Summary and Opportunities – Smart Cities and Smart Energy

Bill_Wright_3

Bill Wright, Head of Energy Solutions, ECA

Bill Wright, Head of Energy Solutions, ECA, briefly summarised the BSRIA/ECA Conference in Dublin on the 11th June 2015 looking at previous papers and highlighting a few areas for further discussion / questioning . A few topics that came to the fore in the presentations were:

Sustainability – what actually is the meaning of this? Is a business sustainable if it is highly energy efficient, uses recycled materials and has a very low carbon footprint, or is a sustainable business about being in business tomorrow? It is best to be a combination of both but what is the best mix? Ethics can also come into this. A difficult question which can be discussed at length!

Another area for discussion is who pays for the infrastructure put in place for these Smart Cities? It is not so long ago that you paid for internet access in hotels and public areas, now it is generally regarded as being free, but is it? The costs are being absorbed into everyday prices as we begin to take internet access for granted. Ultimately we all pay. The installation of Smart meters and their operation will be paid for by higher energy bills, but it is hoped that the cost will be offset by lower energy usage. Time will tell.

Smart meters were discussed and compared between the UK and Ireland. The Irish ‘thin’ meter seems more compatible with major software changes as all the ‘intelligence’ is in a central processor unit, away from the meter. The UK version has its own processor. There is a danger it will be obsolete before the final units are installed.

Smart meters will bring remote monitoring down in price and improve availability of data as well as the reality of being able to monitor peoples’ actions in buildings. Another ethical question – how far do we go in this? Actions such as putting the kettle on or heating can be monitored bringing in the possibility of monitoring care homes – but this could lose the human contact.

There was considerable emphasis on Smart Grids and how the nature of power generation was changing as renewable energy sources at the periphery of the grid network were providing an increasing proportion of the power required for a country. Networks were designed for central power plants distributing electricity to the periphery, not the other way round. Considerable effort has to be put in to keep the system stable as the proportion of renewable or local energy sources proliferate. New standards were being developed as part of the international wiring regulations on how to integrate all these systems together. These may appear in the next edition of the UK IET Wiring Regulations, BS7671.

There was mention of the European super grid where power can be transmitted east to west or north to south to enable power to be generated in the most advantageous places and move to meet peak demands in various countries at different times.

All of this will be controlled by, or use the internet for communication. How secure is this? Many examples are available of systems being hacked into and taken over. How can this be stopped when we become ever more reliant on secure communications? Systems must be designed in such a way so as to be impregnable!

The redevelopment of the Dublin Institute of Technology was given as a good example of sustainable development where many systems, design and construction could be integrated on a new site to give an excellent performing series of buildings. Good initial design and programming the construction is the key to the success of this.

All of this brings the building controls industry into greater importance and our profession must grasp this and ensure that systems are designed and installed to the highest standards. This gives many opportunities to get involved, especially on the installation side where it is deemed to be at present strictly for specialists. New areas of building design such as power over data and LVDC systems should be grasped and brought into use to improve energy use and overall sustainability. The recent announcement by Tesla of the home battery system to enable PV systems to store energy to be used overnight is an exciting development which we can all use.

We are working in exciting times and it is great to be in the Building Services Industry. Let’s keep ourselves at the forefront of technology for the good of all.

The presentations from the Energy and Sustainability Network event are available to download from the BSRIA website. 

BSRIA and ECA working together in order to keep the lights on!

BSRIA is pleased to be working alongside the ECA at this important event

BSRIA is pleased to be working alongside the ECA at this important event

Ofgem has sounded serious warning bells about UK’s generating margin falling from about 14% to sub 4% levels around 2016. Ed Milliband’s statement of a Labour Government freezing energy bills could hardly come at a worse moment and could in fact result in a greater likelihood of brown or blackouts.  View event details and book on-line.

Major investment is needed in the electricity network and the new wave of nuclear power stations recently announced will not come online until at least 2020. The debate over alternative fuels like shale gas still needs to be had, to assess its suitability and impact on the future of UK energy. And whilst standby generation may seem an easy option and undoubtedly this will form part of the solution, it also needs to be highlighted that it cannot necessarily be relied on as a last-minute solution, for when the crunch comes, fuel will be in high demand and availability will plummet.

So where does that leave the rest of us? There are few benefits to a power outage; the only redeeming effects being an increase in self-reliance and a chance for the standby power industry to shine.

The risks to business is high, even more so due to the current lack of awareness and most may well have no contingency plan to keep their businesses running. Companies face disruption through possible loss of process and equipment failure.

BSRIA is pleased to be working alongside the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA). Our forthcoming event at Central Hall in London looks at the scale of the problem of reduced electricity supply capacity at peak times in the coming years. We look to identify solutions that can be adopted in order to reduce the risk to the core business and also the support needed for building owner operators, facilities mangers, contractors and service providers to allow them to provide the maximum provision during challenging times.

This event is free to BSRIA and ECA members, but also open to a wider audience.

View the full programme and book on-line

ECA members are able to book free by emailing their free payment code to events@bsria.co.uk.

