Can smart plugs make a building more intelligent?
Technologies recover energy savings through enhanced efficiency
What’s the Point?
Individual smart technologies offer significant energy savings that add up to improved building operations. A Hines case study on "smart plug" technology demonstrated remarkable energy savings of over 20% in an office environment and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reports even higher energy reduction of 50-60% with smart plugs1.
This technology came into building design, improving energy efficiency, and even if your property hasn’t applied solutions like these yet, there is still time to enact positive change.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that buildings account for 40% of energy consumption, and that a significant portion is wasted due to inefficient use2. Hines has decades of power specification and annual power usage data at its disposal as it drives energy efficiency across its portfolio. That data led to concerns about the number of requests for increased plug-load power and usage at our properties, and the increased operating expenses that could be incurred.
Keeping Ahead of the Curve
Over a decade ago, Hines began a systematic study of emerging technologies to more effectively manage plug-load usage.
Hines engaged with an early manufacturer of “smart plug” technology whose product literature seemed promising and who had begun doing beta test installations to prove its product. The typical four-outlet smart plug set has a data collection function embedded in the module, which transmits usage data to a data collector hub, which then transmits that data to a cloud host, allowing both a review of trends and the establishment of control protocols to reduce consumption during periods of non-use.
After four months of data review, Hines hosted a beta test site at Williams Tower in Houston, Texas. The manufacturer provided a suite of smart plugs and the data collection hub, and ran them uncontrolled for a period of four weeks as a baseline, and then another eight weeks as a test, making minor adjustments to refine and test the energy efficiency effectiveness. Following the test period, the team reviewed the cloud data and verified the results (removing dates of heavy holiday vacancies, which might have skewed the results).
The team created a white paper that detailed the test and the results, confirming that the smart plug technology produced an electrical savings of over 20% during the test period in a normal office environment with standard office equipment, computers, printers, task lighting, etc. Using an average utility cost of $0.10/kWh, the payback on the equipment is in the two- to three-year time frame, which means that even under a five-year lease scenario, the occupier would be driving annual savings thereafter. The technology could also be programmed in a variety of ways, such as shutting down equipment based on time clocks or usage patterns, thus providing potential for savings.
Given these results, Hines began recommending that its major occupier clients consider smart plug technology in their fit-out design and specifications. Hines continues to seek technology solutions that improve building operations. The firm collaborates with the world's finest architects, engineers, and designers to offer the highest level of sustainable design, and partners with academic collaborators on forward-looking research that educates the next generation. Strong partnerships with leading manufacturers, has led to remarkable progress in implementing cutting-edge building strategies and technologies that drive positive change on a global scale.
The growth rate of smart plugs shows no signs of slowing down.3 As technology continues to advance and sustainability becomes an increasingly important aspect of building design, smart plugs remain a vital tool for improving energy efficiency and reducing waste. With ongoing innovations and the integration of smart home systems, the adoption of smart plug technology has continued to expand rapidly across residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. This continued surge in popularity reaffirms that smart plugs are not just a passing trend but a pivotal solution in our journey toward a greener and more sustainable future.
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