Smart Buildings: The Mile High City’s Future-Focused Architecture

6144 North Panasonic Way, courtesy CBRE.

By Jay Wallace, content writer for New Western

Denver, a city known for its picturesque mountain views and vibrant urban life, is now distinguishing itself as a leader in smart building technologies. This article takes a look into how Denver’s real estate sector is embracing these innovations, highlighting the cost savings and efficiency gains that come with such advancements. 

Key Technologies Behind Smart Buildings

Smart building technology encompasses a wide range of systems and tools designed to make buildings more efficient, comfortable, and sustainable. Here’s an overview of some key types of smart building technologies:

  • Building Automation Systems (BAS) – Centralized systems control and monitor mechanical/electrical equipment like ventilation, lighting, power, fire, and security systems.
  • Energy Management Systems (EMS) – Optimizing energy consumption by managing energy sources, increasing efficiency and reducing costs.
  • Smart Lighting Systems – LED technology, motion sensors, and intelligent control adjust light intensity based on occupancy and natural light.
  • HVAC Control Systems – Sensors and IoT regulate temperature and air quality, adjusting to occupancy and weather.
  • Occupancy Sensors – Detect the presence/absence of people and adjust systems accordingly, reducing energy wastage.
  • Smart Windows – Electrochromic glass changes tint and thermal properties automatically in response to external conditions.
  • Renewable Energy Integration – Incorporate sources like solar panels and wind turbines for efficient energy management.
  • Water Management Systems – Optimize water usage and reduce wastage with smart systems.
  • loT and Sensors – A network of sensors and devices collects and exchanges data to optimize operations.
  • Security and Access Control Systems – Advanced security with biometric scanners, cameras, and automated locks.
  • Predictive Maintenance – Data analytics and machine learning forecast equipment failures, reducing downtime.
  • Digital Twins – Virtual replicas of physical buildings for simulation, analysis, and control.

The Rise of Smart Buildings in Denver

Denver’s real estate market is increasingly embracing smart technology, and several notable buildings in the city exemplify this trend:

Panasonic Enterprise Solutions (PESCO) Smart Building

Located at Peña Station Next, this LEED Gold-certified building is a prime example of sustainable design. It’s notable for producing more energy than it consumes, thanks to a 500kW solar power system and energy-efficient strategies. The building is equipped with an integrated building automation system, controlling air conditioning, lighting, electrical power panels, and battery control systems. This allows the building to automatically adjust power consumption based on battery charge and solar power availability, ensuring critical operations continue during power outages.

Civica Cherry Creek Office Building

Developed by Schnitzer West, this building features smart windows from View, Inc. These windows automatically adjust their tint based on environmental conditions, optimizing energy use and enhancing occupant comfort.

Denver CityNOW Project 

Part of Panasonic’s wider CityNOW smart cities initiative, this project is centered around a new light rail line connecting the area to the airport and downtown Denver. A solar-powered microgrid provides energy and backup storage for Panasonic’s new 120,000ft² technology and operations center. The project aims to develop the U.S.’s first carbon-neutral district energy plan in partnership with Xcel and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The area will feature environmentally sustainable development with free WiFi, LED street lights, pollution sensors, a solar-powered microgrid, and security cameras at the light rail station.

Denver International Airport Area Development

As part of the Panasonic CityNOW initiative, the area surrounding the Panasonic building, known as Peña Station Next, is being developed as a “Smart City.” This includes a 382-acre public-private partnership with the City and County of Denver for sustainable development. Features include an autonomous shuttle service and various smart city technologies like pollution sensors and security cameras.

The Current, River North

Developed by Schnitzer West and Craft Companies, this building in Denver’s River North Art District features View Smart Windows. These windows use artificial intelligence to automatically adjust, optimizing access to natural light while controlling temperature and glare. The building also includes modern amenities like car charging stations and secure bike storage. It represents an ecosystem of innovation, focusing on health and wellness benefits for tenants.

Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Technology

The Colorado Smart Cities Alliance has been instrumental in deploying one of the nation’s first vehicle-to-building fast chargers in Boulder, Colorado. This technology allows Electric Vehicles (EVs) to supplement the energy needs of commercial buildings, reducing peak energy demand and optimizing renewable energy efforts. A similar project involving bidirectional chargers is in place in Denver, connecting EVs to the grid and helping to power buildings.

Air Quality Monitoring

In partnership with Denver Public Schools, the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance has replicated Denver’s Love My Air program across multiple jurisdictions. This program provides real-time air quality data by neighborhood, supporting responsible interventions, education, and community empowerment activities.

Denver Building Electrification Program

A collaboration between BlocPower, Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC), and the City and County of Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency aims to decarbonize 200 low- to moderate-income households. This includes providing access to solar energy, community solar gardens, and replacing gas appliances with electric alternatives.

Data and Statistics: Measuring the Impact

The benefits of smart buildings go beyond environmental sustainability. They also offer significant cost savings. For instance, the PESCO building’s energy-efficient design and solar power system not only reduce its carbon footprint but also lower energy costs substantially. Smart windows in buildings like Civica Cherry Creek have been shown to reduce HVAC energy consumption by up to 20%, according to studies by View, Inc. This translates into considerable savings over the building’s lifespan.

Cost savings are indeed a significant factor driving the adoption of smart technologies in buildings. The integration of these technologies leads to substantial reductions in energy usage and, consequently, operational costs.

Energy Savings

A study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that intelligent efficiency measures applied to commercial buildings could save upwards of 50 terawatt-hours by 2030, assuming a conservative savings estimate of 20%. This is more than 1% of U.S. projected energy use by that year. Advanced building energy management systems, smart lighting, and smart HVAC systems are some of the key technologies contributing to these savings. For instance, advanced control strategies for HVAC systems can result in cost savings of 24-32% depending on the building type.

Lifecycle Cost Reduction

Energy accounts for around 30% of a building’s lifecycle costs during its operational phase. Making a building energy intelligent is crucial for reducing these costs. The integration of digital monitoring and control systems ensures that energy use for lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning is optimized, reducing unnecessary usage and minimizing energy wastage.

Effective Energy Management Systems

The installation of energy management and information systems (EMIS) has proven to be cost-effective. A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reported median energy savings of 4% for energy information systems and 9% for fault detection and diagnostic software among study participants after only two years. These systems are part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings initiative and have demonstrated significant energy-saving potential in commercial buildings.

Denver’s Smart City Vision

Denver’s smart building initiatives are part of a larger vision to transform into a smart city. The collaboration between CU Denver and the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance is a testament to this, focusing on urban solutions like energy, transportation, and infrastructure. Such partnerships are crucial in creating an ecosystem where technology, sustainability, and urban development converge seamlessly.

Challenges and Future Directions

Despite the clear benefits, the transition to smart buildings is not without challenges. High initial costs and the complexity of integrating new technologies with existing infrastructure can be daunting. However, as technology advances and becomes more cost-effective, these barriers are expected to diminish.

In conclusion, Denver’s commitment to smart buildings is a bold step towards a sustainable, efficient, and technologically advanced urban future. With significant cost savings and environmental benefits, smart buildings are set to redefine the Mile-High City’s skyline, making it a model for cities worldwide. As this trend continues, we can expect Denver to not only remain a beautiful city but also become a smarter, more efficient one.

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