Have you been blackmailed by your Dishwasher? Who Owns the Smart Future?

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Having recently updated BSRIA’s key market studies on Building Automation Controls (BACS), Building Energy Management (BEMS) and Smart Evolution – towards the Internet of Everything, I was struck by a world in a state of flux with  implications for the built environment and technology in general that could be as profound as they are unpredictable.

The structure and make up of our buildings and cities have always been intensely political. The most visible of all human creations, they speak volumes about our abilities, our status and our values and our aspirations. I felt this last month  when viewing the ruins of Ephesus – once the second city of the Roman Empire –  as much as when  I am visiting London or Chicago.

At least since the turn of the millennium there has been a tacit assumption that while technology is the great enabler, much of the change in the way our buildings and cities are designed and organised will be driven by social concerns, typically expressed through politics. In particular, the perception that the threat of climate change requires far reaching action has led to a sustained series of targets, guidelines and regulations to increase both energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, which naturally impacts on the built environment as one of the biggest consumers of energy.

Is this movement losing momentum? The financial crisis and recession affecting much of Europe, North America and some other parts of the developing world has proved to be the most prolonged since the 1930s. Even countries which appeared to escape the worst impact have since experienced either recession or a dramatic slowdown, including Australia, Canada and of course China.

With falling or stagnating production and rising government debt levels in so many countries, it is no surprise that finances and basic economics have come to the fore. Violent conflicts, especially in the Middle East, Africa  and Eastern Europe, but overflowing into other parts of the world, and in turn fuelling mass movements of refugees and economic migration are also seizing attention in developed countries as well.

All of this has sometimes appeared to leave the “green agenda” somewhat on the back foot. Even in countries like Germany, Austria, Australia and New Zealand, where Green parties have attracted mass support and had a major influence on government, they have seemed to become more marginalised. Britain’s recent elections resulted in a new majority government which has very quickly moved to relax requirements on the energy efficiency of new buildings, and also to phase out subsidies for wind power.

While there is argument as to how far this is simply a question of means, and how much it represents a shift in priorities, there is little doubt that measures to improve energy efficiency or to promote use of smart technology face an uphill path if they cannot also provide a quick pay-back.

Where governments get involved in technology, it tends to be for old fashioned economic reasons.  When  mega-corporations  like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon have been in the spotlight it has mainly been because of accusations of anti-competitive practices or because of their tax policies. Rather less thought has been given to the ways in which companies like these could change the basic structure of society, the balance of power, and the whole environment.

Increasingly these global brands interact directly with a global audience, influencing their behaviour, and in turn being influenced by them. It is no accident that Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon, having established themselves as consumer brands, are now all active in the area of smart buildings, ranging from the smart home to, in Microsoft’s case, providing the data crunching to manage and optimise whole campuses of buildings.

Increasingly we can link these to wearable devices and to creators of virtual realities which could radically change our day to day activities and environment. Even the basic blocks  from which buildings are made can have ‘smart’ properties, from ‘self-healing’ bricks to glass that responds dynamically to different levels of light.

threatsWith artificial intelligence already surpassing human intelligence in certain well defined areas – such as chess playing – questions are raised about how far the technology goes, who owns it, and how much power they will have. Even our homes and offices can study, learn and predict our habits and our preferences, in ways that can certainly be useful, but also potentially disturbing.

For over a hundred years there have been fears about the prospect of vital areas of technology  being dominated by a single concern or perhaps a cabal of companies. So far, in practice, it has been innovation itself  that has come to the rescue. Even the most nimble footed technology giants have been caught off-guard by new waves of technology, from IBM, to Microsoft to Nokia. In the case of building technologies the requirements are particularly diverse, and  it is quite unusual to find a country where a single supplier accounts for more than 25%-30% of the market.

Nonetheless as we look to a future where corporations and, by implication, governments have access to information about almost every aspect of where we are, what we are doing, how we feel and what we want and fear.

While you can probably rest assured that your dishwasher probably doesn’t have a motivation to blackmail you (why were those extra glasses washed out at 3 o’clock last Thursday morning?) you can be less assured that it won’t soon have the evidence to do so.