Making buildings better – measuring for improved building performance

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

BSRIA has always been in the business of measuring, whether it is a physical quantity such as temperature or pressure, a market assessment such as volume of product imported to a given country or a softer, more management-orientated value such as a benchmark or satisfaction score. Measuring is a fundamental characteristic of our industry’s operations and it is in BSRIA’s DNA.

The need for accurate and more comprehensive measurement has been increasing in response to the revolution that is the low carbon agenda. Revolution is no idle description either. In just over a decade, carbon signatures of new buildings have been required to fall to “nearly zero” – yet few owners were even aware of their building’s operational carbon use at the start. In looking backwards over the past few years, I think BSRIA can be proud of its role in promoting the increased use of through-life measurement embedded in processes such as Soft Landings and the associated building performance evaluations.

There is another BSRIA process that is associated with the collection of measurements. This is the process that turns detailed, often randomly accumulated and frequently disconnected data and information into documents that can be used by our members to guide them in their work. A couple of decades ago this process was greatly enhanced by the availability of a managed construction research programme that not only contributed funds from central government but much more importantly brought focus and long term stability to the accumulation of knowledge. This stability was crucial since it enabled individuals to establish research skills and careers with enduring value to the sector they served. Loss of this programme has also resulted in a loss of cohesion between frontline companies willing to collaborate within the longer term research process.

There is a however a new kid on the block that may be about to revolutionise the traditional measure/analyse/publish process that has dominated research and guidance in our sector.

As disruptive technologies go, Big Data has managed to remain under the public radar quite well until the recent disclosures of the USA “Prism” project. Under Prism, colossal quantities of data harvested from both open and private sources are analysed to identify supposed threats to homeland security. It is the use of automatic analytics software combined with large arrays of sophisticated new sensing technologies that makes Big Data techniques so intriguing for the built environment sector.

By way of example, consider the problem of maintaining comfortable temperatures in a space. Traditionally we have used lab research on volunteers to establish what “comfort” requires. Ole Fanger took years to generate his widely used algorithms but they still do not cover all the possible variables that affect perceived comfort. We now use a thermostat, with a setpoint guided by Fanger, and assume that all is well with our occupants. In the new paradigm, cameras utilising facial recognition software will be capable of spotting yawning (too hot, too much CO?) or sluggish activity (too cold). This data is available for every worker in a given space and a “voting” system used to optimise comfort over the group.

But of course there is more. This data could be available from many sources in a Prism type environment. There would now be the potential to mine the data to establish new benchmarks feeding back to the design process that can be tailored to the particular activity type. Schools, offices, homes and shops each can be analysed not just to establish a single setpoint value but to understand in great detail the envelope or distribution of responses. At last, proper large scale data sets can aid our work – and most of what we need to do this is already available through installed BEMS.

There is one further gain possible from this approach. Traditional academic research leading to refereed papers and thence to institutional guidance can take half a working lifetime to complete. Big Data results can be achieved in hugely reduced timespans. Take the case of adverts you see on Google – these are tailored specifically to you based on purchase decisions you may have only made via unconnected sites a few hours earlier. Scary but true.

Big Data is where BIM, Smart Cities, performance contracting and responsive design meet. It challenges all the preconceptions of professional codes, cuts swathes through the notion of privacy and opens up “our” market for knowledge to an entirely new set of competitive players. The next decade is going to be seriously exciting and I am sure BSRIA will remain strong to its ethos of Measuring and Managing in this startling new environment.

BSRIA provides a range of services to conduct and support BPE, from the complete evaluation to providing energy monitoring instruments and benchmarking building performance.

Review of the BSRIA Briefing 2013 – Changing Markets, New Opportunities

“Construction is the last of the big industries to go digital”, John Tebbit, Construction Products Association

November 2013 saw another brilliant BSRIA Briefing held as always at the fantastic Brewery in London. The event was chaired by John Tebbit, Industry Affairs Director at the Construction Products Association with c400 industry professionals in attendance. The speakers this year were focusing on customer satisfaction, data centre trends, changes in building practice and design decisions, smart technology leading the industry forward and the internet of things.

Chairman John highlighted two key issues facing the industry, the Construction 2025 strategy and the move towards Low Carbon as well as the construction industry being the last industry to go digital despite a demand to do so.

Bukky Bird talked about Tesco as a continuously changing organisation by highlighting some of the company’s historical milestones. From Tesco’s founder Jack Cohen opening a market stall in 1919 to becoming a global company with just over half a million colleagues today.

Bukky also highlighted some current customer expectations and key drivers for this such as the current economic context. She emphasised the need for organisations to understand and respond to changing needs and environments.

“A green agenda is a prerequisite of what customers expect from a brand like Tesco”, Bukky Bird, Tesco

“A green agenda is a prerequisite of what customers expect from a brand like Tesco”, Bukky Bird, TescoToday’s customer is under pressure, struggling with rising costs and dealing with lifestyle changes. The focus is therefore on family and the home, with a real expectation that brands should reduce waste and save money. Responding quickly to these needs is critical for retailers like Tesco and this should therefore drive the focus through the industry supply chain.

