District Heating and Cooling and Heat Interface Units are still closely tied markets

Socrates Christidis
BSRIA Research Manager – Heating and Renewables

District Heating and Cooling networks have witnessed significant growth in many European countries in the last five years and this is set to continue in the coming decade. Significant European policy initiatives, such as the Green Deal, country government promotions, alongside increased public and private investment are supporting new business models such as utilities selling heat as a service and not as a commodity, which will drive the market forward.

BSRIA research indicates that the share of heat pumps and Energy-from-Waste in district heating and cooling systems is increasing. This trend is in line with the development of the concept of 5th generation heat networks. These are demand driven and low-temperature networks, using locally available low-grade waste heat (A/C, datacentres, underground stations, etc.), low temperature renewable energy in bodies of water and solar energy instead of a central energy centre. In principle, such systems favour the use of substations at building level, but no heat interface units at the dwelling level, as these are likely to be replaced by heat pumps.

Currently industrial boilers and CHPs remain the main source of heating in District Heating networks. For instance, 85% of planned heat networks in the UK, will have a CHP as the primary source of heating and 50% will have a gas boiler as a backup. The remaining 15% will use geothermal, ground source or water source heat pumps.

Thus, in the short-term Heat Interface Units (HIUs) will remain the link between the apartment and the network.

Going forward, reducing demand for heating and increasing need for hot water and cooling imply that the market will see the uptake of:

  • All-in-one units (heating or cooling and hot water)
  • Cooling units
  • Hybrid units, with integrated electric water heating
Graph showing European HIUs market growth

The main threats for HIUs market progress are the currently lack of consistent quality of installation and COVID-19.

Heat interface units have a major impact on the overall performance of a heat network and successful operation and performance both depend on correct system design and specification, followed by competent installation and maintenance. This has been problematic, with systems inadequately designed and quite often oversized. We see some signs of improvements as the industry becomes more sensitised towards good quality district heating. Documentation is improving as well as codes of practice, testing of HIUs, and further testing on site; however, under tight budgets the emphasis is often for the lowest cost, specification compliant technology. Testing the unit in a lab and then onsite is optional but critical to ensure performance.

Closing of construction sites was the main impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, including lack of cash flow, as the invoicing is done when products are delivered onsite. The industry has also witnessed a lack of new orders from April to June, with some signs of recovery observed just after. Overall, the European sales in the first 6 months of 2020 were between 15% and 30% down, depending on country, when compared to the 6 first months of 2019.

Going forwards, new construction presents a slightly positive picture. During COVID-19 there has been delays but not cancellations in planning permissions; delays as sites operate under social distancing guidelines and some delays for new investment to come through. However, governments and authorities are still eager to go ahead with programs and incentives, with renewed emphasis on the environmental agenda.

Looking at estimations for completions of flats before and after the outbreak, the recovery is likely to accelerate in 2022, and the market is unlikely to recover before. The end of financial support schemes by governments (VAT deferral, loan schemes or furlough) is likely to have a negative impact on many businesses, including contractors. Indications are, that new build and residential sales will be hit harder than commercial ones. Southern Europe is also likely to struggle more, although recession is expected across most of European countries.

Taking all this into account, BSRIA sees the numbers of heat interface units growing steadily but at a single digit compound annual growth rate of just over 4% on a Pan-European basis. The market will become more diverse and will look for more flexible options to cater for high-end, electricity-only heating, mixed-used and communal areas.

To find out more about BSRIA’s District Energy and Heat Interface unit market studies contact us at:

Acoustics in the workplace – What’s the “new normal”?

Rebecca Hogg
Acoustic Consultant, BSRIA

Wooden blocks spelling 'new normal'

There is no denying global events this year have turned every aspect of our lives upside down, and as we all start to try and get back to normal while lockdown restrictions ease, we realise it is a “new normal”.

Workplaces have changed, some almost unrecognisable from before, and there is a myriad of requirements to consider beyond the essential health and safety measures. Occupant wellbeing was a prominent consideration prior to lockdown, and this included provision of a good acoustic environment, but how are new COVID-secure workplaces affecting the acoustic environment?

For many years there have been acoustic standards and guidelines on internal noise levels in offices, determining sound power levels of building plant, and predicting the sound absorption of materials. Well designed open-plan offices have allowed large groups of people to collaborate and communicate effectively, and noise regulations have ensured factories and construction sites operate without disturbing neighbours.

In recent months, the workplace has been turned on its head. Following government guidelines many people began working from home. Suddenly the familiar hum of the workplace was replaced in some instances with squabbling children or impatient pets, and if you live alone maybe unwelcome silence replaced your usual face-to-face conversations.

As people are gradually allowed to return to a place of work, new COVID-secure offices have changed the acoustic environment. The installation of screens, the partitioning of open plan spaces, wearing of face coverings, and a lower level of occupancy have created acoustic challenges. For example, speech intelligibility is affected by the reverberation time of a space. Fewer people and more reflective materials, such as plastic screens, will decrease the sound absorption and increase the reverberation time, resulting in poorer speech intelligibility.