More information about the latest editions of BSRIA’s market studies on Building Automation, Building Energy Management, and Smart Evolution is available here.

Smartening up the City

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

There are some leaps in technology that seize the mind and imprint themselves indelibly on the memory. There can hardly be anyone over the age of 50 who doesn’t recall their grainy view of the first man on the Moon, and people who are quite a bit younger will remember when, say, paying a bill or booking a holiday online was still a novel experience.

There are other changes which, while they are already having far more impact on our lives than the Moon landings, seem to have crept up on us, almost by stealth. The advent of the Smart City looks very much like being one of the latter.

The Seminar Smart Cities and the Internet of Things, which BSRIA attended on 16th July, helped to flesh out some of these. One key factor is of course the sheer all-encompassing variety and complexity and scale of a modern city, as reflected in the technology required to support it. This was underlined by the presentations on the range of “smart” cities, from major building consultants, to companies working closely with utilities, to data analytics companies.

This points to a pluralistic approach where different companies collaborate, each contributing their own particular skills, rather than one where a mega-corporation tries to orchestrate everything.  As one speaker pointed out, the smart car alone is likely to involve motor manufacturers, battery and power specialists, grid utilities, digital IT specialists, and the advertising and public relations industry (interestingly, two of the three first people I spoke to represented public relations companies). And that is before one gets on to the subject of the role of city and national authorities.

While the seminar focussed, understandably, on the elements that comprise the “Internet of Things”, making up ‘the nuts and bolts’ of the smart city, it also convinced me that we need to pay more attention to the wider social, political and economic context.

What makes a city smart? Given the combination of complexity and subjectivity, that is always going to be a hard question to answer. Nonetheless a group of academic institutions did rank 75 smart cities across Europe based on the “smartness” of their approach to the economy, mobility, the environment, people, living and governance.

When I measured the ranking of smart cities in each country against that country’s average income, I was struck, but not that surprised, that there was an almost linear correlation between a country’s wealth, and the ranking of its ‘smartest’ city. Thus at one extreme Luxembourg, easily the richest country in Europe, and second richest in the world, was also judged to have the smartest city. Lowest ranked was Bulgaria, which also had the lowest per capita income of all the countries on the list. Most other countries were in a ‘logical’ position in between.

Smartening up the city

One can of course argue whether smart cities are mainly a cause or a consequence of a country’s wealth. Up until now I suspect it is mainly a matter of richer countries being able to afford more advanced technology, not least because the relative economic pecking order has not changed that much in the past 25 years, i.e.. since before the smart city era really got underway, indeed if anything the countries on the bottom right of our chart have been catching up economically, which could be why countries like Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are doing better in the smart city stakes than their income might suggest.

Luxembourg is of course unusual in one other significant respect. In terms of size, and population, it is about the size of a city, and is politically and economically very much focussed on its eponymous capital city. This raises a question sometimes posed in other contexts: Is the “city state” making a comeback, and could this have a bearing on the development of the smart city? In this respect it surely speaks volumes that Singapore, probably the closest entity to a city state in the modern world is not only highly productive economically but frequently cited in the history of the smart city, going back to the days when it pioneered road pricing more than a generation ago, and one of the cities mentioned in this seminar.

If you are laying down the guidelines for a smart city then there are clearly advantages in having an authority with the resources and powers of a government, combined with the local knowledge and accessibility of a city.  But given that splitting up the world into hundreds if not thousands of new ‘city states’ does not look like a viable option, what can be done to create a framework in which smart cities can flourish in a way that is responsive to their citizens’ needs?

Even in larger countries, the Mayors of major cities are often heavyweight national figures, enjoying wide ranging  powers. This applies to cities like New York, Berlin, Paris and, more recently London. One of the most interesting developments in Britain is the growing recognition that while London is already in effect a global economic power, other cities have been struggling to keep up. While this problem long pre-dates the smart city, it speaks volumes that, with a general election due next year, all of the major parties are now committing to giving more powers to major cities outside of the capital, possibly with more directly elected mayors.