A challenge facing our industry is how to develop true partnerships to tackle these problems. Bukky highlighted the need for flexibility, agility and the need for the industry to be willing to change. The customer is changing radically and the building industry needs to be ahead of this curve.

Historically we have been very slow to adapt, and this is an opportunity to buck that trend. Her final point was that the industry are not supplying Tesco, but Tesco’s customers – understanding the customer’s needs and developing innovative solutions to meet these is key to successful partnerships.

“Nobody ever did anything to be green, they did it to save money”, Nicola Hayes, DatacenterDynamics

 Nicola Hayes looked at a rather different sector focusing on data centre trends and energy. Datacentres Nicola argued are the buildings you do not see, the hidden side of the industry and yet becoming a central part of several industries as people relocate their data to the Cloud. Nicola discussed the fact that Datacentres may be hidden but they do suffer negative publicity mostly due to the energy usage of such buildings and the accusation from the Press that they are singlehandedly destroying the planet. When viewing the industry as a country, the industry uses a little less energy than the UK as a whole, marked at 332.9TWh which is an exceptional amount and understandably a worry for the industry and a target from the Press.

But it was the trends that Nicola was concentrating on, where the Datacentre industry has come from and the expectations of it for the future. In three years the industry has grown from $86bn to a staggering $120bn as well a doubling in space used for the buildings, growing from 15million sqm to 31million sqm. The growth of Datacentres is down to several other key industries, the rate of increase has risen for Professional Services, Energy & Utilities, Industrial & Process and Media & Telecoms. With this growth there has been a change in how Datacentres are being built and their operations. There has been a 15% increase in outsourcing for the industry since 2007 rising to nearly a quarter of the industry but IT Optimisation still remains a major investment.

For the built environment the biggest change Datacentres has had for them is the increase in energy monitoring and the storage of millions of data bits. People in the world, particularly the US, UK and Germany are starting to become more conscious of energy efficiency therefore more business is generated for the Datacentre industry through big data from energy monitoring. Nicola pointed out that this is not done for a purely ‘green’ reason but primarily to monitor costs which are why most universities do not monitoring as they are not responsible for the financial side of their energy use.

With there being such a focus on energy efficiency, the way Datacentres are being built has also been a changing trend with there being 25% increase in the number of retrofits of Datacentres while there was only a 2.1% increase in the number of new builds. Efficiency measures (to answer to the Press criticism) are also now determined from the outset. However despite Datacentre industry growing at a fast rate there are risks involved for the industry from the small scale of compliance to the large scale of terrorist attacks. With these risks comes an important debate that is happening within the industry, cost vs. risk.

“There is a market for MVHR but we need to get better at delivering it”, Nigel Ingram, Jospeh Rowntree Housing Trust

 Nigel Ingram continued with a discussion about social housing and the consideration of end users when designing buildings. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust currently looks after 2,500 homes in Yorkshire and Hartlepool. Nigel discussed one particular project the Housing Trust are involved in, the Derwenthorpe village which looks at the lessons learnt from past projects and how they can improve their buildings. The way the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust decided on best building practices was through experimentation over four years, they built two prototypes and used 17 different methods and as many M&E components as possible including grey water harvesting and block work systems. The aim of this experimentation was to see what worked to create the best possible building.

As well as all these design considerations Nigel also enforced the importance of the end user and their lifestyles with the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust looking at how people live in buildings and what changes in lifestyles are expected in the future and how best can the prepare buildings for that. There were three main points that made up the JRH’s strategic servicing infrastructure, the first being fibre optics. The Trust believes that with the use of technology ever increasing including internet, television packages etc. they needed to invest in a viable cabling network. However none of the big companies were prepared to discuss such a project therefore the Trust developed a joint venture with an investor to set up their own fibre optics for the estate, by doing so they satisfied the customers and set them up for any increase in connectivity in the future.

The second point the Trust considered was Communal Heating, they looked at a variety of different heating techniques for the estate such as low ground source heat pumps.  Communal Heating was decided on in 2007 from a carbon footprint point of view as at the time the Code of Sustainable Homes was announced with zero carbon targets by 2016. Communal Heating is notoriously difficult to get working efficiently, just like any heating system however after it was distilled down into the six components that worked for the Trust it was able to provide fuel security and prince control for the future residents which is what users wanted from their buildings. The system now works and is one of the only systems in the country that is successful and has been contracted for 25 yrs to a European Communal Heating group.

However Nigel wanted to point out that the Derwenthorpe village has not been completely successful, the final point in their strategic servicing infrastructure was MVHR Systems. The project has not seen any success with these systems, it has been installed in 64 houses but customer feedback has been negative and there are many issues with it. As an alternative MEV is now being used. Nigel stresses that there is a market for MVHR systems but for it to work there needs to be massive improvements in the industry in terms of commissioning, installation and maintenance. There seems to be a technology focus rather than process and this needs to change if the industry is to satisfy clients and users of buildings.

Nigel’s main focus for the Derwenthorpe project was customer satisfaction, the importance of the end user. Fibre Optics and Communal Heating was installed for the benefit of the residents of that estate as they have certain expectations of the way they live including operational and financial. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust has focused on the end user for their design plans rather than what should work from the industry perspective. Rigorous testing and accepting systems aren’t right has gone into making sure buildings are built as best as they can be which is important for our industry, it’s taking into consideration the mistakes made on previous building stock and learning from them and also considering the occupants and their needs.