Building services have been specified, installed, and commissioned for a particular set up of a workplace layout and building occupancy. If a space is divided into individual offices to allow for social distancing, then the building services provision also needs to be reconsidered. Changing the control settings of a system will have an impact on the internal noise levels and subsequently on levels of occupant annoyance.

Not everyone works in an office, so, what about situation in different workplaces? Factories, shops, and construction sites have been redesigned to allow for social distancing, and often operating hours have been extended to allow for shift patterns, potentially increasing noise nuisance for neighbours.

In these environments the noise levels are also often higher and communication between people can therefore be harder. People working further away from each other and wearing face coverings will inhibit successful communication and influence performance, and if someone must shout to be heard does this have the potential to spread virus droplets further? There should also be consideration of the highly overlooked 12 million people in the UK who suffer from some level of hearing loss. Being unable to lip read because someone is wearing a face covering, or unable to hear the conversation over a bad video conferencing link is incredibly frustrating and isolating.

The acoustic challenges within a COVID-secure workplace may seem overwhelming but there are several simple solutions. Firstly, identify noise sources in the workplace and maintain them appropriately to minimise background noise.

Something as simple as cleaning filters inside a fan coil unit can increase airflow and capacity, meaning the fan speed can be reduced and subsequently the noise level.

Secondly, examine acoustic specifications of any new products being installed – ask to see test reports and consider how a new product could influence the acoustic environment.

Finally, consider the occupants of your workplace and how they use the space. Tailoring the acoustic environment to the needs of the occupants can increase productivity, decrease annoyance and overall improve the wellbeing of all. The focus on workplace safety is paramount, but long-term considering other design parameters, such as the acoustic environment, will ensure workplaces not only survive but thrive.

BSRIA acoustic experts publish guidance, and support our members and clients with a range of acoustic testing solutions. Read more about our UKAS-accredited laboratory for acoustic testing to BS EN ISO 3741, BS EN 12102 and BS EN ISO 354 here.

The importance of investigating failures in building services

Pinhole corrosion of radiator (outside surface)
Pinhole corrosion of radiator (outside surface)

A study from the UCL(1) revealed that building failures may cost the UK construction industry £1bn to £2bn every year. This was a conservative estimate made in 2016, based on 1 to 2% of the total value of construction.

As of March 2020, the Office for National Statistics has estimated the total value of all UK construction works to be worth £12.7bn, 68% of which is for new buildings or the repair and maintenance of existing buildings. This would give an estimated cost of failure between £85m and £170m, of which building services would account for a high proportion.

(1) Razak, D S A, Mills, G and Roberts, A (2016) External Failure Cost in Construction Supply Chains. In: P W Chan and C J Neilson (Eds.)

Types of failures in building services

Bathtub curve regarding types of failures in buildings
Bathtub curve

The typical pattern of failure arising against time is shown by the well-known bathtub curve. The curve is divided into three segments: an infant mortality period, usually marked by a rapidly decreasing failure rate; a random failure period, where the failure rate continues at a

The first period is usually detected during the defects liability period after a project is handed over.

The second period would happen during the operation of a system, and failures may occur due to inappropriate operating conditions or maintenance regimes.

The third period is when the system is reaching the end of its life. Failure could be imminent and there should be little or no surprise in this happening.

Importance of investigating these failures

Showing house made of money i.e. there is cost in everything, so always investigate to prevent repetitive failures
There is cost in everything: Always investigate to prevent repetitive failures

There are various reasons why every unexpected failure should be investigated. Below are some of the key ones:

  • Insurance purposes. Insurers may require an independent evaluation of the failure and investigation of its possible cause to identify possible fraudulent or malicious intentions.
  • Cost savings. Too often, failed components are replaced without investigating the root cause. Without understanding the origin of a failure, it is not possible to prevent its re-occurrence. Repetitive failure and replacement of components could add significantly to the operating cost for a building or estate.
  • Health and safety. In May 2009, a lift at London’s Tower Bridge tourist attraction suffered a vital mechanism failure that sent it falling with 9 people in it, four of whom suffered bone fractures. The malfunction was caused by the failure of a counterweight mechanism. The accident investigation by the HSE revealed that there had been several previous component failures with the counterweight mechanism, and the components had been replaced without proper review, and with no investigation into why they were failing so early. Tower Bridge was ordered to pay a total cost of £100k, and the HSE concluded that, had there been a proper review into the counterweight mechanisms, the catastrophic failure of the lift could have been avoided.

BSRIA can help with building services investigations

BSRIA has been in the building services industry for over 60 years and has been involved in hundreds of investigations.

Our independence makes us the ideal partner to provide non-biased failure investigations. Our expertise and capability in testing various materials and components of building services to determine the likely cause of failure is unique. We are able to perform investigations on site, examinations in our labs and analysis in our offices.

