Most mosques have some problems in common. Who will lock and unlock mosque doors and at what time? Does the mosque remain open at all times or only at prayer times? For what services should the AC or Heat turn on? At what temperature? And so on.
Many mosques also regularly struggle to control energy costs and especially "energy waste." The waste is a major issue in most mosques because you just can't turn only one light on or cool one room only.
Our mosque facility is a 35,000 Sq.-Ft multi-winged and multi-purpose facility which requires around $50,000 per year in utilities. Our gym alone requires three massive AC or Heat units to be turned on seven hours before a program in order to reach the desired temperature in deep winter and most of the summer. To control energy costs, we have two prayer halls (Medina Hall), a small one for Fajr, Dhuhr, and Asr, and a huge one (Makkah Hall) for Maghrib, Isha, and Jumah/Eids.
In my search to reduce energy costs, the “Alexa-Enabled” house of one of my friends intrigued me. He can open or close his garage door through his phone. He also gets an alert if it opens while he is not home. His lights, thermostat, and door lock are controlled through Alexa. While sitting in any of the rooms, he can say "Alexa, show me the front door" and it shows him the view from his video doorbell. Another friend of mine gets alerts when his kids wake up and start moving around the house, through motion sensors.
Before we go any further, let me just educate our non-IT uncles about the “Internet of Things.”This is a recently coined term that refers to things being connected together and being controlled through a hub or remotely. The primary benefits of this technology are four; remote access, energy monitoring, scheduling flexibility, and voice commands.
Remote Access means that a person with an authorized device can operate something through the Internet even though he/she may be in another state or even another country.
Energy Monitoring allows one to see live energy usage. One can easily lookup their energy cost per KWH and multiply that by the amount of KWH used by this device and figure out EXACTLY how much they are paying for this device.
Scheduling Flexibility that comes with Wi-Fi devices is basically limitless. Since these devices are often controlled through an app or a hub, you can basically program anything in there. I have expounded more on this under “Wi-Fi-thermostats."
Voice Commands is basically all the Hollywood imaginations come to reality when man can talk in simple plain English to a computer. This has now become a reality through the Internet of things and the advancement of speech to text. Speech is converted in to text and interpreted by the computer and passed on to the device as a command instantly. Welcome to the future.
Now getting back to the issue at hand, although I have been an advocate of Wi-Fi-controlled devices at the mosque for a long time, this caused a huge light bulb moment in mind and got me thinking about all the possibilities. I believe that a true Wi-Fi-Enabled control system could be the solution to the Mosque/Islamic Center energy costs problem.
Although the title says "Alexa," It could be any other unified system. Alexa and Google Assistant are open to third party Wi-Fi-switches/devices that can be cheaper then Samsung, which requires its own devices, according to my knowledge. I may be outdated in my information but all you really need is a dependable hub that allows third party Wi-Fi-switches that were much cheaper than brand name Wi-Fi-switches.
I strongly believe that an investment of $1,000-$3,000 would be recuperated within the first year and it might even result in more savings that the cost to upgrade. Please note that my installation costs are extremely rough. Here are some examples of how Wi-Fi-enabling can help reduce waste and increase efficiency. They are not in any particular order of importance.
Wi-Fi + Video Door Bell and Lock: One of the most common problems that occurs at many mosques and causes problems is the locking and unlocking. Nowadays, there are several locks available in the market that allow control through Wi-Fi. A mosque could schedule the doors to be unlocked at the same time every day for each salah without anyone physically there to do it. If someone comes at a time earlier or later than scheduled time, a video door bell could be used to determine if this person is allowed entry or is he a non-Muslim looking for information. His picture would be saved in the system and he could be asked to hold his ID to the camera to verify further and then the door could be unlocked.
Many mosques fear theft of their donation box and do not allow the mosque to be open unsupervised. A small non-Wi-Fi device called a “STEEL BOX INSIDE A WALL/OFFICE" with a just a slit that is visible for dropping donations is something that has been in the market for hundreds of years. Credit card terminals are also becoming the most common way to donate as more and more people (including me) do not use any cash.
If a mosque is kept locked due to the fear of the donation box being stolen and they have tied down the box in such a way and keep it empty most of the times, I believe the management is being wasteful by not allowing efficient use of the resources that have been used to build that mosque.
This could also be used for internal doors to different areas of the mosque. Our mosque has a school wing and a gym hall. There are times when they are locked or unlocked at certain times for a variety of reasons. This can also be easily managed through Wi-Fi locks connected to a hub that can schedule it to lock or unlock automatically.
