The making of a smart building: Revamping current structures

By Luis D’Acosta, Executive Vice President, Digital Energy Division of Schneider Electric

Big Zero Report 2023

When we think about smart buildings, we envision a 20 storey, glass and steel building, fully -equipped with high tech that makes it equally beautiful, functional and sustainable. Although true in certain circumstances, it is far from the reality in many major cities worldwide where older infrastructure continues to be the predominant stock for commercial and housing purposes, relying heavily on older technology. According to a report by the International Energy Agency, half the world’s current buildings will still be in use in 2050 and many buildings will have useful lifetimes of a century or more. That means that many buildings which are still in use are centuries old and they may even be equipped with out-dated technology. Often older control technology costs more to run and isn’t energy efficient.

So, the question arises, how can current buildings become more efficient and smarter? Facility and building managers fall prey to the misconception that they need a full new technology stack and that will be costly. In reality, they can leverage the technology already in place, revamping it with easy to deploy and cost-efficient hardware and software. thanks to technology advances, retrofitting today is simpler and less expensive than it was before. As a result, the ROI is typically about 3 years, thanks to the operational savings possible with new technology.  For instance, IoT sensors (that take minutes to install) can be perfect to gather energy consumption data, which can help make more accurate decision to reduce the carbon footprint.

Power meters are also critical to any successful retrofit. After all, knowing how much power is being consumed is the first step to finding problem areas and fixing them to reduce energy consumption and, in turn, overall costs. The more they know – like what is sucking up the power and when – the easier it is to save energy and money.

But, retrofit success demands more of a power meter than just providing information about energy consumption. Ideally, the power meter should have a small form factor. That makes it fit easily inside a panel. If it’s possible to do that, there’s no need to mount the meter outside of the panel in its own enclosure, with wires running between the two. Being able to fit a new power meter inside an existing panel saves installation expense and time.

Rejuvenating existing structures in action

What does a retrofitted, self-sufficient building look like? Our own offices in Singapore which act as an office space and innovation hub were made into a carbon neutral building at the middle of 2020.  It now runs on solar power during the day time and has been equipped with around 3000 sensors allowing us to collect useful data to optimise the way the space is used and to reduce its energy consumption as much as possible.

One of the most luxurious hotels in Sydney, Sheraton on the Park is well-known as a leader in the Australian hotel landscape. Owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the hotel has 557 rooms and suites, several dining areas, a heated swimming pool and spa area, and 18 multifunction meeting rooms. The hotel upgrade involved installation of its HVAC, lighting and chiller systems and replacing its entire building management system (which was no longer supported by the manufacturer) to Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Building. The retrofit resulted in 15% energy savings in the first month after the upgrade was completed and is therefore a living, breathing example of how businesses, even those with a heavy focus on hospitality, can achieve greater energy efficiencies through the retrofit process.

Three stages towards energy efficiency and savings

There are three simple stages to achieving better energy efficiency and savings when considering whether to retrofit a building or facility.

1.    Building Energy Awareness

Buildings and facility managers should start with asking some basic questions about their current utility usage, such as:

  • How much is spent, and how does that break down for electricity, gas, and water?
  • What’s using the most energy in the facility – processes, equipment, loads?
  • Are there opportunities to reduce energy consumption?

These are important questions, but where can one get this information? Engaging employees at this point will not only help building and facility managers progress more quickly, but it will also translate into better results in the long term. As a team, organisations can look at data from utility bills and load profiles and energy audits.

  1. Taking action for energy improvement

The next stage is to ‘fix the basics’ by taking some straightforward actions to reduce energy usage. Here are some examples:

  • Equipment upgrades and retrofits.The simplest, most easily justifiable way to improve energy efficiency is to replace old equipment with newer, higher efficiency models. Upgrading lighting, HVAC, variable speed drives, or refrigeration systems can, on average, yield between 10 and 15 percent energy savings.
  • Tuning automation schemes.  Most automation and control systems are programmed for operational results: buildings are prioritized for comfort and safety; industrial plants focus on productivity and output. By tuning automation schemes, energy savings from 5 to 15 percent can often be achieved.
  • Continuous energy monitoring.For top energy performance, continuous monitoring is essential. Building managers can start small with a few meters and software, then build onto the system over time. Having and using an energy management system can reduce energy usage between 5 and 15 percent.

So why is energy monitoring so important? It reveals how energy is being used everywhere throughout a facility, including helping building managers precisely measure the energy usage of important equipment. By submetering in this way, they’ll identify and resolve energy anomalies. Without continuous monitoring, it’s likely that a facility will slip back to previous consumption levels.

Best-in-class energy management software will provide facility teams with powerful energy visualization tools to help identify opportunities and take action.

  1. Optimizing for Continuous Savings

The third stage of any energy management journey for building managers to step beyond simply tracking energy usage and react when they see energy being wasted. They should now have baselines established for systems and processes throughout their facility and be able to see when actual usage varies from what they expect. They can regularly make fine adjustments to improve efficiency in a quantifiable way. They can see how they’ve improved energy performance since last year and are on the path to continuous improvement.

Retrofitting is the future if we want to reduce meet the European Commission’s goals of improving energy efficiency by 32% by 2030. But it’s important to act now and bring old buildings up to date in accordance with modern energy standards in order to create ones which are fit to last for another hundred years or more.

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