Our professional approach is such that there is no failure too large or too small to investigate today because this can save lives and costs tomorrow.

Read more about BSRIA’s Failure Investigation service here

Author: Martin Ronceray, BSRIA Engineering Investigation Lead

The BSRIA investigation team can be contacted at

+44 (0) 1344 465578

Investigations@bsria.co.uk

Planned Preventive Maintenance during the COVID-19 Pandemic

We are living in unprecedented times; The UK has never experienced such restrictions in peace time, and the world has never seen such wide-ranging restrictions in so many countries simultaneously. As we move deeper into the lockdown of the UK, our ability to effect essential maintenance activities is being adversely impacted. There are reports of specialist subcontractors being unable to attend sites, TFM providers having limited resources and members of in-house teams being unable to attend work due to self-isolation, sickness or concerns over the coronavirus. 

Businesses are suffering from depleted competent resources and are also having to risk-assess the impacts to their remaining staff as part of exercising their own corporate duty of care. There are a lot of unknown facets to this issue as, by its name, the novel coronavirus is new. We can only work with the current guidance available and early indications of initial research that is being conducted.

BSRIA is recognised as experts in the field of maintenance, FM and the built environment and well known for our guidance on risk-based business-focused maintenance (BFM). Thus, we have been contacted by our members and clients for advice and support during this unique period. The advice we are offering is on interpretations of the government guidance as it applies to our industry. 

The UK government has stated that “Making buildings safe … remains a priority for the government.” Whilst it is focused on public sector, the Crown Commercial Service is more maintenance-focused and has issued guidance on what to do if you are reviewing the need for a full or partial shutdown of buildings and a reduction in services. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which enforces several pieces of legislation that contain time-bound statutory inspections, initially communicated that there would be no change to their outlook on missing these inspections. However, latterly the HSE have allowed for some pragmatism. There is no relaxation whatsoever on the duty-holder’s legal responsibility to maintain work equipment, but there is more acknowledgment of the difficulties of carrying out thorough examinations, written schemes of examination and statutory inspections. The document detailing this can be found here and the press release here. If maintenance intervention dates are exceeded and the choice is made to keep a certain asset or system running, documenting the risk and the actions taken to avoid this risk is very important. The HSE provide some useful guidance on this here.

BFM respects statutory and mandatory requirements but has long advocated a review of non-statutory generic time-based interventions. Indeed, BSRIA’s BFM practitioners travel to sites up and down the country and across the globe, supporting building owners and operators with independent, authoritative advice on how to maximise business-function-critical building service uptime, whilst minimising cost and time resource investment. Targeted use of condition monitoring can often provide more uptime than intrusive maintenance permits and avoids the risk of maintenance induced failures.

When buildings are left unattended, certain considerations need to be made. If a building is vacant, then it should be mothballed, or put in an appropriate state of stasis. The BESA produced guidance on this in 2006 and published it under the title SFG 30. If there is even a skeleton staff in the building, then systems will need to be kept running.

Water is one of the first things to consider. Whereas under normal operations there may have been a handful of little-used outlets, in reduced operation stage, the vast majority of the outlets are possibly going to be termed as little-used.

As it is much easier to maintain a water system in a wholesome condition than to try to rid it of proliferated biology, it is recommended to ensure the flushing is attended to. We have an article on the subject here, but the basics are: keep  cold water cold, keep hot water hot and keep both moving. That advice works for the pumps too. For buildings that are still operating, cooling systems should be kept running regularly or as needed based on sensor inputs.

There is a growing body of investigations that is suggesting an indoor condition of 24°C+ and ≈50%rH+ is helpful in controlling SARS-CoV-2. However, the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA) has produced documentation that does not support this and suggests that the figures are closer to 30°C+ and ≈80%rH+ which would not be convenient in a building. If the building is being (or has been) vacated and will remain unoccupied for some time, then cooling towers can be drained and local authorities notified.

Heating is the same, we should keep things running at regular intervals or as and when there is a requirement for a heating load. It is the time of the year when we would be considering shutting down our heating systems, and those activities could be pulled forward, ensuring inhibitors topped up to keep the pipe condition and biological content within desired parameters.

Regarding ventilation; there is much discussion about the transmission methods of coronavirus. Is it fomite and droplet only, or is it airborne? There is talk about UV treatment of ventilation, HEPA room cleaners and whether, in the near future, these sorts of technologies will become the norm.

Based on the latest information and advice on the subject, it is possible to identify a unifying golden thread that puts emphasis on keeping the fresh or outdoor air coming in. Increasing ventilation appears to be the best solution. Creating negative pressures in the toilet areas and filling all other areas with as much fresh, non-recirculated air as possible and similarly increasing extract volumes is repeatedly stated as the best practice for ventilation systems. This may entail manual intervention to fully open dampers, close recirculation paths (including heat recovery where air streams mix), and considering running close to maximum air flow rate for up to 24 hours a day 7 days a week for any level of occupancy in a building.

