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Fine-tune your building's energy use with new wireless controls

Image of brightly-lit office building stairwell
New wireless controls for small or medium sized facilities make it easier than ever to fine-tune your building's energy use. And, when combined with energy efficient lighting, controls can yield an energy reduction as high as 90 per cent.

Manage your building efficiently with wireless controls

Lights in the stairwell that no one ever uses. The thermostat that's always forgotten at closing time. Security and access systems.

For medium-sized buildings, there's now potential for all systems to be coordinated through one central set of controls — wirelessly.

"There are now wireless controls that are suited to a small or medium-sized facility, where it would be too expensive to put a full-scale building management system," says Jorge Marques, manager of technology and innovation with BC Hydro.

Marques says wireless systems now allow centralized control of a building’s lighting and HVAC, letting businesses cut costs by fine-tuning their energy use.

"You can control lights from a central schedule, control your HVAC a little better in terms of timing and occupancy. It's just a matter of getting the sensors in place," he says.

Dual-function wireless controls offer energy savings with easy installation

While building automation and controls have been used for decades, wireless models are allowing more detailed control over building systems without many of the design and labour challenges involved with running hard-wired systems.

Retrofits of existing commercial buildings offer a great application, says Marques, because a wireless system can be installed without disturbing tenants. "There's less disruption, it's easier and cheaper to install, and you get the same functionality," he says.

Combine controls with energy-efficient lighting for greater energy savings

Marques says control technology has improved significantly over the years. Coupled with other technology, such as fluorescent and LED lighting that is fully dimmable, these systems can make a substantial dent in energy consumption — without losing safety or comfort.

"A lot of the systems use dual technology, with infrared and ultrasonic sensors built into the same unit. The infrared detects when a thermal image of the space changes [e.g. when a person enters], and the ultrasonic uses ultrasonic waves to map out a space, even to see around corners. Even if somebody comes down a stairwell out of sight, it would be able to recognize that. All of this really improves the reliability of the control," he says.

Pilot projects yield an energy reduction as high as 90 per cent

Marques' team at BC Hydro is testing wireless building control systems in pilot projects at Thompson Rivers University, in a parkade at the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, and at a care centre in North Vancouver.

He says the parkade retrofit, combining controls with new efficient lighting, is yielding a reduction in energy use of about 90 per cent, because the space is unoccupied so much of the time.

Another pilot is showing 80 per cent savings in energy. Overall, BC Hydro estimates that in lighting installations, wireless controls offer an additional 10-40 per cent energy savings on top of the savings gained from efficient lighting alone. HVAC controls can offer natural gas savings in the 10-25 per cent range.

Don't leave stranded saving opportunities behind

Marques says the rise of quality control systems for smaller buildings has increased the value of thinking comprehensively about any upgrade or retrofit.

"If you don't make a good plan, you can leave energy saving opportunities stranded," he says. "If you make a decision today to do a lighting upgrade and just go from a T12 to a T8 lamp, yes, you're going to get some savings. But if you bundle in the controls, it can add up to significant lost savings over time."

Marques says it's worth shopping around to make sure you work with a contractor who is comfortable installing controls, so that additional up-front labour costs are managed effectively and the overall payback is good. He says it takes more work initially to retrofit using wireless controls — but it's worth it.

"If you don't take advantage of these new technologies, you could be locking them out for a long period of time. So if you're doing an upgrade, always think about a combination: energy efficient technology, plus controls."