“The Cloud is as suited to small buildings as it is to big buildings or building portfolios”, Jeremy Towler, BSRIA

 Jeremy Towler reflected on the “smart” built environment and how we get there. Jeremy highlighted that there is a lot happening and changing in our industry emphasising that we are the last industry to go digital despite there being several opportunities for digital work particularly wirelessly. BEMS will become an increasing component of buildings, modules will be built off site and therefore digital technology needs to be an important investment. Mobility will also become a more important part of the built environment, currently everyone uses a mobile but with geo-location buildings will be able to recognise everyone in buildings and respond dynamically. With this the collective voice of the occupants starts to influence the building which could be quite revolutionary.

Building Analytics are also an important step towards a “smart” built environment, increasingly buildings have sophisticated software that permits building operation and how best to optimise them. With Building Analytics becoming a more common part of our industry there has been a move towards the Cloud which has allowed data mining to reveal relationships and trends we never could have imagined. With these advances also comes the development of Smart Cities, particularly in China where there is a commitment to build at least 30. Jeremy defines smart cities as an incorporation of intelligent buildings, broadband connectivity, innovation, digital inclusion and a knowledge workforce.

But Jeremy states it’s not just smart cities we have to consider, its smart grids and smart buildings. Smart grids is an advanced power grid for the 21st century, essentially it is a decentralised multi directional model where energy and information can flow from supplier to consumer and vice versa which enables a variety of new applications for homes and businesses. Smart homes on the other hand have reached a critical mass and are due to break into the standard housing market but with this there has been an opportunity seized by the utilities who are now offering connectivity.

With smart homes becomes the internet of things and the ‘ubiquitous homes’ where sophisticated systems learn behaviour and respond accordingly, like our mobile phones that can tell us where we want to go and how we need to get there, such software will be used in our own buildings to provide our homes with the settings that we need. However the current built environment is a long way from becoming a smart industry, currently more than 75% of the building stock has no intelligent controls which is primarily to do with the age of the buildings with over 40% of total stock being built before 1960. With this in mind there is an opportunity for the industry to consider a great deal of retrofit projects but for smart technology to work to its best potential for the built environment the industry needs new skills developed through training in software and hardware analysis.

“We are now accountable for how our buildings perform “, Michael Beaven, Arup Associates

 Michael Beaven continued on this theme of the industry needing to change but instead focused on workflows. Arup has learnt that change is beneficial to the industry, adaption is necessary to meet the needs of the client. Arup have changed what they do and how they do it, learning that doing things the same way over and over again is to no benefit. However despite the need to adapt there are constants within the industry, carbon being the main issue for energy costs and emissions for companies in reputational aspects as well as the bottom line an example being Sky who are very forward looking including reducing the carbon of their set top boxes from 10 to 4 watts saving 20megawatts to the grid.

Importance of energy and efficiency is paramount but so is what we build it with. Embodied carbon is a key player in how we build our buildings now; decisions are being made on where products come from and their whole life cycle rather than primarily cost efficiency. Buildings are also being tested now, everything is monitored in our buildings so we can learn how to improve them, we are accountable for how buildings perform. From this we can learn how to design buildings that are successful for end users.

Michael also emphasised Jeremy’s point of the internet of things, how the integration of IP controls are making building betters and even the advancement of BMW considering smart transport for smart cities. Building on the interaction between traffic signals and mobile data to develop relationships between them to better control traffic, even where you park will be managed in a smart way. Another important development in terms of smart technology is that people are now connecting and sharing information on what works for a building and how best practices can be established.

One of Michael’s most important arguments was the importance of BIM and the matter that we as an industry really need to get up to speed with it. It’s client driven so we need to be on board as it is not only changing our workflows but also our business, without a grasp we lose projects. There also needs to be an acceptance that BIM is not just about 3D drawings and design but rather it should be a changing of our work streams to digital.

BSRIA Briefing panel answers questions from the audience

Michael’s final point tied in one of the key themes of the morning, customer satisfaction or rather the importance of the end user. Arup are moving towards an end user focus, designing buildings for people rather than the client or the architect. He used Sky as an example of a company championing a place for people, designing a building that understands what the user wants rather than what is considered the best design. Michael emphasised the feedback loop, empowering people to vocalise what they want in a building, what controls work for them, with that Soft Landings is critical for discovering what works and what doesn’t and resolving these issues before a project is completed.

There were a variety of thoughtful questions throughout the morning ranging from what the industry is doing to combat the UK’s power supply reducing to 2% by 2016, John Tebbit argued that the UK needs to stop investing in the UK and instead build industry abroad and import into the UK. There was also discussion on why there are so many installations problems within the industry, Nigel Ingram suggested there was too much blame placed on the end user, that there needs to be more ownership of mistakes and to learn from them if the industry is to move forward. This was the key theme throughout the morning, for the industry to move forward in any pursuit especially digitally we need to focus on trends and accept change as a good thing. But when accepting change we also need to learn from our past mistakes rather than continue to avoid them.