Life safety systems will need to continue to be looked at even if buildings are at a low occupancy. BSRIA can give guidance on where to go for the best advice on any of these systems. If buildings are being mothballed, one consideration that will need to be made is contacting insurers to understand their coverage requirements. Systems that fall into the LOLER or PSSR categories will have their own considerations as governed by the HSE. Emergency lighting checks in an unoccupied building can be halted and then conducted prior to re-occupation. In an occupied building, the advice changes.

Due to the level of enquiries we have been fielding from our members and clients BSRIA have hosted discussion on this subject to gather industry input and opinions. It is possible to hear this presentation here.

I will finish by reassuring you that you are not alone in this. We are here to support you though these strange times and welcome your calls and emails about how we can support you.

Be safe.

PS: If you are not familiar with BFM, we have an article on the subject here and we would be more than happy to take enquiries on our consultancy@bsria.co.uk email address, but in a nutshell it is a way of adapting PPM routines to focus on the business’s main activities and ensuring that the installed building services are able to support them.

BSRIA first published guidance on BFM in 2004, and the current guide, BG 53, was published in 2016.

Business-Focused Maintenance (BG 53/2016)

Thermal Imaging helps improve energy efficiency in building design

Energy efficiency in building design

Buildings account for approximately 40% of the total energy we use. Based on this statistic, even a small improvement in energy efficiency in our buildings could have a huge impact on the environment. 

A reduction in the amount of heat that escapes through a building envelope is one of the most important aspects of energy-efficient building design. Keeping the heat within the confines of the conditioned area removes the necessity to supply more energy to the space. 

On the flip side, the problem of overheating suggests that heat, and energy production, within a lightweight structure needs to be carefully managed for fear of increasing the internal temperatures to uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous levels. It is implied that the cost of cooling a space far exceeds the equivalent cost to heat a space. 

In an effort to keep the heat inside the building, a strategy to ensure attention to the airtightness and insulation detail throughout the construction process should be incorporated at the design stage. Consequently, to ensure that any negative effects associated with possible overheating and moisture ingress due to such an airtight structure are kept to a minimum, the construction must be designed with an appropriate ventilation strategy.

Challenges of different construction methodology

Construction methods face individual challenges when considering the design of an energy-efficient example of its product. 

The design and construction of volumetric modules, for example, have huge efficiency benefits when considering the increased production and uniformity of manufacturing on an assembly line. However, the transport of each module and the assembly of multiple modules on-site can introduce areas of weakness in the overall building fabric that would not be apparent in the factory. 

When considering a timber frame, the junctions between frame elements can be subject to unexpected stresses and movement as the natural timbers settle into their new environment. These movements, no matter how small, can introduce significant air leakage paths into the building fabric and therefore have a negative contribution to the thermal performance of the finished building.   

In both above examples, rigorous quality testing should be performed to ensure the quality of the finished building, proofing that it has been built and assembled to the designed specification.  

Airtightness Testing verifies the quality of building fabric

Airtightness testing demonstrates the ability of a building to hold air. The test generally involves using a fan to measure how much air needs to be blown into a building to achieve a certain pressure; a building with a more airtight building fabric will require less air through the fan. The value of the result, which is referred to as the permeability of the building fabric, is required by Building Regulations to have a maximum value of 10 m3h-1m2, although most buildings are specified at a lower level at the design stage to achieve a lower EPC (Energy Performance Certificate). The government stipulates that all new buildings must be airtightness tested before handover to ensure quality control. 

Airtightness testing is a very good way to verify the quality of the building fabric. However, it can only quantify how much air is coming through your building fabric and does not inform where the air leakage paths are. In contrast, thermal imaging can tell you where the air is leaking but it cannot quantify how bad the air leakage is.  Performing both is therefore providing full set of information that is needed to ensure that the designed specification is achieved. 

How Thermal Imaging can lead to improvements in energy efficiency

Thermal imaging process of the building fabric implies the use of a thermal imaging camera to observe and assess the thermal performance of building fabric elements. It allows us to ‘see’ the effects of the heat generated by items around us, and to ‘see’ the areas of the fabric that have the lowest thermal performance.  

When used to survey the building fabric, the camera shows temperature variations on the surfaces of the construction elements that suggest locations of air leakage, areas of thermal bridging and locations where the insulation continuity is broken. Each of these issues will have a detrimental effect on the thermal performance of the building. The anomalies found during the process often represent an area of the building that has not been built to specification. Highlighting them allows the rectification and subsequent improvement works to take place before they become a problem to the occupier.  

The use of airtightness testing and thermal imaging is a relatively quick and cost-effective way to verify the performance of the building fabric of the finished building, be it an assembly of volumetric modules or a “completed and wrapped” timber frame. 

