Smart and energy-efficient buildings: Five top tips for installing energy monitoring systems

Image: E.ON

This was the topic of discussion for a recent online masterclass event from edie, hosted in partnership with E.ON.

The hour-long session cut through the complexities, highlighting the opportunities and providing need-to-know information for organisations seeking to utilise building energy management systems (BEMS) as part of their strategies for decarbonising, improving energy efficiency and installing next-generation digital and flexible energy technologies.

BEMS help organisations to centralise and digitise processes for monitoring and optimising building energy performance. They use sensors to provide quality data to a central control system, enabling monitoring and offering options for automated or manual interventions.

Here, we round up five key takeaways from the online masterclass, as outlined by two expert guest presenters:


  • Laura Johnson, strategic account sales manager at E.ON


  • Craig Macdonald, global sustainability lead for carbon and water at Specsavers

This online masterclass aired live on 28 May 2024. Click here to access a recording of the full session on-demand.

1) Refresh your understanding of BEMS to keep track of technology changes

A not-insignificant minority of non-domestic buildings in developed economies already have building monitoring systems installed. Both speakers urged operators of these buildings to consider modernization regularly due to the pace of change and the potential for additional savings.

For buildings without BEMS, advances in technology could have improved the business case since they last considered implementing one.

“The building technology market is changing quickly,” Laura said, stating that systems now offer “more powerful insights” than ever. She explained that BEMS were traditionally used to identify and rectify the cause of building energy use increasing or decreasing significantly, collating data from heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plant equipment and sometimes lighting.

Now, technologies are getting smarter. They can identify opportunities for cost savings and efficiencies and can take data from a far wider range of technologies and sensors. On the technology piece, ever-more businesses are adding onsite solar generation, battery energy storage or electric vehicle charging, to give three examples.

And on sensors, BEMS are able to collect more data, more frequently, on factors including the occupancy patterns, temperature and light level in particular rooms.

Next-generation BEMS can work for buildings of any size and there are multi-building solutions too, Laura noted. Digital capabilities (software) and management services can be provided by a third party if organisations do not have this specialism in-house.

2) Build a strong, multifaceted business case

Payback periods for adding BEMS are becoming shorter due to persistently high energy prices. Craig stated that return on investment for some Specsavers sites has been  “almost instantaneous”.

Laura presented a case study from a multi-site leisure company which modernised its ageing BMS. It saw a return on investment within four years due to more than £8,800 in savings on monthly energy bills.

Both speakers emphasised the importance of assessing the likely benefits beyond cost savings, too. These include improving worker wellbeing and comfort, and reducing emissions.

Specsavers has set a 2050 net-zero carbon target globally, supported by nearer-term science-based emissions reduction targets. Achieving these goals necessitates improving the energy efficiency of the business’s global estate of more than 3,000 buildings and identifying opportunities to install low-carbon onsite technologies.

Craig said he typically sees a site’s energy-related emissions declining by 25% or more after the implantation of a modern BEMS. The proportion could be 80-90% for some buildings, if the BEMS assists in the case for installing low-carbon technology options such as electric heating systems.

Craig said BEMS carry out “an invaluable job on the road to net-zero… acting as your eyes and ears on the ground”.

3) Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

Coming back to the first point, while trialling new technologies can be exciting, Craig emphasised the need for a comprehensive and strategic approach across an entire estate. This can be shaped by an initial pilot but should not stop there.

He said: “It can be easy to get taken in by the bright light of new technologies… and take your eye off the status quo across the rest of your estate. Any efficiency regression within that lessens the impact of any shiny new technologies. For me, this is where BEMS comes into its own.”

Decisions on which part of an estate to fit with BEMS first can be made based on multiple factors, including which sites use the most energy, which sites already have BEMS and which sites already have investment approved. From there, learnings can be applied to the broader estate. Firms with international estates will also need to consider differences in policy environments, the availability of third-party solutions providers, and staff skillsets.

4) Assign clear responsibilities

On the skills piece, Craig and Laura stressed the importance of identifying who within your organisation is involved directly in the BEMS project and what their responsibilities are. This is essential for maintenance and continued operation as well as the initial installation.

There is likely to be a need for upskilling, or the use of a trusted third party. Additionally, some basic knowledge-building more broadly is likely beneficial.

But when it comes to the initial investment in the BEMS – and who gets to account for the related cost benefits – this allocation of responsibility can be trickier. Craig called BEMS “a complex beast” in this regard, because the costs and benefits are likely to be shared across multiple departments including sustainability, facilities management, technology, procurement, partnerships and, of course, finance.

Finance teams can be a blocker unless they have the flexibility to look beyond traditional methodologies for allocating CAPEX on a department-by-department basis, or assigning OPEX savings exclusively to one function.

5) Cultivate collaboration with a long-term vision

What shouldn’t be challenging is finding a good third-party service provider. Craig argued, and Laura agreed, that businesses should not see the provider of their BEMS hardware, software and/or maintenance as “simply another contractor”.

He spoke of the need for the service provider and business client to cultivate a shared vision for the future, with clear aims on saving costs and cutting emissions. This will be most effectively delivered through a continued collaboration.

“Longevity really can yield some amazing results,” Craig summarised, cautioning listeners against switching service provider every few years purely to make minor cost savings.

Likewise, as already explored in point four, there needs to be a clear system of governance and performance indicators in place internally to maintain focus when staff members move roles or leave the business.

Click here to access a recording of the full BEMS online masterclass session on-demand.

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