Tackling inefficiencies in buildings to aid a more sustainable urban environment

Ursula Barr explores the role of IoT energy management systems in solving operational efficiencies, especially for the sustainable urban environment

If the current global environmental policies are met, global warming will rise by up to 3.7ºC by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels [1]. Whilst this is a significantly better than without such policies, it remains considerably above the 2ºC widely regarded to be the point at which we will see catastrophic and irreversible consequences, including severe heatwaves and droughts, as well as rising sea levels and coastal flooding.

Cities account for 80% of the world’s energy consumption, with buildings [2], the largest contributor, making up half of this. It is clear that we need to decarbonise our urban environments urgently in order to mitigate these risks.

Whilst we are seeing a rise in sustainable technology, zero-carbon cities must be the end goal we are working towards. An entire sustainable city sounds daunting, but like any seemingly impossible task we must first break it down and tackle the major issues. Looking specifically at buildings, we must address the way we use and manage our electrical infrastructure and set KPIs to reduce consumption, particularly within those which are large and critical.

Electrical infrastructures in buildings are complex by nature and require some level of intelligence to function efficiently. In order to monitor and maintain this infrastructure within large and critical facilities, an energy management system, ranging from high-level metering to more comprehensive solutions, is necessary.

As with any effective system, total output is greater than that of the individual parts. The key to driving greater results and efficiencies lies in creating higher levels of communication, simplifying management and maintaining supply.

An IoT Solution

With an increase in the data collection methods and comprehensive analytics, there is now an opportunity for energy management systems to drive hyper-efficiency, empowering facility owners with choices that benefit both their facilities and the environment. The new generation of energy management systems use a variety of IoT enabled devices modelled on a single online platform to gain visibility into the entire infrastructure from a web interface. The volume and variety of data points collected allow for in depth analytics of an entire electrical infrastructure, not just individual assets or isolated systems.

Data is collected in terms of:

  • Energy consumption
  • Power quality
  • Temperature
  • Oil levels
  • Demand/usage

Analysing this data through trends, heat maps, benchmarking and forecasting amongst other methods gives full visibility into how systems are performing and where there are opportunities for optimisation.

Real-time monitoring and tracking not only provides event alarms related to benchmarking and compliance but also the trends leading up to these events, allowing for predictability in the case of recurrence. If an alarm is identified on a particular system, it is also possible to look at a virtual single line diagram inclusive of data readings to determine the causes upstream and consequences downstream of the event.


With the current needs for decentralisation and remote working, it is a logical step for us now to further advance how we are managing our electrical infrastructure remotely. With IoT energy management systems it is possible to monitor and/or control assets and systems from a web interface, removing the need for physical intervention and on-site presence.

If an event has occurred on a system, it can be located and isolated through the web platform. This allows a maintenance team to fix the issue more efficiently and potentially reducing consumption through preventing malfunctions such as overheating by minimising the time to interact with the system.

Operational efficiency

Large facilities will typically contain a range of critical assets such as servers, medical equipment, CCTV, lifts, fire systems, lab equipment and many more. These tend to be power-intensive and sensitive to power quality disturbances. Studies have shown that 30-40% of business downtime is caused by power quality disturbances, and that 70% of those disturbances originate within the premises.[3]

Power quality disturbances come about when the electrical waveform supplied is not smooth but rather suffers from harmonics, voltage sags and swells or spikes. These may cause noticeable faults or failures in the assets but more commonly they will slowly degrade the equipment and increase the electrical consumption. The sustainability impact of this is not solely the unnecessarily increased power consumption but also the lowering of design life, resulting in premature failure and replacement of equipment leading to an increase of electrical waste in landfill.

Power quality issues will also cause an increase in unusable reactive power brought about by a phase shift between current and voltage waveforms. This unusable reactive power is incorporated in the total kWh charge on an energy bill and may also incur an additional fee if the root cause is internal to a facility. Identifying these issues and acting on them early will minimise consumption and pinpointing the root cause will allow for corrective equipment to be installed at an optimal location.

With advanced reporting options one can see at a glance a summary of how systems are performing and if events have likely occurred due to issues within or outside of the facility. In the case of an internal cause it is easy to see the source of the disturbance and the impact it has had in terms of downtime and financial loss.

Available options

Schneider Electric offers two types of energy management systems: Power Monitoring Expert and Power SCADA Operation. Both options are highly customisable and scalable based on the specific energy management needs around monitoring, reporting and analytics. They are web-based interfaces which allow full visibility of electrical infrastructure with Power SCADA Operation providing additional capabilities to control systems.

Smart buildings which react to their conditions and provide an intelligent insight into performance and utilisation facilitate the user to optimise their systems and processes. When acted on appropriately they can realise large savings in both operational and environmental terms. Making cities sustainable is certainly the way to ensure that the impact of global warming remains below 2ºC and optimising our buildings is this first step in doing this.



[1] IPCC Summary for Policymakers, 2018

[2] Rapid Urbanisation, PWC, 2015

[3] A. E. Emanuel and J. McNeill, “Electric Power Quality”, Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, vol. 22, pp. 263-304, December 1997


Please note: This is a commercial profile

Contributor Profile

Category Manager – Digital Power
Schneider Electric
Phone: +44 7970806292
Website: Visit Website


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here