The Smart Response to Managing Buildings’ Energy Problems

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Issues around energy continue to dominate many of the news headlines in the UK, and are seldom far from the forefront in other developed countries. While much of the focus has been on rising domestic energy price- tariffs, the way that buildings use, and all too often waste, energy remains a huge concern. This is hardly surprising given that in both Europe and North America, buildings account for a whopping 40% of all energy consumed.

One thorny problem is the high cost of improving building energy performance, especially in a country like the UK where the building stock, especially  the residential building stock, tends to date back to an era when the principles of energy conservation were much less well understood, let alone acted on, and where the cost of improvements and renovation can be high, and the ROI correspondingly long – a daunting prospect when governments, companies and consumers are all still hurting from the financial hangover following the worst recession in decades.

All of this means that institutions, companies and households need to look at smarter ways of coping with high-cost energy in buildings that are often not ‘designed’ to be energy- efficient.  Here at BSRIA we have just completed a regular update of our report into Building Energy Management in Europe and North America, which has given us the chance to review some of the key current developments. As part of this, we looked at 17 of the leading suppliers to this market.

One immediately striking conclusion is that all of the leaders incorporate a level of analytics, in some cases as part of a wider portfolio, in others as their central specialised offering.  In one sense this is not surprising. If you want to improve a building’s performance then you can either take a direct physical approach– for example more energy-efficient construction or insulation, or cheaper or more environmentally friendly energy sources – or you can take steps to change the way the building uses that energy, which means interacting with its occupants and their requirements in an intelligent way, which in turn requires that you have all relevant information to hand. We can expect these analytics to become increasingly sophisticated, with buildings “learning” based on usage and performance over time.

This also helps to explain another striking finding:  that most of the suppliers in this sector now offer some level of on-going commissioning. Improving building energy performance is a continuous undertaking – reflecting the fact that buildings’ usage patterns and the behaviour of their occupants will themselves change over time, as processes and equipment become more, or less, efficient. In providing or supporting an on-going service, companies become less like suppliers in the “traditional” sense, and more like partners, providing consultancy as well as software or hardware. In some cases the service supports the actual procurement of energy and management of energy suppliers.

Another capability which is fast becoming a “must have” is the ability to offer a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, with all of the advantages in terms of cost model, maintenance, accessibility and flexibility.

wmi-thermostatAs buildings become increasingly integrated into the wider “smart world”, Demand Response, already well-established in parts of the USA is being taken up more seriously in Europe as well, with an increasing number of BEMS suppliers supporting  the move to automated demand response.

While the problems faced by large commercial buildings clearly differ in important ways from the light commercial sector and from residential buildings, there are likely here as elsewhere, to be important elements of crossover. Some suppliers are also providing differently scaled BEMS solutions and energy management is already one of the central elements of most “smart home” solutions.

Barring a sudden surge in cheap, readily available and environmentally friendly energy, which still sounds like a dream scenario, we can expect BEMS to continue its rapid advance in importance, increasingly integrated into related areas of Building Automation, and of Smart Grids.

To find out more about BSRIA’s updated study “BEMS Market 2013 Q4 : Developments in Europe and the USA”, please contact Steve Turner on +44 (0)1344 465610 (Steve.Turner@bsria.co.uk)

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