Picking just the low-hanging fruits of green efficiency is not enough to make real progress in the fight against climate change. The phasing out of incandescent lighting for LED technology was relatively easy considering the lifespan of light bulbs is measured in months. The ongoing transition to electric mobility is a greater challenge with vehicles typically lasting for years or decades, but still a relatively simple shift in the wider context. However, to really alter the course of the environmental crisis and meet the ambitious new goals placed by national and regional governments we must tackle the biggest challenges to our climate goals, such as the efficiency of our long-lived buildings that contribute approximately 40% of global carbon emissions.
“The conclusions of COP26 are clear: we have to speed up to keep the 1.5°C targets within reach. That is a priority of the new German government and the guiding principle for the EU Green Deal,” says Maximilian Viessmann is the CEO of the Germany-based Viessmann Group, which is aligning its company strategy to play its part in the fight against climate change. “I am convinced that the decarbonization of buildings is a unique opportunity to reconcile climate actions with economic growth and improved quality of life: zero emissions, improved health, and lower energy bills – an enticing triple win!”
Beyond zero emissions, the other benefits of Viessmann’s “triple win” are also important to our environmental objectives. Improved health enhances the lives of building occupants, making them happier, less absent from work, more collaborative, and ultimately more productive —this “win” drives the adoption of human-centric solutions that also provide green efficiency benefits. While the lower energy bills provide a very tangible economic incentive for building owners and tenants to develop these smart technology ecosystems, therefore also driving adoption.
“Smart buildings are a prerequisite for efficient energy management in a decentralized and decarbonized system. Fit for 55 provides a window of opportunity to equip buildings with smart control features at scale,” explains Viessmann, referring to the revision of the EU climate policy that commits the bloc to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030. “This will increase energy efficiency, save time and resources in the maintenance of heating systems, make a real contribution to congestion management, and more importantly: increase the comfort of living tangibly.”
The key to unlocking this “triple win” in buildings is simple —collect data and use it well. Data collection is a direct consequence of sensor installation, but not all data ends up in the same place. More often than not, static and active data are kept entirely separate from the vast majority of other building processes and solutions, from the day of installation and throughout its entire life cycle within the building. These silos of data prevent the exchange of information between systems, creating barriers to unlocking the full potential of building technology and, for many, such cross-system interoperability is the basis for calling a building “smart”.
Retrofit projects could be excused for their poor interoperability while applying new building systems and managing legacy issues. In greenfield projects, however, static data is usually held in common data environments, through software such as computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM), or in asset management solutions (CAFM, CMMS), where interoperability should be possible. Active data, meanwhile, is typically only introduced during the operational phase from internet of things (IoT) sensors, building management systems (BMS), or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) solutions. In both cases, data silos are generally created, reinforced, and maintained for the entire lifecycle of the technology.
“The importance of interoperability, or at the very least defining a migration roadmap to more modern systems better suited to an interoperable environment, must be stressed. Gap analysis can help us better understand incumbent technology, people, and processes, helping deploy and integrate a suitable smart building environment,” says Mark Coates, International Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Bentley Systems. “Only when these projects are supported by an ecosystem of subject matter experts for disciplines that share the same vision and objective of an interoperable environment generating re-usable data for the clients' desired business outcomes can we hope to achieve net-zero carbon outcomes.”
Net-zero is no easy feat and our buildings will need every tool in the smart toolbox. When disparate systems share data and work together, efficiency is a natural consequence. When someone leaves a meeting room, occupancy data tells us if the room is empty, scheduling data tells us if more people are coming, and environmental data tells us the current condition of the space —all that different data is needed to take the most efficient action on HVAC or lighting control, for example. The same range of data is required to drive occupant health, comfort, and productivity, or cost-saving, the key selling points of the technology. Locking away the vast potential of interoperable smart buildings is not a sustainable strategy for the planet or the market.