Any thermal anomalies found during these surveys can be rectified before the building is occupied. If no anomalies are found, then the building has documented proof that it has been built to the specified standard. This should mitigate overall disruption and ensure occupier’s satisfaction.

The information collected during the survey can be fed back into the design process and further improvements can be made in future iterations of the product. In this way, these diagnostic tools can be used not only to maximise the energy efficiency of the current building but can also be used to improve the design and construction process of future projects. 

Joe Mazzon
Research Engineer 
BSRIA

For more information on Thermal imaging and Airtightness testing please contact: thermography@bsria.co.uk or call 01344 465578

Smart Buildings – Thoughts from Olympia

When I first started attending trade shows years ago, I was of course eager to find the latest technological wonders, unveiled before our admiring eyes. Over the years I have come to see that such events are less places to go to for dramatic revelations and more experiences which either confirm or call into doubt what you already thought you knew about what was happening in the market.

This was encapsulated by a familiar face from a major supplier who admitted that the company was there mainly to underline its presence in the smart buildings space in the UK.

For our presentation we had chosen the theme of “Wellbeing in Buildings: Gimmick or Game changer”? The theme clearly captured a lot of interest from the audience. Global wellbeing standards like the Well Standard and the Fitwell standard lay down detailed and structured standards against which wellbeing can be measured.

Over 1,300 organisations in the UK have either passed the Well Building Standard or are working towards it, which is more than any other country in the world, just ahead of the US, despite this being a US-based standard. My own quick preliminary research confirms that in many cases BACS or other smart building technology can make a tangible difference in attaining many of these goals.

Looking at the themes of all the presentation, wellbeing and related subjects was the second most popular topic, so we appear to have captured the zeitgeist. Most popular of all was “IoT” and its impact on buildings. One presentation supported the notion that IoT will lead to the demise of BACS as it has traditionally been known (though security is likely to require that building systems remain insulated to a degree from the wider internet – by firewalls or other security measures).

Lighting was the third most popular theme, which of course ties in with both wellbeing and energy saving. In joint fourth place were cyber-security, issues related to wireless, and the more general advance of integration. Cyber security is clearly the snarling guest at the party which is not going to leave however hard you try, and which will require a constantly evolving strategy to control.

The interest in integration is hardly surprising, since you can no more have a smart building without integration of a range of different building services than you can have a smart animal if the hands, the feet, the eyes, the lungs and the liver all operate entirely independently.

Wireless technology continues to gain ground, slowly, though key questions of reliability and security remain to be fully resolved. The growth prospects for wireless look likely to be boosted if there is a growth in smart building technology in smaller buildings, driven partly by new energy regulations.

In connection with wireless, I attended an interesting talk on the roll out of 5G in the UK. While the speaker saw it mainly in terms of an increase in overall network capacity – with the major telcos enjoying varying shares, in buildings there was also the opportunity to licence a small and localised part of the network to use for internal transmission.

Other themes favoured by more than one speaker included the growing importance of having large numbers of sophisticated sensors to collect the data needed for a smart building, the importance of data and analytics, and the value of space management.

And of course, at an event like this, we should pay attention not just to what is said, but what is left unsaid, or merely whispered sotto voce.

Of the big themes that we might have expected, there was less explicit reference to the cloud. This partly reflects the fact that the cloud is an enabler rather than an end in itself and is implicitly linked to the most popular theme of all: the IoT.

There was less direct reference to data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning than I might have expected. I suspect this is partly because these are hard to pin down for the benefit of an audience more interested in practical results than in the theory that under pins them. After all, AI is as hard to define rigorously as is the “smart building”. Both are essentially continually advancing targets.

A significant number of major building controls suppliers were in attendance – most of them headquartered outside the UK

All of this made it an event worth attending.

 

Written by Henry Lawson, Senior Market Intelligence Analyst at BSRIA

What elements do you need to consider when specifying a weather louvre?

A weather louvre is a passive device, essentially a grille fixed over an opening, designed to let air through and keep water out. It is designed to perform both these functions simultaneously, and its suitability for a particular application is determined by how effectively it achieves these functions in combination.

Failure to understand and clearly express the performance requirement at the design or procurement stage increases the risk of the product not being fit for purpose. The end user may experience unwanted water penetration or wasted energy.

To achieve optimum performance, system designers and specifiers of weather louvres must have an appreciation of:
•    How to understand weather louvre requirements
•    How to minimise whole-life costs through system design and louvre selection
•    Which terms to use to ensure that performance data are consistently stated when sourcing products from suppliers
•    How to minimise risks associated with overstated performance claims

Performance Testing

The standard performance tests for weather louvres are described in BS EN 13030 and BS EN 13181. The test methods are designed to simulate real-life operating conditions the louvre will undergo when installed.  The rejection performance can be established for a range of ventilation rates while subjected to windblown rain or sand.
BSRIA operates a specialist weather louvre test facility, which offers clients independent performance testing of weather louvres to these standards.