Given the nature of democratic politics there is still no guarantee that this will happen, especially given governments’ traditional reluctance to hand over power, but with Scotland likely to enjoy greater autonomy even if it votes to remain in the UK, the pressure to devolve more power to cities and regions in the rest of the UK will be that much greater.

Even this would not of itself promote smart cities, but it would mean that city mayors or leaders seeking to promote and coordinate smart city developments, and companies and interest groups looking for partners, would have much more powerful instruments within their grasp.

BSRIA’s Worldwide Market Intelligence team produces an annual report into Smart Technologies. To find out more go to our website

A forward thinking attitude to energy management

Chris Monson, Strategic Marketing Manager of Trend

Chris Monson, Strategic Marketing Manager of Trend

Given that in parts of the world like Europe and North America some 40% of all energy used is consumed by buildings, both companies and wider society are increasingly focussing on the energy performance of their buildings, and how to improve it.

Building Energy Management Systems (or BEMS) are computer-based systems that help to manage, control and monitor building technical services (HVAC, lighting etc.) and the energy consumption of devices used by the building. They provide the information and the tools that building managers need both to understand the energy usage of their buildings and to control and improve their buildings’ energy performance. 

I’m Chris Monson, strategic marketing manager at Trend Control Systems, and I’d like to welcome you to the latest in a series of blogs where I, along with my colleagues, examine the issues affecting the building controls industry and the use of Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS).

It strikes me as somewhat bizarre that in an age where owners, managers and occupiers of commercial premises are under tremendous pressure to operate as energy efficiently as possible, so few developers recognise the long-term value of installing a fully featured BEMS at the construction stage. Such is the value and relevance of this technology, that to my mind it should be considered as important as other elements of the building services infrastructure that are designed in as a matter of course.

BEMS facilitate greater energy efficiency and the cost savings and the environmental benefits that can be experienced as a result of investment in this technology are considerable. A fully integrated solution can have up to 84 per cent of a building’s energy consuming devices directly under its control, offering greater visibility of energy use by monitoring services such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting.

According to the Carbon Trust 25 per cent of a building’s energy is used in lighting, and it is estimated that around a third of the energy consumed in this way in non-domestic buildings could be saved by utilising technology that automatically turns off lights when space is unoccupied. In addition, air conditioning can increase a building’s energy consumption and associated carbon emissions by up to 100 per cent, making it imperative that its use is tightly controlled.

So why isn’t the design and installation of a BEMS happening in the initial stages of a construction project? I’m afraid that the answer comes down to a combination of cost and lack of foresight. However, to fully understand why these two factors are proving so prohibitive to BEMS implementation, we need to understand a little more about the mind-set of the developer.

Developers tend to fall into two broad groups – there are those that configure buildings for others to inhabit and others who design and build premises for their own use.

When it comes to the former, the main driver is to save costs at the construction phase and little thought is given to the building’s future occupants and how they use the building. As there are no regulations stating that a BEMS must be installed, there’s a strong possibility that it won’t be. However, this lack of forward thinking leads to future occupants having to cope with inadequate visibility and control of their energy usage and, therefore, higher overheads and a larger carbon footprint.

Regarding the second group, it often comes down to the failure of owners to specify the need for a BEMS at procurement stage and make sure that they have systems in place that will maximise the energy saving potential of the building. While this type of developer will also have one eye on the cost of the project, the increased capital costs of installing BEMS is easily countered by the return on investment (ROI), with an average payback of just three and a half years.

Whichever way you look at it, the fact is that on a ROI basis early stage BEMS implementation makes sound economic sense. It can form less than one per cent of the total construction expenditure and energy savings of 10-20 per cent can be achieved when compared to controlling each aspect of a building’s infrastructure separately. The benefits don’t stop there either, as if it is incorporated with smart metering, tariff changes can be used to offer a strategic approach to energy management and control, and the data produced gives clear signposts for potential improvements.

