The Office of the Future: wireless ambient lighting, smart HVAC and transparency

The Office of the Future is loaded with sensors and switches that help the building react to its inhabitants more intelligently. Here's a look at the first, in California.

What I wouldn't do for ambient lighting in my office.

To be sure, there's something to be said for full-blown fluorescent light 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. It smacks of endless productivity.

No night? No problem! It directly feeds into that can-do American spirit.

But sooner or later, the body shuts down. It's time to go home. And that light suddenly becomes oppressive.

There's an answer, of course: ambient office lighting. And it's not just your tired brain that will thank you -- your chief sustainability officer and facility manager will, too.

A week ago, sustainable engineering firm Glumac announced that its Irvine, Calif. office is the first official "Office of the Future" -- that is, the first completed pilot project under the new North American Office of the Future Consortium, a nonprofit organization backed by major utilities such as Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric.

(Talk about walking the walk after talking the talk: Glumac advises clients on LEED, sustainability and green building.)

The program's intent is to take an integrated, tech-driven approach to lighting, lighting controls, plug load controls, heating and cooling system performance and metering for office buildings between 2,000 and 80,000 square feet.

At 8,672 sq. ft, Glumac's new office is on the low end, but it's packed with sensors and switches that drive its self-powered, wireless lighting, HVAC controls and low-flow plumbing.

The smart office sports:

  • Basic lighting comes from The Lighting Quotient's Tambient series, which integrates with furniture;
  • Ambient light sensors dim the lights when daylight is available;
  • Motion sensors automatically turn lights off when space is unoccupied;
  • Wireless, self-powered temperature sensors keep the HVAC informed;
  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures exceed industry flow baselines by more than 40 percent.

Designed by Gensler Architects, the office is seeking a LEED Platinum certification, the highest level for the U.S. Green Building Council standard.

How does the lighting system work, you ask? The sensors and switches send wireless signals to receivers around the office. Receivers mounted under the workstation desks control task lighting; other receivers turn off the lights and computer monitors when no one's around.

Seems simple, but it makes a big difference at the end of the month: lighting is about 30 percent of the total energy consumption of a commercial building. (Exhibit A: That glittering nighttime city skyline, pretty as it may be, is a great demonstration of all that wasted light.)

A gateway bridges the communications gap between the HVAC's temperature control system and the ambient lighting system, allowing them to share a single sensor network and share intelligence, so to speak.

On top of it all, there's a front-facing element, too: a video display in the lobby shows employees and visitors real-time picture on-site energy usage data.

Not a bad way to make the office smarter. Has your office gone green yet?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com