By Ian Richardson, Building Solutions Technical Specialist within ABB Australia's Electrification business.
With more than half the world’s population living in urban areas, and those same urban areas forming the larger contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, we need to see a dramatic rise in the implementation of smart energy management in our buildings. If unchecked, the world’s power generation will need to increase by 60% over the next 20 years1 – with more than half of that used in buildings.
With the Australian Government acknowledging their goal to reach net zero emissions, preferably by 2050, there is a clear opportunity and strong desire from the property sector to transform how we design, construct and manage buildings, new and old. Fortunately, there are leading solutions available today, and exciting developments in progress that are further integrating renewable energy as we move toward the goal of self-sustaining buildings.
Driving value in new and existing builds
From homes through to commercial facilities, energy management solutions are far more accessible today than in previous years. They have become an easy choice for owners and managers seeking to realise energy savings and contribute to environmental efficiency. For all new builds, our vision is to see energy efficient solutions incorporated as a default. Every building is an opportunity to contribute to a better future and offer lifestyle efficiencies at the same time. With the savings enabled by smart energy management solutions, the economic case really confirms the case for adoption.
For existing buildings, energy management solutions remain highly relevant and can be deployed with reasonable ease. We know that buildings contribute a lot to energy consumption. The problem with existing buildings is that you often don’t know the status of its energy use. That’s why the first step is to measure what you’re consuming, where you are using energy and where it is being wasted. That data becomes your baseline for action. When you understand the building systems that use the most energy, you’re then able to focus investment on addressing those energy-inefficient areas. With ongoing measurement, you can truly track progress – in terms of environmental benefits, and absolutely in terms of cost savings. For ABB, that dual value is why building energy management is worthy of attention by building owners and managers of existing buildings.
Seeing buildings as living entities
In 2018, ABB established the ‘Give your buildings a new dimension‘ portfolio, born out of the notion that buildings are akin to a living being. When you see them that way – as a true contributor to an ecosystem – then you more easily connect with the value of keeping it healthy. To do that, you need to be able to diagnose what’s going on, act on the information, and then continually measure, analyse and correct over time. That is where energy management can play a critical role. It’s about taking energy efficiency into your building, and drawing information from the building, so you know what the building is doing as that living entity.
ABB’s metering devices can connect with a building’s cloud-based system and intelligently acquire, store and analyse information to drive efficiency for the long term. Amassing data from across a building’s electrical system helps to identify savings and guide improvements. Retrofitting is also becoming easier with wireless solutions so, once again, this is not just the domain of new buildings. For clients who integrate ABB’s CMS-700 circuit-monitoring system, and EQmatic energy analyser, with our cloud-based ABB Ability™ Energy and Asset Manager, they gain a breadth of on-premise and cloud-based services. When fully deployed, it can enable up to 30% savings on energy costs.
Delivering practical value
Just two areas where significant savings can be found are energy-hungry HVAC systems and lighting. With HVAC, as long as that is efficient, you can save a lot of energy. With lighting, technology has come a long way. Even the simple act of taking out old lamps and replacing them with LED fittings can save an enormous amount depending on the scale. Then, whether for a new build or an existing one, if you add building automation via technology such as sensors, you can save even more.
From there, it comes down to payback. Particularly for existing commercial buildings, even if a lot of rewiring is required, the refurbishment is a reasonably low-cost action versus the significant payback possible through energy savings. Integrated systems also support advanced maintenance, such as predicting when a component is likely to fail. This focuses available resources on areas of maintenance that present the highest energy use or costs. The payback timeframe is certainly part of the conversation. However, with monitoring systems cited as able to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25%, with an annual return on investment of 7-15%2, that is a lean timeframe to bear costs versus the long-run gains from savings and greater security in the network.
One of the further benefits of smart energy management is scalability. One entity with multiple buildings can see energy use across its portfolio of buildings transactionally. Depending on the system and geographical reach, managers may even monitor and adjust low versus high demand areas, turning trade-offs into advantages.
When you are managing a single building, you are in your own world. Once you’re in a community, the opportunities for smarter approaches to our energy network are endless. In theory, if you considered a whole city, all those buildings could work together. We could collectively look at demand, talk with generators to ensure energy will be available and even integrate excess from renewables. We could go as far as to take the burden off existing substations and achieve a clever network able to avoid blackouts. We are a long way from there, but the concept is sound. Energy management can make significant leaps forward with a foundation of data transparency and action.
1 Government Property Group and Energy Efficiency Council National Framework for Sustainable Government Office Buildings Guidance Paper: Integrated Energy Retrofits and Energy Performance Contracting – March 2011
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