2021 is the year of the sensor

2021 is the year of the sensor

By Stacey Lucas, Commercial and Marketing Director at Sontay

With many of us hoping 2021 will be a better year, Stacey Lucas from Sontay a market leader in the supply of building sensors, gives insight into the building controls trends we’ll see in the new year including the use of remote technology to monitor asset environmental performance.

It is safe to say that people’s habits have changed since the pandemic started last year. Those once sceptics of technology have – through no other reason than social isolation – have become far more reliant on digital solutions to go about their everyday lives. This dependence on technology is not something new, indeed it has been steadily evolving over the past few years, it’s simply that the pandemic has forced the moment to its crisis, so much so that relatively unknown platforms including Zoom are now household names.

Smart automation in residential and commercial dwellings are increasing in adoption, primarily because as a nation we are working and living a lot differently compared to a year ago. From a commercial asset owner’s perspective, remote monitoring in particular is making a massive difference, and it is a trend that will only gain momentum in 2021 whilst the majority of UK workforces are still working remotely.

With remote monitoring technology, asset owners, engineers and facilities managers no longer need to physically visit a building to resolve an issue. Whether it be measuring the environmental performance or taking care of a leakage, personnel simply dial into a building management system (BMS) via a cloud-based platform to see what’s going on. Important decisions are made promptly and confidently from the comfort of their own homes. Gone are the days when an engineer would routinely have to spend hours commuting to a site at the opposite end of the country to check on a site. From a carbon point of view and in terms of overall efficiency, this was never a good use of time, even though it was the way to do things. However, with remote monitoring engineers can easily resolve an issue in a far quicker timeframe. It is even better to know that should a BMS report a leakage, engineers can take the right course of action without needing to travel.

As all this data is stored in the cloud, data centres across the UK are consistently monitoring the performance and security of servers. With cloud-based solutions becoming more popular, over the next few years we will see the technology get even more mature and sophisticated, so it can handle with the increasing amount of data that must be made available.  These data centre’s themselves then need to be remotely monitored too so the need continues to grow and evolve.

PM 2.5 indoor sensors

The next trend that the industry will see in 2021 is indoor sensors to detect the presence of particulate matter 2.5 or 10 (PM 2.5/PM 10) in the atmosphere. Particulate matter refers to any aggregate of solid particles or liquid droplets that remain suspended in the air for a period of time and include dust and salt particles, and water and sulphuric acid droplets. The sector has always measured the same variables in order to control temperature for occupancy comfort and energy efficiency. In the past, there wasn’t the demand to create air quality sensors that detect particulate matter; instead, the focus was on measuring CO2 levels and VOCs, both of which can have negative effects if high levels are present.

Particulate matter however, and its link to air quality is gaining in interest. For the main part the industry is seeing this spurt in demand as a result of the large amounts of air pollution in cities such as London, a volume which has unfortunately proven to be fatal in a minority of cases. As safety is always paramount, there is a push at present to start measuring the indoor air quality, especially because the air we breathe inside has to be cleansed of the particulate matter that lies outside. Measuring it, therefore, will ensure that the air we breathe inside is good for our minds and bodies.

Although there are many sources, PM 2.5 pollution tends to peak in the winter months. Wood burning, coal-fuelled stoves and open fires are large contributors to emissions of particulate matter both in the UK and across Europe. It is interesting and welcoming to see that the introduction of indoor PM 2.5 sensors is coming at a time when the UK is also reducing its carbon emissions.

This demand for more sensors in general is being propelled by the London Mayor’s Breathe London strategy, which was launched in January 2019 and aims to provide residents in London with up-to-date air pollution information, provided by sensor technology. But we have also seen the EU introduce some new legislation on particulate matter and the levels deemed harmful. Clearly sensor technology is in high demand, and over the past year the likes of Sontay have seen architects and consultants specifying more and more of them.

This drive has been in part due to air pollution but also Covid-19. Numerous studies from American universities and an article from the Business Standard report that Covid-19 ‘piggybacks’ to ambient particulate matter. It is however, important to remember that other forms of bacteria in the atmosphere fix themselves to PM 2.5 in the same way. It is therefore, a long-term concern that has been brought to mainstream attention in lieu of the coronavirus.

There is a possibility then that these sensors can be used for monitoring the likely spread of Covid-19 plus the amounts of harmful pollution in urban areas. Sontay is seeing a rise in the number of specifications, especially from a high level, of these solutions and hopes to unveil a PM sensor later on this year.

With PM sensors being steadily introduced and remote monitoring a saving grace for many, the small but mighty sensor is definitely here to stay. They are proving their mettle during a time of great instability and have been heralded by key government individuals and bodies as one of the ways to clamp down on problematic levels of air pollution. From a sensor technology point of view, I daresay 2021 will be a very good year.



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