I firmly believe that in the current business climate to construct a new build property without a comprehensive BEMS borders on foolhardiness. Organisations are faced with growing pressure to demonstrate carbon reduction policies and do all they can to lower their energy use.

Despite the controversy surrounding the introduction of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, it is here to stay and is likely to extend its scope to incorporate more businesses in the future. In addition, The Climate Change Levy (CCL), Display Energy Certificates (DECs) and Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) also affect businesses, while compliance with certification standards such as ISO 50001 put the onus on companies to demonstrate continual improvement in this area.

It should also be remembered that building occupiers are demanding greater visibility and transparency of their energy consumption and need access to data. A failure to meet this demand could mean that prospective tenants decide to go elsewhere.

Standardisation is playing an ever more prominent role and the most significant is EN 15232, which describes methods for evaluating the influence of building automation and technical building management on the energy consumption of buildings. It enables building owners and energy users to assess the present degree of efficiency of a BEMS and provides a good overview of the benefits to be expected from a control system upgrade. The use of efficiency factors means that the expected profitability of an investment can be accurately calculated and I’m pleased that a growing number of organisations are reviewing this document and implementing some of the best practice guidance it offers.

There are those who feel that regulation is the only way to make sure that BEMS are installed at the point of initial construction, although others are reluctant to see the introduction of more onerous legislation on an already pressured construction sector. At this stage I think that regulation shouldn’t be necessary if a long-term approach to energy efficiency is factored in and the benefits of a BEMS are recognised by more developers in the initial stages of a project.

Trend_RGB SMALLFor further information please call Trend Marketing on 01403 211888 or email marketing@trendcontrols.com. Trend are the main sponsors of this year’s BSRIA Briefing – Smarter ways to better buildings.

You can read more BSRIA blogs about BEMS here.  BSRIA’s WMI team also produce a BEMS market report – Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) in Europe and the USA – which is available to buy from the BSRIA website. 

Buildings – Plugging the Performance Gap

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

What do The Titanic, London’s Millennium Bridge, and The Leaning Tower of Pisa have in common? One answer is that as structures they all failed to “perform” as expected. The Titanic, designed with the latest technology to achieve a success  rate of approximately 100% safe Atlantic  transits, actually achieved a disappointing 0%. The Millennium Bridge, fine and inspiring though it was, failed to take account the consequences of perfectly natural, if little understood, human behaviour – the tendency to walk in sync on a naturally moving structure – with potentially alarming consequences. It had to be radically re-engineered before reopening in 2002.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, which I was able to climb last month, failed in the most fundamental requirement of most buildings – staying permanently upright – though in some-ways of course this very failure was the secret of its long term success and certainly the main reason that people like me still pay good money to climb it more than 800 years after it first started leaning.

When buildings fail to deliver the intended results, we talk about a “performance gap”. While this can embrace many areas including cost, safety and comfort, we tend to talk about this particularly where energy performance is concerned. This reflects the fact that energy performance is at least ostensibly a goal of most of those involved in the design, construction and management of buildings, and that as energy prices rise and concerns over the impact of greenhouse gas emissions become more acute, the sense of urgency can only increase.

Some of the reasons for this are highlighted in a useful new book “How Much Energy Does Your Building Use?” by Liz Reason (Dō Sustainability) whose launch I attended in London last week. The book highlights examples of buildings initially hailed as energy efficient which spectacularly failed to live up to their reputation. It also shows how these failings can emerge at any stage of the building process from initial planning and design through construction, commissioning and occupation and operation, and considers how these problems and shortcomings can best  be addressed and avoided.

What I want to focus on here is one central question: How do we know how our building is actually performing, let alone how it is likely to perform in future? The key here is information, which needs to be collected and then analysed, not just to show us any obvious performance issues but also point to potential problems or just unusual patterns that deserve further investigation and explanation.

This points to a central role for Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS). These are offered by a wide range of suppliers, including most of the major Building Automation providers, and present wide ranging functionality. Central to almost all of them is the collection and analysis of data, sometimes in prodigious volumes. A well implemented BEMS enables you to keep track of what your building is actually doing, irrespective of what it was intended or expected to achieve.