“Change comes from doing 100 things 1% better”, Sir Clive Woodward

Following lunch guests were treated to an afternoon speech from Sir Clive Woodward who continued the theme of change being necessary to move forward and how that worked for the England rugby team and the British Olympic team. Sir Clive’s talk looked at the 3F’s or 6F’s argument and interestingly the importance of an Australian dentist and his impact on working habits. He emphasised the effort of a whole team being behind any win and argued that talent is not enough but learning, calmness and hard work are needed to leverage it.

A special mention also goes to Chris Monson, of main sponsor Trend, who was awarded an Honorary Membership of BSRIA, becoming only the 8th person honoured. Chris accepted the award from BSRIA Chairman Leslie Smith and thanked the company as well as the industry.

A big thank you to all delegates that attended and the speakers who gave their time to the event. Also thanks to Sir Clive Woodward for being our afternoon speaker and rounding up a fantastic Briefing.

To download the presentations from the event go to BSRIA’s website.

ECO scheme – carbon reduction or wealth redistribution?

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

The issue of retail energy prices is now THE political hot potato.  The invisible green taxes attached to household energy bills have suddenly become glaringly revealed and politicians of all hues are now looking at these supplements as serious vote losers.  But are they such a bright idea anyway?

The question really is about the use of hypothecated funds harvested from energy bills and used to create a kind of wealth redistribution in favour of energy-poor households.  Under this scenario there is a transfer of wealth from richer households to improve the lot of lower earning households by improving the energy signatures of their homes. The ECO scheme is not so much a carbon reduction scheme as a wealth redistribution tool.   The scheme does however have the twin benefits of deriving a relatively secure revenue stream and, by increasing the costs to “donor” households, acts as an  additional incentive for them to be efficient with energy too.

The problem, as always, lies in the continued confusion between issues associated with energy (and cost) and the release of carbon.  If carbon is the real enemy (as I believe it is) then this scheme is at best sub-optimal.  This is because although renovation of homes will undoubtedly improve the comfort of energy-poor households there is little compelling evidence to me that the costs involved (including the not insubstantial cost of administering the schemes) provide the biggest carbon reduction bang for the buck.  This is partly because improvements in dwelling performance are likely to be taken as comfort gains rather than energy saving.

We have just seen that it has been necessary to use Chinese money and what is widely regarded as a substantial central support mechanism in the fixing of a strike price for generated new nuclear electricity in order to stimulate the building of new nuclear (non carbon generating) capacity.  It is the very high up-front costs of building these facilities that is the problem.  Would it not be better to use the ECO funds as cash support as  low carbon generation building programme – nuclear, wind, tidal or whatever gives the best CO2 return per pound?

by thinkpanama

by thinkpanama

This then begs the question as to who should fund the improvement of poor dwellings.  Actually this is not so much a carbon issue as a social equalisation programme.  In all normal circumstances this has historically been met from general taxation in the form of grants and I can see no reason why this should not be the case in the future.   Perhaps, rather than distributing a £200 annual winter fuel allowance this might better be used in improving dwelling energy (not necessarily carbon) performance.  The private market for Green Deal products simply does not seem to have become excited at adding debt to the household for what are perceived as intangible gains.  Households understand cash and a more direct approach to funding Green Deal improvements through this means or indeed other mechanisms such as stamp duty may be a more efficient means of getting to the problem homes.

In summary:  Use hypothecated funds, such as ECO for the purpose they were intended  – getting carbon out of the system.  Use the money to support the most cost efficient means of doing this irrespective of mechanism for delivering this objective.

Don’t confuse wealth re-distribution with carbon saving – it distorts process and gets caught up with political weather cocking.

If Buildings Could Talk to us…

It was really only a matter of time:

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Buildings are where we typically spend the greater part of our time, both at work, and often as not outside of it.  They already consume about 40% of the energy used in most advanced countries. They represent a huge proportion of our investment, both as individuals and as a society.  For centuries the technology of the day has been deployed to make them more efficient, comfortable and healthier for their occupants.

The surprise is surely that it has taken so long for information technology to really  move centre stage in our buildings. While smart homes remain, at least in most countries, a slightly geekish luxury item, many of us already spend our working day in environments managed by quite advanced  building automation systems, which aim to maintain a safe, secure and comfortable environment.

As building systems become more sophisticated, the more critical it becomes to be able to collect information about the state of the various components, and how they are interacting.  Accordingly, leading building automation and controls (BACS) suppliers, including Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Schneider Electric and Siemens have increasingly been making software available in order to process and make sense of this information.

In this they have been joined both by some of the big enterprise software players, but also by a host of  comparative newcomers. A key factor here is that the amount of data and the complexity involved can be quite large. It is easy to see that if you are in the position of managing a large portfolio of buildings, perhaps as a facilities management company, then if these buildings are automated then you may have to analyse a large volume of data to ensure that your estate is performing efficiently in terms of energy usage, costs, maintenance schedules, etc.

