Smart, that word is everywhere. Almost every major manufacturer and provider offers smart solutions, sensors, actuators and analytics software that it gets almost bewildering trying to figure out what’s best to use. Here we are primarily discussing small to medium-sized buildings.
Without getting too wrapped up in the details of what does what and why this is better than that, what should really be guiding anyone who wants to embrace the Smart Buildings world regardless of the product? I base it on 3 pillars to simplify understanding: measurement, visibility and action.
To really start to understand your building, it’s all about the data. Space temperatures, sub-metering, plant run times, faults, occupancy, and lighting levels to name but a few. It is very difficult to understand how the building is being used without the data at a more granular level than just having the utility bill at the end of the month as the only data. I’m not looking at the larger buildings that could likely have a fully-fledged Building Management System, but the small to medium size buildings that most likely have standalone systems/plant that cannot be easily accessed as a whole which is the majority of building stock. They ‘get’ that data is the first step, so we need a system that can integrate with the multiple systems of different manufacturers or use the new technology (IoT) that is available to install additional sensors or monitoring most efficiently and cost-effectively, like wireless for example.
Once we have the data, what then? How will it be collected and displayed, organised, modelled and ‘normalised’? To make sense, it needs to be represented in a uniform and understandable way bringing together data from different systems which will likely have their own way to name and present the data. We need a system that can take the data from different systems and organize and normalise it s, for example, space temperature data is presented and handled the same way regardless of its source. Tagging the data in a standard way can be a solution for this with many other benefits also. Then, think of who needs access to this data and how it is stored or viewed securely; who is the audience and at what level and privileges should be granted. Should the building users have access to understand how their actions will influence the building's energy consumption, just by a simple but informative real-time dashboard? Reports, dashboards, alarms and how they are delivered and actioned should all be considered.
The most important part is the action once you have all the data. It doesn’t matter just how much information and visibility is available unless it is acted upon and the company that you choose to partner with on the Smart Building journey to Net Zero should be knowledgeable and capable of identifying those actions and carrying them out with continuous improvement thereafter. They should be able to carry out the analytics on the data, to take action and be predictive and preventative, to able to identify inefficient plant or building usage and give the recommendations that will save energy and implement them and help you play your part to de-carbonize your building And how much is that company committed to de-carbonisation itself? Is it promoting and making it easier for all its staff to have electric or Hybrid cars, is it committed to as much remote working as possible using the technology available today to minimise the journeys to the site? Does it have trained staff to carry out a BS EN 15232 survey to grade the energy performance of your building and provide recommendations to improve it? It’s fine to talk the talk but we must all walk the walk.
And let’s not forget the overarching reasons for doing this, to de-carbonise our buildings and save energy, not only for new build but the existing building stock. The outcomes for Operational and Business benefits are clear to see, but the implications for our future and our children’s future and beyond are just too important to not start right now, individually and as a whole. So finishing with that word Smart, simply naming something smart is not enough, it has to be smart people, smart actions and smart companies also.