'Performance gaps' in buildings are nothing new...

‘Performance gaps’ in buildings are nothing new…

Another way in which the performance gap points towards BEMS is that while the value of BEMS has been widely recognised for some time in the retrofit market, especially for the huge mass of buildings constructed in 1960 – 1990, there has sometimes been a tendency to assume that more recent buildings, being generally built to much higher standards, can, to a degree, “look after themselves”. If a building really is “zero energy” then what is there to manage, at least from an energy point of view?

However, if there are basic failings in the design itself, the way it has been implemented or commissioned, or the way the building is operated in relation to its actual usage, then the performance gap can loom up large and un-ecological as a fire-breathing dragon. Sometimes the failings can be obvious: a stiflingly uncomfortable office can jump up and hit you as much as a wildly wobbling bridge. But in other instances, energy wastage is less obvious. Real performance issues emerge only when the actual data is collected and analysed over time.

This month BSRIA publishes the latest update of the study “BEMS Market 2014 Q2 :Developments in Europe and the USA”, a study which, with its regular quarterly updates, helps you to keep up to speed with the newest developments in this exciting and important area.

Building Controls: Throwing a BRIC in the Works

Henry BlogThe BRIC countries; Brazil, Russia, India and China feature prominently in the news on an almost daily basis, for all sorts of reasons. While there have been concerns over a slowdown in growth, China, India and Brazil have all continued to grow through the recession at substantially faster rates than most of the developed world, and whilst the somewhat reduced growth rates may cause alarm in China and India, they would be cause for wild celebration in, say, much of Europe.

China, Brazil, Russia  and India all now rank in the World’s top 10 economies, and China is already second only to the USA, and is poised  to overtake it sometime in the next few years.

This economic development has naturally been associated with a lot of building development, including demand for such systems as HVAC and Building Automation. Nonetheless, in the BRICS countries the Building Controls markets have tended to lag behind their economic development.

Hence, according to BSRIA research, China’s Building Automating market was the world’s 5th largest in 2012, while Russia ranked 11th, India 16th and Brazil 18th.

What is more, the same research shows that the Chinese, Indian and Brazilian markets were dominated by the “Big 4” global suppliers: Siemens, Johnson Controls, Honeywell and Schneider Electric, even though the individual company shares varied reflecting local market conditions.

One thing that the history of the past 150 years has taught us is that as technologies mature and economies develop, industries tend to migrate to areas which offer the combination of lower costs and growing markets which China, India and Brazil are all in a position to do. This has been seen with the massive movement of manufacturing industry to China and of IT related industries and services to India. This in turn has created some new locally owned corporations with major industrial and financial clout, in a position to compete and invest on a global basis.

The latest update to BSRIA’s global study Challenges and Opportunities in the BACS Market , looks at a number of key trends, including the potential for new challengers to emerge in China, India and Brazil.

Unsurprisingly, the process appears to be most advanced in China. Spurred on by the wave of new construction, suppliers such as Techcon, SUPCON, Beston and RUNPAQ have started to make a real impact covering most of the main vertical markets, and including some high profile projects.

In India, where the overall market is significantly smaller, only Larsen and Toubrou, a major Indian-owned global corporation, stands out. There are however a host of Indian companies providing implementation and integration services.

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

In Brazil a major domestic supplier has yet to emerge, though as in India there are a range of local companies offering related services.

In Russia, local Champions such as Regin and Polar Bear have gained a significant national market share, but have yet to have much impact elsewhere.

Past experience in other industries suggest that these countries may well provide favourable conditions for local champions to emerge and that, as their national BACS markets grow and mature, so this could even provide a springboard to offer products and services on a regional or even a global basis. This is definitely an area that everyone with an interest in Building automation, be it as a supplier, customer or service provider, should continue to watch going forward.

Other subjects that we focus on in the latest update include Technical Infrastructure Support Providers, developments in cybersecurity for buildings, and new alliances and mergers.

To find out more about Challenges and Opportunities in the BACS Market please contact Steve Turner – Steve.Turner@bsria.co.uk

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