernardo, general manager of automation software at GE Intelligent Platforms, and Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services at Jones Lang LaSalle.

Probst, who last year received a VERGE 25 Award for his leadership in harnessing automation systems to make buildings operate more sustainably, gushed with enthusiasm for the opportunities M2M offers the real estate industry.

Probst observed that, while the concept of building optimization has existed for decades, the last few years have been characterized by "a huge leap forward" in optimization technologies, in large part because of the increased demand for energy savings during the Great Recession.

Probst said the latest M2M technology gives building managers "the ability to pull data out of the buildings, run analytics, and really continuously fine-tune and optimize the energy performance of buildings."

"We're finding incredible savings," said Probst, citing consistent reductions in energy consumption of between 10 to 20 percent in less than two years.

Probst also noted that M2M can produce efficiencies within a building's operations that even the best engineers cannot replicate.

"Building operating engineers cannot watch every valve and damper and how it's performing in the building," he said. "Through technology we've got eyes and ears that tell us when performance is beginning to degrade or when something's not performing in an optimal way and can make those corrections almost instantaneously."