Specifying a Weather Louvre

To specify a weather louvre usefully requires the following elements:

•    Understanding of the required volume flow rate, louvre face area and subsequent face velocity
•    Understanding of the permissible water penetration for the application, based on the classes provided by the standard test (A-D)
•    Understanding of the standard test classes for discharge or entry loss coefficient (1-4) and that a higher Cd means lower energy usage.

It must be noted that other factors can affect the performance of a weather louvre which is not accounted for by the standard test.
If you are looking for further information visit http://www.bsria.co.uk where you can download BSRIA’s Weather Louvre Specification Guide (BG 36/2012) for FREE or for louvre testing enquiries either contact 01772 754381 or email: bsrianorth@bsria.co.uk

The  Smart Building in the Smart City – The Ultimate Convergence?

Some Thoughts from Qingdao

If smart cities are to meet the needs of the people living and working in them then they will benefit from expanding on the experience gained in managing complex buildings – and then up their game further…  

Qingdao, China – a Vibrant and Growing City focussing Minds on Smart Buildings and Smart Cities

In September I had the chance to speak at the 5th Annual Global Congress of Knowledge Economy-2018,  held in Qingdao, China.

As well as giving me the chance to set out BSRIA’s vision of smart homes and their wider impact on smart buildings, I was able to enjoy the opinions and insights of a wide range of fellow conference speakers drawn from more than a dozen countries, spread across Asia, Europe and North America.

The central focus of the conference was on the state of the smart city and its future.  For an organisation like BSRIA, whose expertise lies above all in buildings, the relationship between the smart building and the smart city is an interesting, subtle and increasingly strategic  one.

On the one hand, buildings are the most obvious and important elements making up any town or city. Think of a town or city and you probably think of prominent buildings and how they relate to each other and the landscape. In developed societies, buildings account for the largest share of energy use, ahead of industrial production or transport. Urban humans also spend most of our lives within the confines of buildings. In that sense they dominate our world.

Buildings and Cities – From a Technical Challenge to a Social One

Until recently, building services have been directly predominantly at addressing tangible technical challenges, such as how to reduce energy consumption while maintaining physically acceptable temperatures, ventilation, lighting levels and physical safety and security. Recently the emphasis has started to include more intangible, social and human objectives such as comfort, wellbeing and social cohesion. Such “humanistic” values are increasingly seen as being both valuable in themselves and having an economic value. A building where people feel happy is likely to be more profitable.

Such goals and outcomes are of course much harder to measure, but advances in the collection and analysis of data make it increasingly possible to measure human emotions and outputs, to the point where the question increasingly moves from “Can we do this?” to one of “Is it socially or ethically acceptable to be collecting and analysing such sensitive information about people’s inner states and information?”

This development in turn strengthens the links between the smart building and the smart city. Cities have always been close to the very essence of what it is to be human. It is no accident that the word civilisation is related to the Latin ‘civitas’ or town.  One of the strongest messages to come out of the conference is that some early smart city ‘solutions’ suffer from the fact that they purport to offer a ‘technical’ answer without considering all of the very human social needs of a city.

We heard from mayors, city managers and academics from cities ranging from around 5,000 inhabitants to ones with several million. Clearly there were big issues and divergencies with resources and with priorities. A larger city is likely to experience greater challenges in areas such as transportation. In a small city with more limited resources, focussing of effort needs to be more precise, concentrating on issues that will bring a quick and noticeable return.

Towards “City Management Systems”

As with standards in general, there is a natural tension between the benefits of experimentation and adopting a tailored approach which is focussed on a particular community’s needs on the one hand, and having solutions that can be adapted and rolled out by a wide range of different cities on the other, ensuring that systems can communicate and avoiding the temptation to “reinvent the wheel” every time. Two cities may have different detailed needs when it comes to tackling crime, or transport or urban places, but it doesn’t usually make sense to invent something completely different.

One possible answer to this dilemma is to produce smart city “platforms” which accommodate the key aspects likely to be found in a smart city project, including education, transport, security, energy management, health, governance etc. but which can then be configured to meet the different needs of different communities. This could be seen as something almost akin to a Building Automation System (or BACS).

If you think Building management is Complex, Try Cities..

At present there are obviously limits to how far this coordinated approach can advance. Even within a building, there are big challenges to resolve when integrating services such as HVAC, lighting, room booking, security or fire protection. For a start, these may well be the responsibility of different departments.

In a city, these divisions are likely to be multiplied many times. Most cities will have numerous ‘stakeholders’. Even where there is an enthusiastic, well informed and pro-active Mayor – like the people I met in Qingdao, they will need to accommodate political colleagues and rivals, public officials, services, utilities and businesses and media. In many cities, such as London, the Mayor has limited political power and budgeting resources and needs to cooperate not just with a council representing numerous parties, but with more than 30 London Borough’s each with their own powers and agenda, not to mention the UK national government.

