April 25, 2024
Technology

Smart technology can play a vital role in decarbonising the built environment | Comment


The rise of smart technology has been significant – and for good reason. With intensifying focus on the energy efficiency of buildings, it can play a critical part in decarbonising real estate and helping the UK to reach net zero by 2050. 

Reds10_Chairman_Paul Ruddick (3)

We know that the built environment is responsible for 37% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions and more than 34% of total energy demand globally. It follows that the construction industry can make a major contribution to solving the crisis while delivering on the UN’s sustainable development goals.

One of the strongest ways to accelerate progress is to harness the power of data and digital technologies. This is recognised in the UK Future Homes and Buildings Standards consultation, which does not propose any changes to the minimum building fabric requirements but instead highlights the need to embrace smart and low carbon technologies to reduce energy usage in buildings.

A fabric-first approach makes little difference if the building’s users are turning on the heating on a hot day, or while the windows are open

Focusing on U-values and airtightness can only be effective up to a point; it is possible to get everything right when it comes to insulation and ventilation, but a fabric-first approach makes little difference if the building’s users are turning on the heating on a hot day, or while the windows are open.

>> Also read: How digital twins are cutting carbon emissions for the Ministry of Justice

It is therefore crucial to have measures in place to monitor and maintain optimum performance, and to rely on smart technologies to inform the human behaviour to support that.

The advent of the Internet of Things should mean that all the plant and systems in a building can talk to each other and amend their operations based on the internal and external environment. However, this is still not the case in most buildings – a key driver for our work to develop a hardware and software solution that enables it to happen.

Delivering one of Europe’s smartest buildings

Our team recently completed work on a new three-storey modular single living accommodation block at Imjin Barracks in Gloucestershire for the British Army, delivered by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) contracting to Reds10.

The first project to be finished as part of the Army’s single living accommodation (SLA) programme, it provides contemporary, high quality and sustainable accommodation for personnel based at the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), featuring 69 single, en-suite bedrooms along with communal facilities.

Alongside its sustainability credentials, the SLA has also become one of the most advanced buildings in Europe for smart building control, achieving a defence related environmental assessment methodology (DREAM) ‘Excellent’ rating, scoring above 95% on the smart readiness indicator (SRI) and complying with a BACS class A building based on international standards relating to energy performance (BS EN ISO 52120).

A building automation and control system provides real-time, actionable insights into in-use energy while enhancing user engagement and reflecting the needs and preferences of the modern occupier. If you consider that a typical building management system has approximately 220 data points feeding into it, then at the Imjin Barracks SLA there are over 21,000 data points being generated and analysed.

All elements of the building are seamlessly connected, fully interoperable and communicate with each other 

This is done via a platform powered by Reds10’s SMART building technology Thrive, maximising operational performance and maintenance. This includes everything from temperature and humidity to daylight, window contacts, acoustic levels, power metering, water and more.

This is possible because all elements of the building are seamlessly connected, fully interoperable and communicate with each other rather than having disparate systems for, say, heating, lighting or ventilation. By eliminating siloes and system redundancies, the integrated approach enables savings of 39% in heating, 24% in electricity (lighting), 22% in auxiliary energy electricity and 20% in domestic water storage and circulation.

Among the sustainability measures are photovoltaic (PV) panels and air source heat pumps, as well as a weather station and a pyranometer – a solar radiation sensor to benchmark PV production.

The PVs are linked to a nano crystal cell battery, a crucial component of what makes this building one of Europe’s smartest, by allowing us to establish a microgrid. The battery can store up to 1,327 kWh of energy and, in the summer months, it is expected that enough energy can be generated during daylight hours to allow the building to operate completely off-grid at night.

Introducing the battery also ensures resilience and continuity in the event of grid failure, a critical factor at a live military site.

Every bedroom is fitted with a programmable touchscreen where occupants can customise their environment. Code is overlayed in a way that responds to certain behaviours; for example, if someone leaves a room, or opens a window, the heating switches to stand-by mode automatically to minimise waste.

Additionally, the dashboard informs individuals of their monthly electricity and heating consumption, which is then ranked on a building-wide leaderboard. In this instance, the gamification element brings a sense of accountability, and motivates everyone to make conscious, sustainable changes by showing them how their actions affect the performance of their building.

Technology and sustainability are directly connected with occupier wellbeing, too. A mechanical ventilation unit enables heat recovery and has an overheating bypass function for passive cooling, depending on the season. This enhances thermal comfort and provides constant fresh air.

Smart technology and sustainable operation

Smart technology can be effectively deployed to create greener buildings from the design and construction phase, through tools such as BIM, data-led design and digital twin modelling as well as innovative materials and construction methodologies (such as prefabrication, volumetric and other MMC). It must be a truly cradle-to-cradle approach.

Along with design and construction, it is important to focus on operational carbon throughout the lifecycle of buildings, as the operation of buildings is responsible for a huge 26% of global energy-related emissions. That is where smart technology can add tremendous value, through facilitating whole lifecycle assessment, benchmarking and tracking in-use performance with reliable, transparent data.

We can move beyond talking about green credentials and actually demonstrate the sustainability of buildings accurately and clearly

With a platform-based approach, building users benefit from direct feedback on interventions they can make to manage their building better. The process of delivering smart buildings does not end with handover and requires a longer-term view and training, so that those using the space can do so in accordance with how it was intended to operate.

Looking ahead, Cloud and cognitive technologies will really come into their own and momentum with smart buildings will continue. Especially as more evidence emerges of the extraordinary level of savings that can be made when technology is applied in the right way within our built environment.

After all, an EPC rating is great to have but it is still largely a theoretical exercise. By gaining full visibility of the in-use performance, we can move beyond talking about green credentials and actually demonstrate the sustainability of buildings accurately and clearly.

A UK Green Building Council report stressed that the construction sector must decrease emissions twice as fast if it is to have a chance of achieving targets. That is where smart technology and a more holistic platform approach bring opportunities for transformational change.

To create future-ready buildings, as an industry we must lean more on innovation, stop viewing different areas of building performance in isolation and embrace the self-improving nature of smart systems. Only then can we reduce energy waste, encourage greener behaviours and boost efficiency, transparency, performance and value.

Paul Ruddick, chairman, Reds10



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