Many mosques have a parking lot gate that opens and closes at certain times. This can also be controlled through Wi-Fi and can be scheduled to automatically open and close at certain times.
Lights and fans are the easiest to control. Simple switch installation allows Wi-Fi control. They can be scheduled according to scheduled activities and can be altered manually if needed. Wi-Fi control can allow them to be turned off in case some travelers used them and left them open. Lights and fans normally are not the biggest energy using items, unless you have 35 lights and 9 fans. Each hour of savings could be significant. A hub like Alexa or Google Assistant can also be set to alert someone if the lights are on at an unusually time. The manager can quickly look through the cameras remotely (also connected to the hub) and figure out what’s going on. Perhaps, its a secret political meeting between the members of the opposing group, in which case, the lights must turn off right away.
Air Conditioning (Hot or Cold) Systems are probably the biggest expense in most mosques’ energy cost. They aren't only expensive; they are easily left on by mistake. It has happened in my current mosque, my previous mosque, and commonly happens at other mosques. Sometimes we waste it on purpose. For example, we turn on the AC at Dhuhr time (12pm or 1pm) in our gym that requires six-seven hours to cool down. We do it in advance because no one will be there to turn it on at that time. This hour or two alone costs a lot.
With Wi-Fi-thermostats connected to hubs, they can be easily scheduled to turn on or off. Many non-Wi-Fi programmable thermostats allow scheduling but are limited in their application. They may only allow four adjustments in a day. Usually, these are:
Smart AC/Heat Vents have also come on the scene now. These vents have a temperature sensor that can sense if someone is in this room. If no one is present, the vent will turn off and the cooling or heating will be directed to other vents which do sensor people around. Thus, if one unit cools several rooms, these vents will cool only the rooms that are being used and put the unit on stand by once the desired temperature is reached.
Security cameras are something, which are already common in most mosques. However, connecting them to a Wi-Fi-enabled hub gives much better functionality. For example, the "manager" could say, "Alexa, show me what’s going on in men's prayer hall" and immediately, the camera that has been labeled "men's prayer hall" would pop up. One could say, "show me what happened here at 9pm on Tuesday." These are things that require setup only once. Many mosques also have live stream setup now. There can be commands such as "start or stop live streaming camera 1." Other than voice commands, it could also be done by a smartphone or an iPad even though a person is not present in the control room where all the equipment is installed.
Some mosques may have smaller devices like coffee makers, ice makers, etc. They can be scheduled or remotely commanded to turn on when needed and shut off when not needed.
Microphone system could also use some remote controls as well. Let's say there is a mic setup in the women's area that is used for asking questions. When there is a need for that, the manager or whoever is the authorized user can remotely turn on that mic and turn it off if there is too much noise in that room. If there are different wings in a facility such as prayer hall, gym, school, etc., there speakers could be connected to the hub can be remotely turned on or off by command or by automation.
The water system can be connected to the hub and provide some energy savings. The water doesn't need to be continuously reheated all throughout the day and night. In places where it’s hot, may be it doesn't need to be heated much at all at times. Whatever the mosque decides, it can be programmed into the system so the water heater only heats the water during certain times and leaves the water cold at other times. Water sensors that are Wi-Fi-enabled can be installed and can send alerts that water is leaking or a faucet has been left on. For mosques that have sprinkle systems, sensors for rain can be installed and sprinkler scheduled can be automatically adjusted to factor in the amount of water that came by rain.
Finally, let me address the big North Korean, Russian, and Chinese hacking concerns. Whether the hackers come from those countries or it’s just the ex-president's nerdy kid with a vendetta for his dad losing the election, it’s really not a major concern in my mind. What's the worst that can happen? They can flicker our lights and turn off the mic during the salah? Maybe they can get into our security cameras and see what's going on? So what? But just to avoid that, a big-name hub like Alexa, Google, Apple, Samsung products have constantly updated security and will protect you from most hackers. The one's they can't stop; no one can stop them.
These are just some suggestions for people to think “smart;" pun intended. I have seen mosques where crystal clear cost savings were not implemented simply due to the inability of the people in charge to DECIDE. For those who are not too sure, it would help to start small and increase, as your experience gets better.
There are probably many more creative things that can be done by the use of these modern technologies. Imagine if you could just tell Alexa to block all smartphone devices from the mosque Internet during khutbah and other programs? Hey, you probably can.
I would love to hear your comments.
Note: I did not write this article to make money, but I am an Amazon Affiliate, a really bad one, but I am.