Buildings can help create a sustainable future

Schneider Electric

By Paul Crothers
Friday, 27 November, 2020

Buildings can help create a sustainable future

Imagine your ideal building of the future: sustainable, flexible and efficient — designed around and operating in sync with the people who inhabit it.

You don’t need to think too hard — the smart buildings of the future are already here and they aren’t necessarily the latest gleaming office tower. Increasingly, building owners are taking advantage of digital technology to retrofit existing buildings, with dramatic improvements in comfort, flexibility and efficiency.

Smart, digitised buildings of the future are about much more than cost and comfort — they can lead us towards a carbon-neutral world. With sustainability a pivotal issue for companies across the nation, reducing the emissions that flow from our buildings can be a crucial step in meeting carbon-neutral targets.

Buildings account for 40% of carbon emissions, and we could cut a third of those emissions through greater efficiency alone. One-third of the energy we create for most buildings today is wasted — lights are on when there’s no one there, or air conditioning is working ineffectively.

Each year, new (hopefully clean and green) buildings account for less than 1% of the buildings in our cities. The biggest potential gain for our climate comes from retrofitting existing buildings. And when we combine digitisation with electrification we unlock massive efficiency benefits.

The first step in improving the energy efficiency of a building is using digital assets to understand inefficiency, so you can make decisions and automate actions to address it. Digital is a key enabler of sustainability for buildings, providing the capacity to monitor and manage facilities, creating that cost and climate-saving efficiency.

The technology for efficiency is here today, but that tech is often siloed and different functionalities aren’t working together. Digital enables us to blend, putting data in the hands of users and allowing them to make decisions to better operate buildings.

The data captured by a building’s traditional operating technology (OT) — including building management systems for air conditioning, electrical and energy, security, lighting and more — often sits unanalysed and underexploited. We need to ensure the opportunities provided by the Internet of Things (IoT) can interact with a building’s fundamental operating technology to allow its data to be leveraged to enhance a building’s ability to become smart and sustainable.

The increasing quantities of valuable data trapped within traditional OTs needs to be unleashed through the convergence of OT and IT solutions that can be enabled with an IoT-enabled platform.

Smart building systems monitor and alter parameters according to user needs — it comes back to helping people work productively; everything from the right light, CO2 levels, heating and cooling, security, and space utilisation.

For the occupant, the building can alter all these systems according to their needs, providing more comfort and an enhanced working experience. In the smart building, so much comes down to space utilisation and space activation, understanding what is going on across the workplace, around the workplace and where people are most productive. It’s about making the right, functional space available at the right time.

Operating our buildings better saves energy, activating services and spaces when and how they are needed, creating spaces for a purpose, with the right level of comfort, lighting and environmental conditions — providing optimum conditions for teams and sustainability.

New technology means building hardware can be altered by software. Software that used to control a floorplate can now zero in on rooms — the air conditioning, the lighting and spaces can be broadened into two, three or four zones.

Traditionally, building systems were built as a fixed arrangement — to make changes to a space or to the functionality of the space, you had to physically shift equipment and people. Now technology allows us to reconfigure the space based on how the space is being used around it.

As we know, what enables smart buildings is the IoT element, activating rich data so it becomes active, available and actionable. Schneider Electric provides IoT-enabled platforms such as EcoStruxure Building Operation that allow for the integration and activation of building data into the IT space, which then allows further integration with activities and services that are more user or business centric.

The next step towards a smart, sustainable building is managing your energy source. We must maximise electrification. Electricity is the most efficient form of energy, especially when digitised to control demand and supply — going all electric and all digital ushers in a new era of Electricity 4.0.

Electricity should come from renewable sources. With the proportion of renewable generation growing steadily, companies should be looking to Power Purchasing Agreements. Schneider Electric’s advisory division, Energy and Sustainable Services, has negotiated many of these procurement solutions for companies big and small.

Some businesses are becoming independent of the network by implementing their own microgrids. We helped South Australia Produce Market do just this. Previously, the market’s electricity had been externally supplied — now the market has installed a solar-powered microgrid, giving it autonomy, and it is significantly cutting power bills.

Microgrids, powered by solar or wind, reduce carbon footprints, and when combined with battery storage, allow buildings to operate independently of the grid. Solar is a great energy option for many buildings, even creating the potential to become an energy prosumer, selling energy back to the grid.

This pandemic year has seen relationships with places of work change. As we develop new, more flexible ways of working, smart buildings can assist that transition, adapting and evolving to the requirements of the workforce.

Data has played a key role in our changing ways of work as we’ve embraced remote working. As we contemplate returning to offices in greater numbers, data will enable us to have the necessary information around levels of safety and comfort in the physical environment. It will allow us to better utilise our corporate spaces in safer and more productive ways.

A new offering from Schneider Electric can assist, providing Australia’s first all-in-one approach to digitally managing buildings’ operations and energy consumption. The Connected Room Solution is an IoT ecosystem that senses dynamic environments and makes automatic and on-demand app-enabled adjustments to lighting, air conditioning and blinds, while also providing interaction with the next generation of smart building IoT devices.

The technology allows us to reconfigure the space based on how it is being utilised, providing dynamic adjustment of environmental conditions for the users’ immediate surroundings. It makes a building responsive to the changing needs right now, but also futureproofs it.

The buildings of the future must be both sustainable and productive. Today’s global demands for sustainability and flexibility will push the transformation of buildings into overdrive. To survive and thrive as a building developer, owner and operator, you need to capture the power of the all-digital, all-electric world with more efficient and people-centric buildings.

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Image credit: © difeng

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