Issues such as cyber security and data protection, which already loom large for building managers, are substantially more complex at a city level, and with much more potentially at stake.

Beyond city leaders in democratic countries have to court public opinion to secure re-election, and this opinion can be fickle if smart city initiatives are seen as ineffective, representing poor value, or are simply misunderstood.

Projects can easily go wrong, particularly where technology is used to plug a gap in a poorly thought out policy. To take an example related to buildings and energy, if policy encourages buildings to generate energy, store it and return it to the grid, then the investments will only work if there is an adequate infrastructure and pricing system in place to remunerate contributors and make efficient use of the energy.

Similarly, while district energy schemes can be extremely efficient, and can benefit from smart technology such as monitoring and analytics, the basic design needs to be properly balanced and they need to be supported with appropriate expertise.

This may encourage excess caution. While there are ample opportunities to spread risks and benefit from the expertise of the private sector, this is unlikely to be effective if the city managers lack the necessary knowledge and understanding.

The Way Forward

So what can the building services community specifically take away from this? Firstly, a confirmation that the boundaries between the building on the one hand, and what goes on both inside and outside of it are becoming increasingly blurred. Both building systems and city-wide systems need to be able to communicate and exchange information in a controlled and appropriate way.

Most obviously, buildings can contribute both positively and negatively towards the immediate environment, and via their consumption and production of greenhouse gasses, to the wider global environment. The conference heard of some interesting examples of projects for buildings forming “vertical cities”, including not just social amenities but also “sky gardens”.

In highly dense cities such as Hong Kong this approach could yet take off. And even in European cities like London, buildings meeting environmental and social needs look set to become a key element in the smart city of the future.

Open standards will also be essential for the world of the smart building and the smart city. ISO standards such as ISO 37106:2018 Sustainable cities and communities — Guidance on establishing smart city operating models for sustainable communities and ISO/IEC 30182:2017 Smart city concept model — Guidance for establishing a model for data interoperability will play an important role.

However, there is a real opportunity for companies which already have solutions for the management of complex buildings and campuses, including everything from services to physical and cyber security, to extend their offering in a way that allows for the integration, analysis and management of wider smart city services.

Beyond the Immediate Future, a More Unexpected Twist?

I came away from the conference convinced that smart technology is quite likely to change the whole structure of cities, and even, to some extent challenge the need for mega-conurbations. Large cities have arisen in the past 150 years mainly because industrial production and then service delivery required the concentration of large “armies” of people in a limited and accessible area.

If most routine production and most services come to be provided mainly by a combination robotics and by AI as now looks increasingly feasible, and humans are needed mainly the more specialised and abstract roles that sit above this, then is there really a need for millions of humans to be concentrated in a limited area?

It would be ironic if the same processes that usher in the smart city were to lead eventually to a kind of “post urbanised” world reversing the trend seen in modern history.

But that is a much bigger question for another article. For now, the opportunity lies with companies who can help meld the elements of the smart city – with buildings as a key component – into a robust and workable system.

 

Author: Henry Lawson, BSRIA

The Lyncinerator on… an unexpected link between onesies and buildings

Don’t get me started. When asked what he wanted for Christmas, our nephew told his aunt he would like a Harry Potter ‘onesie’. Aunt Lil delivered one. “Exactly the right size”, noted Aunt Lil triumphantly, sure that she had delivered what was wanted. However, she had no idea that there are different houses at Hogwarts school and that getting the ‘right’ house Really Matters. “It’s got a slithering snake thing on the hood” she pointed out – anathema to the Gryffindor besotted youngster. He also expected a thick fleecy onesie, not the thin synthetic version chosen. “It’s just right for bed” she said, not realising that he wanted a cosy onesie for day time lounging. The boy reluctantly put on the item leaving a slightly cross aunt murmuring about ungrateful youngsters.

75-16 Lynne Ceeney

This blog was written by Lynne Ceeney, Technical Director at BSRIA

It was an interesting lesson in specification. The situation reminded me of many building projects. Unless requirements are clearly specified, teams usually look for the cheapest way to deliver to the worst permitted standards – building regulations or health and safety minimum standards.

Aunt Lil could say she had met her brief. She delivered a onesie that had a vague connection to Harry Potter, from a legitimate source, which met legal standards. And was low cost. But it wasn’t what the recipient wanted and his performance expectations definitely were not met. Just like many buildings. It isn’t all down to the deliverer. A better conversation was needed between the boy (or his parents acting as agents) and Aunt Lil – to explain his specification.

Increasingly, client specifications for buildings and their services relate to performance outcomes rather than specifying the inputs to be supplied or designs to be built. That is, the client sets out what product or service being supplied is required to do, rather than what should be supplied or how it should be designed. The ‘Design for Performance’ family of ratings standards (including NABERS) rates buildings in accordance with their operational performance over 12 months of auditing. Failure to meet the pre-agreed standard is considered a contractual breach. Ratings systems such as BREEAM encourage operational performance improvement. Government is also considering “shifting” away from EPCs which only measure theoretical design performance.

