Enabling sustainable and resilient energy practices through intelligent building services
David Pownall, VP Services, and Kas Mohammed, VP Digital Energy, at Schneider Electric UK and Ireland outline some key corporate considerations for businesses to improve smart energy approaches.
Planes, trains, and automobiles are often viewed as the main offenders when it comes to carbon emissions. But what many people fail to recognise is that the buildings we live, work, and play in are big offenders too. It may come as a surprise that commercial real estate accounts for approximately 40% of global carbon emissions, and this is projected to triple by 2060, surpassing even transportation and agriculture.
Tackling climate change means looking inside where we work, shop, relax, or access services such as healthcare, leisure, and government services. Emissions from commercial real estate primarily result from energy usage, and in particular energy wastage. Fortunately, this offers us scope for rapid improvement. Of the 40% of emissions that commercial real estate produces, as much as 90% can be tackled by retrofitting buildings with smart technologies that are already on the market. By installing new kit, tools, and processes, building managers can minimise downtime, reduce operational waste, and optimise their organisation’s energy usage.
The role of intelligent software in the drive to decarbonise
As of 2023, rising utility bills, volatile energy supplies, and aging infrastructures are sparking spiraling operational costs. So it’s no wonder that building managers are using intelligent software and services to design ‘buildings of the future’—cutting down overheads while saving the planet.
The real game-changer for this is the unprecedented visibility of a building’s energy usage and carbon footprint, made possible through digitalisation. Smart electrical systems can measure the energy consumption of components such as power receptacles (plugs in walls), lighting systems, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Then, they can analyse and track a building’s energy efficiency performance against pre-defined sustainability targets, highlighting areas for improvement and enabling transparent ESG stakeholder reporting.
Some of the greatest opportunities to boost sustainability lie within industrial facilities. Global production sectors are responsible for one-fifth of carbon emissions, consuming over half (54%) of the world’s energy sources. Therefore, industry must automate its machinery and monitor its manufacturing processes to ensure energy usage is measured, managed, and minimised.
Upgrading buildings sustainably
The process of power digitalisation begins with the installation of smart devices throughout a building. Wireless thermal sensors, intelligent power protection devices (controllers, relays, and trip units), correction devices (that help address power factor, voltage imbalance, and harmonics), and monitoring devices (like power quality meters and energy meters), are the building blocks of an effective smart building electrical system.
Then, integrated energy and power management system (EPMS) software collects energy consumption, power event, and electrical asset performance data to help streamline and automate system management. Building operators also enjoy far clearer visibility of behavioural trends and anomalies, pre-empting maintenance and minimising the risk of failures, downtime, and even fines.
The rise of smart buildings has transformed the management and efficiency of electrical systems. Greater connection and data intelligence enables optimised energy usage by highlighting when, where, and why waste is occurring.
Take leading US-based glass manufacturer Guardian Glass, which faced monthly penalties due to its failing capacitor banks. Installing a range of smart building solutions enabled the company’s building managers to measure, in real time, the performance of the capacitors. And ever since, Guardian Glass has avoided hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility surcharges.
Healing empowered: analytics, AI, and remote services minimise equipment breakdown risks
Closer connectivity also means that a malfunction can have significant impact, perhaps in another nearby building on the site. Even these advanced systems can’t always prevent voltage fluctuations, short circuits, and harmonics (power distortions) from causing network disturbances—bringing blackouts and brownouts that disrupt a wider business’s profitability.
The risk of equipment breakdowns is reduced when analytics software is combined with artificial intelligence and remote services expertise. These modern systems are evolving to become more autonomous and resilient. Just like self-driving cars that can safely perform parallel parking, electrical self-diagnosis and self-repair models are freeing humans from tough onsite monitoring and maintenance duties.
By connecting sensor-equipped assets to the cloud, building managers can spot behavioural patterns and anomalies and make ultra-informed decisions on how to optimise asset performance. For example, continuous thermal monitoring can identify developing hotspots and alert repair services before it provokes unanticipated downtime
For next-level support, building managers can also engage remote experts based in a virtual connected services hub. Not only does this bring access to 24/7 external monitoring, alerts, and support, but also a huge data lake of global equipment performance statistics for real-world, evidence-based guidance through similar issues.
Optimising operational time for machinery
Digital management technologies can even help to reduce physical waste and pollution. By reviewing performance, and predicting optimal repair and refurbishment cycles, the software helps businesses to extend the productive capabilities and lifetimes of tools and machinery, while curbing failures and downtime. This condition-based maintenance boosts both operational and energy efficiency via optimised material usage, slashing carbon footprints further.
A recent real-world example is Nestlé Nescafé. The coffee production heavyweight installed smart technologies that use artificial intelligence and analytics to monitor equipment and predict system failures. By implementing power system monitoring and control across 80% of its global facilities, the company estimates it will cut maintenance costs by 5% and raise equipment performance by as much as 7%. Nestlé also expects this approach will reduce its 2023 manufacturing energy consumption by 5%—enabling the company to simultaneously accelerate its resilience, cost-efficiency, and sustainability measures.
The integration of intelligent building services has emerged as a transformative force, enabling sustainable and resilient energy practices. By leveraging advanced technologies such as smart sensors, automation, and data analytics, buildings can optimise energy consumption, reduce waste, and mitigate environmental impacts. This holistic approach not only promotes energy efficiency but also enhances occupant comfort and well-being. Embracing intelligent building services is essential in our collective journey towards a greener and more sustainable future.
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