The Future of Energy Efficiency

Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services at JLL.

Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services at JLL.
Photo: JLL

Interview by Jeff Harder

An interview with Jones Lang LaSalle’s Dan Probst on machine-to-machine technology.


It turns out that machine-to-machine (M2M) technology isn’t something out of a dystopian future. By harnessing breakthroughs like wireless sensors, cloud computing, and cutting-edge analytics software, M2M technology transforms a building’s lights, air conditioning, and other components into a single complementary system—one that regulates itself around the clock and pinpoints energy-wasting defects that can escape the most astute human observer. Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a commercial real estate services firm operating in 75 countries across the globe, explains the basics of M2M technology—and how it can still bring energy savings to the most eco-conscious buildings.

In its simplest form, M2M technology is where systems that are part of a bigger infrastructure directly communicate with another, making changes based on data like temperature and daylight without human intervention. They become self-controlled, self-optimizing systems that can pull in real-time data and make real-time changes.

Throughout history, buildings have always had some level of automation and control, but they aren’t always reactive to things going on in the building—changes in occupancy, changes in usage, changes in the weather outside. They might have achieved the right space temperature, for example, but maybe not in the most energy-efficient way.

M2M technologies are converging to make smart buildings—and their owners—even smarter. We can now perform real-time remote monitoring, commissioning, and control of entire portfolios of buildings, leading to dramatic improvements in building performance and meaningful energy savings. Specifically, smart building technology can generate energy savings of 8 to 15 percent annually almost immediately after deployment, with the potential for incremental improvements over time. M2M building systems generate profound reductions in a building’s energy consumption because the carbon footprint of the building literally shrinks with every equipment data sensor.

When you get down to smart building and M2M technology, two things happen. One, the performance of the system responds in real time, so the HVAC, for example, is constantly adjusting and fine-tuning—things get more dynamic. And two, the different parts interact with each other: the building automation system controls the HVAC, the lighting system might interact with the security system, the security system might tell the HVAC how many people have badged in. All of these systems start to talk to one another.

howsmart_diagramHow Smart Technology Works


Smart technology captures information from each building’s systems and sends the data to the IntelliCommand Center. Advanced algorithms developed by engineers identify and diagnose trends and patterns in the data, indicating possible equipment or operational issues. At the IntelliCommand Center, engineering professionals review and validate the information through a comprehensive facilities management platform to quickly address the issues before they become problems and constantly fine-tune operations to ensure buildings operate at optimum performance levels at all times.

In our experience, there aren’t too many buildings that aren’t good candidates for smart building technology. Certainly, big complex buildings are going to see bigger energy savings faster. Things get out of calibration with time—in a big building that can have a snowball effect: If one thing isn’t working right, other things will modify to make up for that. But there are some operational benefits that can translate to smaller buildings. Smaller buildings typically don’t have their own engineering staffs. With this kind of technology, if someone calls to say they are too hot or too cold, M2M technology can validate that there is a problem, do some diagnostics, and send a technician with the right skills and experience, and they can pick up the parts on the way.

Some of the things driving the interest in this technology are the desires to reduce energy expense, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to improve environmental performance. In some cases, there are regulatory drivers: More and more buildings have to report their energy performance. And there’s the fact that these can have such short payback times—we’re consistently seeing payback times around 18 months, but in some cases, it’s less than six. And as M2M technology continues to evolve, the sensors are going to get lower in price, the installation will become faster and easier, and the payback time will become quicker.

There are a lot of things you can do to green up your building that aren’t technology-focused—better insulation, better windows, better roofing, better weather stripping. But if you have an energy efficient building with the right envelope, the right lighting systems, the right HVAC system, how do you optimize the performance of those systems and equipment, in real time, all the time?

Over and over again, we see energy savings and performance improvements in smart buildings—we’ve installed the technology in a LEED Platinum building and still achieved more than 10 percent savings. However, despite how well designed a building might be, there’s a level of performance optimization that new technology can bring that older, less automated systems just can’t quite achieve. And this is a new tool for engineering teams to get new insight into how everything’s performing: Unless you have an engineer who can monitor every sensor and control in the building, you just can’t replicate what this technology can do.