Commercial Building Sensors and Controls Systems: Barriers, Drivers, and Costs

Kim Trenbath, Ryan Meyer, Korbaga Woldekidan, Kristi Maisha, Morgan Harris

Research output: NRELBrochure


Building sensors and controls systems, including building automation systems, consists of the sensor-based devices installed in buildings and the control and automation of those devices. Optimized sensors and controls systems could lead to 29% annual energy savings in commercial buildings and are integral to the growth of grid-interactive efficient buildings. Only 8% of small commercial buildings, however, have installed sensors and controls systems. This is largely due to cost barriers. This work seeks to increase the transparency of system costs and identify specific barriers and drivers for increased adoption. To gather industry insights, the team reached out to building owners, vendors, and contractors and conducted 20 interviews with the goal of collecting cost data and market characteristics regarding building sensors and controls. The qualitative interview data was analyzed using grounded theory to identify overarching concepts, such as barriers, drivers, and future directions on the field. From this analysis, primary barriers were found to be complexity, a lack of knowledge, and money. Primary drivers were found to be the knowledge of data, savings, and remote access. The qualitative cost data was collected in the form of invoices during the interviews. The cost values were used to develop a percentage-based cost stack which identifies the average fraction of the total cost attributed to each category (hardware, software, labor, fees, and taxes). This greater understanding of costs and barriers associated with commercial building sensors and controls systems lays the groundwork for future steps in increasing system adoption, reducing energy consumption, and market transformation.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages4
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/BR-6A50-82750


  • advanced building controls
  • advanced controls
  • building controls
  • commercial buildings
  • cost stack
  • market barriers
  • market drivers
  • sensors and controls


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