Jamie Cameron, Director of Digital Solutions at Johnson Controls, explains why organisations are increasingly relying on technology to deliver operational energy savings whilst tackling climate change.
Against a backdrop of myriad problems, from spiralling energy costs to inflation rates higher than seen for 30 years, the topic of energy efficiency has come back into sharp focus. With firms struggling to keep pace with the cost of doing business, all while pressure mounts to make headway on sustainability goals, it’s no wonder practical measures to weather the crisis are high on businesses’ wish list. After two years of lots to contend with, from volatile market conditions to consumer uncertainty and much more, businesses are on the hunt for solutions to turn the tide on cost pressures and navigate their way towards a more sustainable future. A tall order by anyone’s standards.
In the United Kingdom, there was some hope on the horizon in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement which brought with it a new package of measures designed to incentivise decarbonisation, drive demand for green tech, and curb spiralling business energy costs. Rishi Sunak set out his plans to scrap VAT on energy saving materials including solar panels, heat pumps and home insulation and pledged to make green technology exempt from business rates, all to incentivise at speed and drive change at scale.
But the onus to curb energy consumption doesn’t just rest on the government. It relies on business leaders, facilities managers, and individuals like us to make the buildings we inhabit much more efficient. The evidence is clear, as buildings are responsible for consumption and a third of the world’s greenhouse gases. As commitments to sustainability are encouraged through both policies and public opinion, businesses may be put at a disadvantage regarding talent, incentives, and profits if they fail to make their buildings more efficient. This begs the question which tools are within businesses grasp and how can they help navigate tough business realities while enabling us to step up to vital sustainability goals?
At first glance, ‘energy-efficient technology’ might seem like an oxymoron. After all, when we think of the relationship between technology and energy, we often picture large commercial city landscapes fully illuminated deep into the night, or rows of office PCs and screens consuming power 24 hours a day. But in recent years, technology that is truly energy-efficient has advanced far beyond incremental changes.
Now, businesses can employ various optimisation software platforms to predict and directly monitor workplace energy costs, and automatically optimise cooling, heating, and power generation. They can use AI-powered data analytics to monitor building performance, enhance tenant experience, and meet sustainability goals. Building managers may still assume that the implementation of such powerful, energy-efficient technologies would be a long, costly process. But the truth is they can be installed into buildings quickly and efficiently, and managers can start seeing results and returns immediately.
What if you could predict the future? And better yet, what if your central plant could automatically adjust your energy usage and costs to prepare for that future? Meet central plant optimisation software. Central Utility Plant (CUP) technology uses predictive algorithms (AI & ML) to maximise buildings’ energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions while delivering reliable utility services. And it dispatches decisions every 15 minutes based on a myriad of ever-changing inputs.
First, it looks at equipment performance models. Every major piece of building equipment, such as chillers, boilers, and cooling towers, is tuned into the system to monitor performance, cost, and optimise efficiency under operating conditions. Next, it pulls seven-day local weather forecasts for temperature, humidity, and cloudiness to predict loads, equipment performance and ambient conditions.
For example, if a particularly mild Wednesday was predicted, CUP technology would prepare to reduce the building’s heating output, ensuring the central plant runs at the lowest possible cost, and far more sustainably, too.
Then, the software combines the forecasts with existing data on historical loads, days of the week, time of day, building schedules, maintenance calendars, and special events to adjust operations and automatically make decisions that guarantee the reliable delivery of workplace utility services.
Installing comprehensive building management platforms are another way that businesses can achieve energy efficiency. These platforms give managers a virtual birds-eye view of buildings and inform decision-making that delivers stronger sustainability practices. They constantly scan workplaces, pinpointing inefficiencies, diagnosing equipment problems, and advocating the corrective action needed to fix them. They also enable managers to monitor not only energy usage, but also assets, space, health, and occupant comfort parameters, all to improve Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) scores.
OpenBlue Enterprise Manager offers an eco-system of cloud-based apps, which enable managers and tenants to instantly adjust heating, water supply, HVAC systems and more in different areas of a building. These self-service apps also mean managers can monitor real-time spending, efficiency insights, and progress straight from their smartphone, helping regularly update stakeholders on sustainability results. So, they’re not just gathering data—they can share it, too.
New measures are welcome and a positive step in the right direction to counter and alleviate the immediate financial pressures of the cost-of-living crisis and put sustainability back on the business agenda as the time to turn the tide on climate change shrinks. Beyond doubt, if best practices are adopted worldwide, businesses can achieve their individual journeys towards reaching net-zero carbon emissions, while helping the planet for all. As bills rise annually and there are constant changes in government legislation, businesses must turn to technology for a wholly improved way of managing utilities. Without smart tech, they can’t ever hope to make impactful changes for themselves, the environment, and our health.