Smart buildings are energy efficient. They intelligently control HVAC and lighting systems to improve occupant comfort and worker productivity. Smart buildings can lead cars to empty parking spaces and people to empty meeting rooms. They use data analytics, real-time sensing, and artificial intelligence to enable smart systems… but how many of these functions must be in place for a building to be called smart?
This is one of the key questions being addressed by the European Union (EU) in its Smart Readiness Indicator (SRI) program, which has started its preliminary phases this year. The hope is that an SRI will raise awareness amongst building owners and occupants about the value behind building automation and electronic monitoring of technical building systems and also give confidence to occupants about the actual savings of those new enhanced functionalities.
While still in the early stages of development, the SRI commission has outlied three critical goals a building should strive for in order to be considered smart: the ability to adapt to user needs, energy-efficient performance, and responsiveness to the electric grid. These three core pillars of the SRI are defined as follows:
- Adapt to User Needs — The ability to adapt its operation mode in response to the needs of the occupant paying due attention to the availability of user-friendliness, maintaining healthy indoor climate conditions and ability to report on energy use.
- Energy-Efficient Performance — The ability to maintain energy efficiency performance and operation of the building through the adaptation of energy consumption for example through use of energy from renewable sources.
- Responsiveness to the Electric Grid — The flexibility of a building's overall electricity demand, including its ability to enable participation in active and passive as well as implicit and explicit demand-response, in relation to the grid, for example through flexibility and load shifting capacities.
Earlier this year, the first stakeholder meeting for the development of an SRI for buildings took place in Brussels, attended by 120 participants from 26 countries – as well as numerous stakeholders who followed the live webstream. The meeting was co-led by Ms. Dorien Aerts of Vito, an independent cleantech research and technology organization, who presented the various ways stakeholders can interact with the study team. This included an open testing phase when stakeholders may voluntarily test and apply the SRI calculation methodology to buildings of their choice.
The meeting concluded with constructive feedback on a variety of topics, such as the reliability of the SRI, the calculation methodology, and about how SRI links to other schemes and initiatives currently active. Programs, such as the recently revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), have a more specific mission that overlaps significantly with the SRI’s goals and their respective influence on EU buildings policy, such as Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) will cause confusion unless these initiatives can work together.
“There is significant potential interaction between EPC and SRI,” writes Andreas Hermelink of Ecofys in a research paper on the topic. “SRI rating in the category “occupants’ needs” will have a major role in decreasing the diversion between asset-based and actual energy performance of the building by, for example, qualifying the impact different user needs may have on the energy performance of the building, thus finding ways to better include this element of occupant behavior in EPC.”
The building sector holds the undesirable title of the largest energy consumer in the EU. As much as 75% of the EU’s buildings are labeled energy inefficient by the EPBD, the main legislative instrument for the promotion of energy performance improvements in buildings within the EU.
A modernized and refurbished building stock, therefore, has a key role to play in the transition to a smarter, renewable-intensive and decarbonized energy system and the EUs intention to create a climate-neutral economy. The SRI, therefore, is an important step to realize this future in the EU, in part by defining what smartness is.
“Smartness of a building refers to the ability of a building or its systems to sense, interpret, communicate and actively respond in an efficient manner to changing conditions in relation to the operation of technical building systems or the external environment (including energy grids) and to demands from building occupants,” reads the working-definition of smartness in the State of Affairs in the 2nd Technical Support Study on the SRI For Buildings report.
The second stakeholder meeting for the SRI took place in October in Brussels with the objectives of; defining a calculation methodology and consolidating results on the evaluation of quantitative impacts, discuss ongoing work regarding the format of the SRI and its potential implementation pathways, presenting intermediate results of bèta testing, and reporting on the contributions of the Topical Working Groups.
This is the latest step of the SRI as it seeks to create a common European indicator to assess the technological readiness of buildings. A third meeting will be held in March 2020, while the completion of the technical study is expected in June 2020.
“Introducing such an SRI can raise awareness of the benefits of smarter building technologies and functionalities and their added value for building users, energy consumers and energy grids,” reads the 2nd Technical Support Study. “It can support technology innovation in the building sector and become an incentive for the integration of cutting-edge smart technologies into buildings.
The SRI is expected to become a cost-effective measure that can effectively assist in creating more healthy and comfortable buildings with a lower energy use and carbon impact and can facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources.”