Buildings consume more than one-third of global primary energy, but about 30% of that energy is wasted... why?
After construction, buildings are concrete-steel-glass structures that have no inherent need to consume energy. It is only when you introduce occupants that a building’s operational energy needs emerge and, while serving occupants was always the intention of the facility, buildings are not sufficiently analyzing occupant needs before planning for future consumption. Instead of only turning on what they need to turn on, buildings typically start with everything on and then gradually turn off what they don’t need. This subtle change of mindset is significant. Building energy efficiency is a journey, not a destination, so by starting that voyage at the point of highest consumption they spend far more time in the inefficient half of the building energy consumption spectrum.
“It has become increasingly evident that humans play a major role in building energy efficiency and urban sustainability. On the one hand, in light of growing efficiency and complexity of building technologies and systems, users’ energy awareness and behaviour have a significant impact on building energy performance. On the other hand, occupants expect increasingly higher standards for well-being and environmental comfort at home and in their workspace,” say Dr. Cristina Piselli and Dr. Verena Barthelmes. “Therefore, the human perspective needs to be carefully taken into account in building design and operation practice, and users should be educated and given the chance to keep up with sustainable building technologies.”
Buildings are complex spaces, we cannot just turn everything off then expect occupants to have everything they need when they need it. Rooms must be pre-heated/cooled to ensure they are ready to support occupant comfort and productivity, access and surveillance technology must be always-on to ensure security, and you need light to find the light switch. Smart building technology has begun to address these issues by slightly reducing energy consumption in empty spaces and then reacting to motion sensing and occupant tracking technology by raising consumption to optimize for occupants. A positive approach but not that smart or efficient.
Rather than trying to teach buildings how occupants act so they can find efficiencies, we may find more success teaching people how to use the building efficiently. That is the concept behind the eTEACHER app, an EU project currently being tested in residential buildings, offices, schools and health centers, in Romania, Spain, and the UK. The AI-enabled app first learns the systems and structures in a building, then uses ICT and gamification solutions to encourage and enable behaviour change of building users towards energy efficiency. Initial results suggest that this simple human-centric approach can quickly save up to 30% of building energy consumption and reduce CO2 emissions, creating significant optimism around its future potential.
"The app receives two sets of input. The first set relates to energy data from the buildings. A series of sensors gets information about illumination, air-conditioning, temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and radiation, amongst others. The other set of input involves the users and their comfort levels," explains Francisco Javier Márquez Pocostales, a researcher working on the project in the Spanish region of Extremadura. "Based on these two inputs, the app establishes a series of recommendations to improve their behavior, save energy and reduce CO2 emissions, while also improving user wellbeing."
Humans can be complex and unpredictable, any system that depends on the technology’s ability to anticipate occupant needs will always have to accept some inefficiency. Humans are part of the system, however, and with smartphone apps they are now able to play a more interactive role in addressing energy waste in buildings. This ‘Internet of Things and People’ can see humans like other nodes of the network. Occupants can be viewed as devices with strong edge computing power and energy-saving potential, but they still need the data and guidance to make the best green decisions. Apps like eTEACHER can unlock that human processing power.
According to our recent report, the Global Workplace Experience Apps market within Commercial Office Space is estimated at $406 Million in 2020, rising to $988 Million by 2025, growing at a rate of 19% CAGR. With that growth, a huge opportunity will emerge to drive new value by bringing people into the smart building network. Not by using privacy-invading tracking and surveillance technology but by enabling occupant freedom through technology that informs people on how to make the energy-efficiency choices that work for them. Only by making occupants part of the system can we overcome the inefficiencies of human behavior and the growing smart technology user acceptance issue in buildings.
“The way IoT technologies are currently integrated with humans leaves much room for improvement. The technology has yet to develop suitable mechanisms to properly adapt to people’s context or mood. Instead, far from making the technology work for people, people are forced to either change their context to the technological requirements, or be slavishly aware of the system so as to send it commands or modify their schedule if their routine changes,” reads a paper by Javier Miranda et al. “In a more desirable IoT scenario, technology would take people’s context into account, learn from it, and take proactive steps according to their situation and expectations, avoiding intervention as much as possible. Enabling such scenarios requires moving from the Internet of Things to the Internet of People.”