What is less obvious is that even for a comparatively modest sized building, the data can be potentially quite complex.  To get top performance from a building you need to look beyond the obvious. This means not just taking account of data from individual sensors or other information generators, but how these each  interact with one another. For example, one surprisingly common scenario is where the temperature in a given zone is fine, but only as the result of a heating system and a cooling system battling each other to standstill, wasting alarming amounts of energy – and money – in the process.

To identify these types of scenarios the system needs to be able to check very many different measurements against other ones and

The BACS Market

The BACS Market

identify relationships and correlations. And once the “normal” patterns and correlations have been identified it can then look for anomalies, which may be a warning sign that something has gone wrong, or at the very least that something abnormal has happened. Why for example, might a temperature be spiking in one part of a building at an unexpected time?

It is these kinds of challenges, as much as sheer volume that we are talking about when we refer to “big data”. Not only is this far beyond the capacity of the best human brain to process in any acceptable timeframe, it requires advanced analytical software to identify and prioritise the most important events, almost literally to “understand what your building is trying to say to you”.

A whole range of suppliers are now active in this space, and some of them at least are likely to have a huge impact on how building automation develops going forward.

Here at BSRIA, in the latest regular update to our Hot Topic study on Threats to BACS Hot Topic for October 2013,  we focus on this area, as well as taking a look at the implications of another, less fortunate, consequence of the growing importance of IT and software in the built environment: the spectre of cyber-attacks on buildings.

What happens when the lights go out?

In July we posted a blog about whether the lights will go out in the UK. This blog discussed the startling fact that the peak demand on our electricity supply network is perilously close to the supply capacity. With this comes the real risk that consumers will be exposed to outages “blackouts” and voltage dips “brownouts”. There is debate about whether this could happen, Datamonitor’s director of energy and utilities research and analysis, Neil Atkinson has commented that in practice the lights won’t go out in the UK or at least not for a long time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried or ignore the problem all together. He states that the Government hasn’t put sufficient contingency plans in place for the future of the UK’s supply and demand, that the Green Deal and the dwindling hopes of Nuclear power aren’t enough.

The ECA are less optimistic than Datamonitor. Bill Wright, head of energy solutions, states that the intended increasing reliance on wind power assumes that the UK as a whole will not be affected by periods of cold weather at the same time as minimum wind. This is something that has to be considered though, for if the UK were to suffer a harsh or long winter like we saw in 2012/2013 then there is a real risk that we could end up facing lights out this year or during any winter that is out of the ordinary.

Fuel poverty in England – 10 per cent, 1996 to 2011

Fuel poverty in England – 10 per cent, 1996 to 2011

There is also Ed Milliband’s pledge to freeze energy costs for customers to consider. Will this pledge speed up the process of blackouts and brownouts or it will have no impact at all? The government’s Fuel Poverty Report 2013 suggests there are already 4.8 million households in the UK that are already suffering with blackouts so Ed’s pledge won’t necessarily make any difference.

But what if it does? What will happen if the lights do go out?

BSRIA held a number of parallel workshops in June to discuss that possibility. The workshop covered the effects blackouts would have in the UK, the risks for business, the systems required, the continuity plans and what BSRIA will do. Here are some of the conclusions:

Effects of power outages

There are many potential effects that come with a long power outage. At the moment, most power outages don’t last more than an

An image of Channel 4's The Blackout

An image of Channel 4’s The Blackout

hour so there are minimal risks but the longer the outage, the more opportunity for chaos to ensue. The loss of power could lead to an increase in crime due to diminished security options e.g. alarms and security cameras leading to shops being broken into and civil disorder (a dramatization of the potential damage can be seen in Channel 4’s The Blackout). The country’s communication and transport systems would soon break down and there is a high risk to the economy due to closed businesses and lack of trade. There are few benefits to a power outage; the only redeeming effects being an increase in self-reliance and a chance for the standby power industry to shine.

Risks for business

If power outages have such an impact on society in general, then the risks to business are high as well, even more so due to the current lack of awareness in businesses. If they are unaware of the future problems, then they may well have made no contingency plan to keep their businesses running. Without a contingency plan, they face disruption to their work through either staff shortages (staff may be unable to get into work due to the breakdown of transport), or loss of process and equipment failure. If companies are dependent on computers or other technology, then they risk losing business or missing deadlines, resulting in damage to reputation and loss of profit.

Required systems and contingency plans

To help the UK prepare for the risk of future power outages, the workshop came up with some ideas for required systems and contingency plans that could help reduce the damage caused. Here are some of those. Firstly, education is key and more needs to be done to raise awareness. BSRIA is in a prime position to promote and facilitate this. Starting with the low-hanging fruit, buildings should make maximum use of natural light and ventilation to reduce base energy load. Critical areas or services need to be identified and ring-fenced to maximise the opportunity for them to run when other systems go down. There needs to be a way of controlling the amount of energy used in buildings and this is where energy services and building energy management systems could play a very important role. Incentives, such as variable tariffs from utilities, would encourage changes in consumer behaviour and more investment in smart technology. The debate over alternative fuels like shale gas needs to be had to assess its suitability and impact on the future of UK energy. Whilst standby generation may seem an easy option, and undoubtedly this will form part of the solution, it also needs to be highlighted that it cannot necessarily be relied on as a last-minute solution, for when the crunch comes, it will be in high demand and availability will plummet.

