Siemens provides a perspective on being smarter, safer and more connected when it comes to what’s the ‘next normal’ for our building technology, including comment on energy consumption
Before the pandemic, we spent roughly 90% of our lives in buildings. It sounds like a staggering statistic, but when you start to interrogate it, it perhaps doesn’t seem that high. We’re born in hospitals, spend our childhoods in homes and schools, then head to colleges and universities and begin our working lives in offices.
In 2021, the role of buildings is changing. This has been accentuated by the pandemic, our national decarbonisation targets, and the changing face of the future of work. Building owners must ask themselves, is my building safe enough for employees to return to? Is it energy efficient? And is it flexible enough to deliver high productivity with potentially low occupancy?
Smart buildings hold the answers to these questions. A smart building intelligently prioritises safety, productivity, and sustainability, reducing costs for owners, increasing the wellbeing and productivity of its occupants, and directly benefits the environment through intelligent energy usage.
Why smart means sustainable
Buildings are responsible for about 36% of global energy consumption and 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions over their life cycle and they are a key factor in the transition to a sustainable future.
The smart office decreases a building’s consumption through intelligent building controls and incentivises users to reduce their individual consumption. For example, a building management system that is installed to the Class A guidelines (BS EN15232) can deliver up to 30% energy savings compared to one which meets a Class C standard.
Our research has found that 54% of employees will opt not to return to offices in the future. Lower levels of occupancy will inevitably create energy challenges for building owners. Intelligent fixture management helps switch off lighting, heating, and ventilation in unoccupied areas of the office. By learning the behaviour patterns of users, the smart office knows when to start heating or ventilating spaces to avoid peaks in energy use when people begin entering the office each day. Through the use of desk and workspace booking in the smart office app, the building applies intelligent space management to ensure users fully book spaces on one floor first before spreading to the next.
With an optimised mix of distributed energy resources, including renewable energy from solar panels or small wind turbines, and energy storage solutions such as batteries or hydrogen, the smart office generates its own electricity and optimises what it takes from the grid.
With our electricity grid becoming smarter, buildings play a huge part in what’s called demand-side response. When peak demand rises at key times in the day, power stations would usually provide more capacity onto the grid to meet the demand. However, smart buildings can work with the grid to lower their heating and lighting requirements – industrial fridges could be lowered by 1 degree, lights turned off, or the air conditioning altered. The cumulative effect of thousands of smart buildings at the grid edge reducing consumption could negate the need for additional power, balancing the grid more intelligently.
A smart building with people at the heart
A smart office ensures that productivity measures are built-in, placing each user at the heart of their own personalised experience. But while many of our customers are quick to fit traditional temperature sensors, few fully realise the huge benefits afforded to humidity sensors. For instance, if the relative humidity is kept between 40-60%, then the spread of cold and flu viruses can be reduced by up to 70%. Likewise, internal air quality can be maintained by either measuring CO2 levels or VOCs (volatile organic compound) levels. High CO2 levels in buildings with poor ventilation have been proven to make employees feel sluggish and unable to concentrate, dramatically lowering productivity.
Aside from viruses, bugs and germs in an office, the building must meet a fundamental requirement to keep its occupants safe from fire. However, more than 75% of automatically generated fire alarms in the UK are false or unwanted. The Fire Industry Association estimate that these such false alarms cost the UK over £1 billion in public funding every year. Smarter, multi-sensor detectors can sample a combination of different fire indicators, including heat, smoke, carbon monoxide and light. Individually, these are unreliable markers, but a device that can sense some or all of them is far more accurate. These intelligent devices are more discerning and slower to react to false stimuli such as steam or smoking toast, without compromising the speed of reaction to real fire threats.
Flexibility is the next normal for smart buildings
As we look further ahead to life beyond the pandemic, the ‘next normal’ will be a period defined by flexibility. Digital planning of the office space enables quick reaction to changing needs. COVID-19 forced firms all over the world to redesign office layouts to accommodate physical distancing requirements, implement health and safety procedures and install new technologies to be able to return to the office. However, it’s not only external shocks, but also changing internal needs that can trigger a desire to reconfigure the office – team sizes and work focus change, and more project and innovation spaces than usual may be required.
To increase space efficiency, the smart office relies on the insights generated from the building twin. Are there spaces nobody ever uses? Are more quiet working spaces needed because existing ones are always full? What are the routes most people take to get to the kitchen? Where do people have the most interactions? From the data collected, stakeholders can jointly derive improvement measures.
You can have any colour building you like, as long as it’s green
The future of work, decarbonisation, productivity, and personal wellbeing will all involve our ability to rethink, reshape and reboot our portfolio of buildings in the UK. The vision is for a network of buildings that ensure that when we return to our offices, we’re in the safest, most productive, and sustainable environments possible.
Please note: This is a commercial profile