Achieving the buildings of tomorrow with today’s technology

Roger Woodward of Tridium takes a look at the cutting edge of building technology and concludes that the buildings of tomorrow are nearer than we think.

Future gazing is a difficult subject – predictions about how an industry will form itself in the years to come can so often be wide of the mark. But there are clear developments in building technologies and legislation that do shed light on how commercial buildings could operate in the near future and beyond.

The recently announced UK Government Energy Efficiency strategy puts a new emphasis on managing the demand for energy – at least equal to that of supporting low carbon technologies. The Strategy makes it clear that energy use will be the important measure for new and existing buildings. 

Another legislative driver arrived on the scene in September 2011, and looks set to have an enormous impact on the commercial property market. The Energy Act of 2011 provides that from April 2018 at the latest, it will be unlawful to rent out residential or business premises which do not reach a minimum energy efficiency standard. Government has indicated that the lowest allowable Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating will be E.  Building owners with F and G rated buildings will be unable to let them out unless energy efficiency is improved.

Add to these influences the rising price of energy, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that buildings will have to prove that they are energy efficient in operation for the long term. So what will the energy efficient building of the future look like?

Look to the future

On the exterior, it will look very much as it does today. Building Research Establishment (BRE) figures show that 80% of today’s commercial building stock will still be with us in fifty years. Retrofitting of technologies for energy measurement and management will therefore be an important feature in preparing buildings for long term efficiency.

The growing importance of wireless control products is part of this trend. With the requirement for wiring removed, the cost of installation is significantly reduced. It also means that retrofitting becomes more practical as structural changes are not needed and disruption is kept to a minimum.

Advances in wireless technology means that products from leading manufacturers are now much more robust in terms of signal reliability.  The latest technologies are also able to use a single receiver unit that links to up to fifty sensors sited up to 100m away, depending on the products specified.

Another less visible, but important, trend is taking place in the field of metering. Already required by legislation, metering is nevertheless a somewhat neglected area as meters are often treated as a ‘fit-and-forget’ technology. With energy prices moving ever-upward and the government’s drive to efficiency, there can be little doubt that measurement of energy use will become far more important.

With the latest easy-to-install technologies, those meters could provide invaluable business data. Reaching slightly further than the legal requirement can give money saving insights into how efficiently a building is operating, and help to improve its long term energy efficiency.

Move towards integration

The move towards easier integration of equipment within a building is also an important future trend. Linking heating, ventilation, metering, lighting and other systems including security to the BEMS gives building owners and operators a central point from which to understand how their buildings are performing.  Web-based technology is driving this higher level of integration, because it provides a platform for a common user interface browser for all systems.

Security integration allows building managers to share and operate systems from one common user interface and to achieve effective system interoperability. For example, security events from access control and CCTV systems can be linked to lighting and HVAC systems to ensure more energy efficient day-to-day building operation, and greater safety in the event of an emergency. 

In the energy efficient building of the future, the facilities and security teams will access information from a single user-friendly web-based interface. Furthermore, integrated systems can help to create comfortable and productive working environments. Linking access systems to the HVAC system means that the building can react as occupants enter and leave rooms – turning off unnecessary lighting and air conditioning when it’s not required.

Perhaps one of the most important developments for the future is the growing recognition by building owners that data on energy use should be treated as business-critical information. Large amounts of information now flooding into the energy management field are set to give building owners and operators in-depth knowledge about building performance and the power to optimise it.

A building of tomorrow

SmartCity Malta is a 360,000sq m stand-alone development area on the island’s coast. It is set to be the home for knowledge-based companies at the cutting edge of IT, media and consultancy. One of the first completed buildings on the campus is SCM01, a 12,000sq m office building with seven storeys of flexible space which has achieved LEED Silver accreditation.

Tridium’s Niagara Framework software plays a key role in ensuring that this building achieved its sustainability goals by bringing together the security and BMS systems.

There are many benefits to seamless integration of security and building management. Through Niagara, the systems can continuously check occupation levels. Thus, lighting and cooling in unoccupied areas can be automatically switched off to save energy. The system also includes CO2 sensors that combine with the security occupancy sensors to provide fresh air according to occupancy. Air flow and lighting are also adjusted in meeting rooms when a visitor’s access card is used.

While information from the security system can inform the BEMS, the system also works the other way. For example, by tracking data from heating, ventilating or cooling, building managers can observe the current status of all services giving greater security and operational continuity for occupants.

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