Continuity plans need to be made for a multitude of scenarios. The Government and businesses alike, need to prioritise the services

Graph taken from Bill Wright's presentation given at BSRIA Workshop

Graph taken from Bill Wright’s presentation given at BSRIA Workshop

they need most and make sure they are supported in the best possible ways. If blackouts are expected to become a regular part of our lives, then announcing them in advance will help companies to plan closures or change working hours. Companies also need to think about how their employees work; the fact is, we are highly dependent on technology like laptops and mobile phones. Without the means to recharge their batteries they quickly become redundant and we become unproductive, so companies need to think of alternative methods to keep their workforce useful – we may even have to resort to good old pen and paper!

What BSRIA could do

 From the workshops, it was suggested that BSRIA can help raise awareness and provide education on the subject. This could take a range of forms, and conferences, publications and guidance for continuity planning were just some of the activities suggested. BSRIA can also work with other organisations towards these goals to help limit the risks for everyone.

When will the lights go out?

In the UK and some other countries the maximum demand on our supply network is perilously close to the supply capacity. In the UK we have a total supply capacity of 80 Gigawatts, and only around 67GW is available at any one time according to OFGEM director-general Alistair Buchanan. The maximum demand last winter was 60.5GW and the peak summer demand isn’t much less. It would only take a prolonged cold spell or a power station failure to drop the supply capacity below our maximum demand.

What this means in practice to an individual customer is that there is an increased risk of outages or voltage dips. It has been predicted that this could be a one in twelve chance of losing power in a year for any customer by 2015 and an increasing risk until either the supply capacity is increased or demand is cut. In the UK we are closing our coal fired power stations, decommissioning our old nuclear stations and not building new capacity fast enough to replace them. Read more about this in The Spectator.

Last week OFGEM published electricity supply and demand forecasts, showing that spare capacity has fallen as more gas-fired plants have been mothballed. It reiterated warnings that even if blackouts are avoided, power prices will rise steeply.  With the UK generation capacity margin likely to drop to 2% by 2015 the competition for supplies is likely to push prices up by 20%. Read more in The Telegraph.

Graph taken from Bill Wright's presentation given at BSRIA Workshop

Graph taken from Bill Wright’s presentation given at BSRIA Workshop

The profile of generation capacity over the next ten years is affected by political decisions such as closure of coal-fired power stations, extending the life of old nuclear stations, availability of imported gas, introduction of fracking for shale gas and planning permission for renewable energy.

Businesses need to prepare for the increased risk to protect their business continuity. At a recent BSRIA workshop, business leaders talked about how they could respond to the risks and the knock-on effects of power outages.

There are two main approaches:

  • reducing demand, including demand side management
  • adapting to a less reliable power supply with standby power.

But the effects of power outage on security of supplies, transport and even public order and crime need to be considered.  The process of planning for outages and continuity of power is part of a more general process of Business Continuity Management, for which there is a British Standard Code of Practice, BS25999.  This Standard covers all the threats to business continuity, but with the risk of power loss to a business and its supply chain and the effects of power loss on staff, customers and the public there may be a need to re-assess the risks and amend the business continuity plan.

OFGEM are hosting a Working Group to develop solutions to network capacity problems using the Low Carbon Networks Fund.  Their recent seminar presented the results of commercial and domestic demonstration projects.  The domestic demand peaks at nearly double the daytime demand between 4pm and 8pm on weekdays.  The early part of this peak coincides with the last hour of the working day so commercial demand is also high.  Various approaches to demand management are being trialled in different areas of the UK including incentives and variable pricing.

There are incentives for customers agreeing to cut their demand when local supply nears capacity.  These are set up locally with different priorities, such as the Thames Valley Vision which utilises Automated Demand Response and Business Consumer Consortia along with energy storage to reduce peak demands and avoid the need for supply network reinforcement.

In summary, the UK electricity supply network is expected to become less reliable and this will affect consumers as soon as 2015.  If consumers don’t do something they are likely to be hit by power cuts more often.  Solutions include planning for power failures, checking the reliability of standby systems, negotiating demand reduction facilities or permanently reducing demand.

BSRIA is keen to work with building operators, manufacturers, network operators, consultants and anyone involved in power continuity management.

Getting life cycle costing right

Stuart Thompson

Stuart Thompson,
Senior Design Manager,
Morgan Sindall

A guest post by Stuart Thompson of Morgan Sindall 

The NRP (Norwich Research Park) Enterprise Centre project is an Exemplar Low Carbon Building, which is targeting BREEAM Outstanding and Passivhaus Certification.

The project for the University of East Anglia (UEA) is being delivered using a collaborative single point of delivery system by main contractor Morgan Sindall and its team, which includes architects Architype, civil, structural and environmental engineers BDP and Churchman Landscape Architects.

The centre has been created to achieve a 100-year design life and aspects of the development will be constructed using traditional methods. Locally sourced materials including Thetford timber, Norfolk straw and heather, chalk, lime, hemp and flint will be used and the lecture theatre will be constructed of rammed chalk while various buildings will be thatched. The development is expected to be completed in early 2014.