The increased use of real time monitoring and smart technologies is leading to the servitisation of facilities management and maintenance as reliability of performance and speed of responsiveness to occupier demand is becoming more important to the building owner and their clients. Social influences, such as an increased focus on wellbeing and wearable technologies, build expectations for a real time response to performance variation rather than periodic interventions.

This has considerable implications for the building services industry. Bringing in building services engineers at the end of the design phase won’t work as they need to be involved in overall design so that required outcomes can be achieved. Tools like Soft Landings will be used more widely to maintain the focus on performance targets through design, delivery and operation and to assist in increasing collaboration throughout the supply chain.

The detail in the specification and the degree to which it is input or outcome focused will depend on the context and situation. Drawing up a good specification requires knowledge and experience. It can be determined through dialogue between the client and an appointed deliverer, combining technical expertise with user experience. However, in a pre-tender situation, the client may choose to take professional advice or to use the technical guidance available from BSRIA (and others).

As the boy’s mother will say, good specification saves a lot of awkwardness. She wishes the cheap onesie label had specified its maintenance needs properly. It shrunk in the wash. She is reprocessing it as a cleaning rag and his dad will buy him the onesie the boy wanted in the first place! Mum will supervise his Christmas list this year. Don’t get me started…

Can the UK be a Global Leader in Battery Storage?

In a speech in November 2017, the UK Energy Secretary Greg Clark set out an apparently ambitious vision of UK energy policy in general, and for battery energy storage in particular. What is more, the UK’s Faraday Challenge comes with a promise of £246 million to boost expertise in battery technology.

While the UK has generally been one of the leading advocates of a greener, more sustainable energy policy over the past few decades, it has always been more ambivalent when it comes to committing significant sums of hard public cash. While just under a quarter of a billion pounds is still modest compared to the R&D budgets of some of the world’s leading corporations (Amazon alone is set to invest roughly 50 times that sum in overall R&D in 2017) it nonetheless represents an important step forward.

Henry Lawson, WMI

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Battery storage matters of course because, based on current knowledge, it offers the most efficient and practicable way of converting energy into a form where it can be stored safely, and in a limited space (an important factor for buildings, especially for homes), and then be available for instant use ‘on demand’. Given that the key renewable energies, wind and solar, are inherently irregular, this form of storage is crucial to their development.

Clark’s stated aim is no less than “to ensure that the UK is the place in the world where new battery technology especially in combination with the auto sector is not just developed but is commercialised.”

Experience suggests that individual countries can indeed emerge as leaders in innovative green technology in a way that not only helps the environment but makes a major contribution to their economy. Denmark for example has emerged as a global giant in wind-power technology, helped not just by an abundance of wind – which many countries enjoy – but by leadership in the development of the requisite technology.

In 2016, over 32,000 people were employed in the Danish Wind Power industry – which would be proportionately equivalent to over 350,000 jobs in the UK. The industry also generated €5.98 billion in product exports, which equates to over 1,000 euros for every man, woman and child in Denmark.

Looked at today, the UK has its work cut out to become a global leader in battery storage. In a list of “43 Battery Storage Companies To Watch” compiled by cleantechnica in early 2015, only one company (res) was headquartered in the UK, and fewer than one in 5 were European headquartered – with Germany, perhaps not surprisingly having the strongest European base. Two thirds were based in North America and about 1 in 6 in Asia (that is in Japan, China or South Korea).

Bloomberg has projected that China’s share of global lithium-ion battery production will rise from an estimated 55% today, to as much 65% in 2021. The UK, like the rest of Europe, has some reason to be concerned that, with energy storage as with so many other disruptive new technologies, so much of the main action is taking place in other parts of the world, with Europe and the UK potentially sidelined to the ranks of spectators and followers.

However two important caveats should be applied here. The first is that there is a well-established global pattern of R&D being focused in the leading developed economies (such as North America, Western Europe, Japan and South Korea) with mass production being outsourced to countries such as the BRICS economies, especially China, India and Brazil.

The second is of course that an economy that optimises use of energy storage will be about  much more than the design and manufacture of ever more efficient batteries, important though this is. The creation of an energy grid which can make optimal decisions about when to store energy (at national, local and community level), and from which courses will also be critical, as will be the development and implementation of building energy management solutions which can ensure that each building manages its energy, including energy storage in an efficient way.

Efficient support for electric vehicles, and their integration into the wider energy grid where practicable, will be a further key plank.

The UK government’s approach, including promoting initiatives from universities, also makes a lot of sense, given that many of the world’s energy storage leaders started life as offshoots of university research programs.

All of this may or may not propel the UK to the kind of leading role that it aspires to. It is, however, a timely and much needed move to become more proactive in one of the technologies that will be vital in creating a safer and more sustainable future.

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