A key aspect of delivering the Exemplar Low Carbon Building at UEA is ensuring that the project has the lowest life cycle cost possible. The life cycle cost of a project is often discussed in construction but not usually followed through therefore it’s been fantastic to work with a client team which is happy to dedicate time and resources to evaluating this aspect of the development in such detail.

As part of the life cycle costing process, the design team met with consultants from BSRIA to consider how the building’s Passivhaus specification might affect its life cycle output. It was reassuring to know that the early analysis proved that the Passivhaus specification has life cycle benefits. You can watch a film about our workshop below:

 

Following the initial life cycle study, we followed up with a workshop that included a mixed group of various representatives from the client team. We learnt more about which issues were of particular interest to the various client representatives, such as predicted energy costs, climate change considerations, maintenance, robustness of filters and the type of finishes used. The debate did not simply focus on the initial capital costs, but also about legacy issues, robustness and replacement. We covered a full range of topics, including energy source, landscape materials, PV and roofing, lighting and floor finishes. The client maintenance team fed back to the group about their current issues and concerns too.

BSRIA's Peter Tse at the workshop

BSRIA’s Peter Tse at the workshop

What was interesting following such detailed debate was we were able to address the long term issues and this changed our initial concepts within the life cycle analysis. Our changes have made our project report totally specific and the real use and maintenance scenarios follow the life of the building. For example, how often timber windows will be re-painted, how often timber floors will be sanded and sealed and whether the LED light fittings will be able to handle the lamp life and transformer life claims. The workshop allowed the group to ensure that the life cycle analysis is extremely relevant and targeted to this specific project and we will now be able to use the information garnered during the process to shape the scheme over the next few months when detailed design commences.

This landmark project is part-funded by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (the largest single ERDF project in the region in the 2007-2015 funding round) in addition to funding from UEA, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and BRE.

An intelligent building is one that doesn’t make its occupants look like idiots

Air conditioning controls in an office in Adelaide

I’ve spent about nearly 20 years in the post-occupancy evaluation (POE) of buildings, many of which were designed to be sustainable and low energy. Some even claimed to be intelligent buildings. If only they were. Sadly, as many working in POE will despairingly concur, unmanageable complexity is the enemy of good performance.

It’s important to remember that the term intelligent building is very much the lingua franca of the controls and building automation community. It’s not a natural phrase in architectural and engineering lexicons. You won’t find many clients using it either. It’s also a very ‘nineties’ term, like its not-so-distant relation, sick building syndrome (which, somewhat ironically, seems to have died a death). Most of the design community is now working to the ‘keep-it-simple, fabric-first’ definition of intelligence. Why? Because the high-tech approach has proved to be a mirage.

Time and time again, almost without exception, systems and technologies that rely on complex automation in order to achieve energy savings usually fail because practice doesn’t mirror design theory. Practice is a heady mix of:

  • Over-complicated design with little understanding or appreciation of what occupants really want
  • Design that is difficult to apply in the real world, leading to poor detailing, poor installation quality, inadequate commissioning, and the unwitting introduction of technical risks by contractual and product interfaces that go unnoticed until it’s too late
  • Incompatibility of components that require constant adjustment or re-work
  • Over-sensitive and/or hard to adjust controls and settings
  • Excessive need for management vigilance over systems that were assumed by designers and the supply chain to be fit-and-forget, but which become fit-and-manage in practice,
  • General lack of usability, compounded by false assumptions that occupants will take an interest in controlling and optimising the operation of building systems, where frankly they don’t want the responsibility
  • Unexpected consequences and revenge effects: systems modulating automatically annoying occupants, systems that don’t allow enough occupant override, or which people don’t understand because the controls are not intuitive to use,
  • Systems that default to an energy-saving condition rather than putting occupant expectations first (in severe cases causing a breakdown in relations between facilities managers motivated to maintain set-points come what may, exacerbated by a professional belief that things are best controlled centrally)
  • The creation of a maintenance and aftercare dependency culture, where the building owner is dependent on expensive call-outs to maintain or modify the settings of digital systems for which they do not have the expertise to maintain, nor the access rights (and software) to modify themselves.

Is all this intelligent or just stupid?

The essential question a building designer needs to answer is simply this:  what problem are you trying to solve? The solution needs to be the simplest, the most appropriate, the least costly, and the most robust and reliable.  

Designers need to understand more about what end-users actually like and dislike about buildings and their systems. Although making things simple may not be the top of every designer’s list, they need to remember that buildings are intended for people – they are a means to an end not an end in themselves. Automation, in itself, should not be a goal. Building intelligence should therefore, above all else, lead to intelligible and sensible systems. Those systems shouldn’t challenge, they shouldn’t alienate, and they shouldn’t lock building owners into an expensive maintenance dependency.

Most of all, automation mustn’t disenfranchise occupants from making decisions about their working conditions, and prevent them acting upon them. It’s important to give occupants what they actually want, not what they don’t want but what designers think they ought to have.

As the author Guy Browning said: Most problems are people problems, and most people problems are communication problems. If you want to solve a communication problem, go and give someone a damn good listening to…

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