David Williams, VP of transactional business at Schneider Electric looks at buildings of the future: the public sector’s software shortlist for creating energy-efficient infrastructure.

The need for energy-efficient buildings has never been stronger. Both electricity and gas prices remain sky-high compared to historical averages, rising by 66.7% and 129.4% respectively in the UK from January 2022 to January 2023. Meanwhile, unpredictable weather conditions are only adding to the crisis. Though we’re now into the Spring, the UK is prone to cold weather with temperatures far below seasonal norms. With energy markets so tight, a handful of degrees Celsius difference, or a brief lack of wind to power turbines, could yet threaten widespread blackouts across the UK. That’s a risk critical services like the NHS and other public sector organisations cannot afford to take. Which is why it’s vital the public sector quickly adopt new digital strategies to regulate the energy consumption of new and existing buildings.

The environmental footprint of buildings

A considerable contributor to the unfolding energy crisis is the power consumption of the built environment. Buildings consume about 30% of the world’s energy and produce almost 40% of CO2 emissions. However, they’re often overlooked when it comes to sustainability, both in terms of their impact and efforts to upgrade them. Of the 40% of worldwide CO2 emissions that buildings produce, the vast majority can be addressed by minimising energy waste via smart technologies. So, let’s explore how design firms, contractors, and building operators can harness software to create buildings that are fit for the future. Plus, how these processes can be utilised by estates and facilities management teams throughout the public sector to drive efficiencies, cut energy waste and support ongoing maintenance.

Designing new infrastructure

The UK government has set ambitious plans to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Successfully reducing the carbon footprint of the public sector would contribute significantly to achieving that goal. The NHS itself plans to reach net zero by 2040, aiming to reach an 80% reduction by 2032. NHS hospital trusts and healthcare facilities consume vast amounts of energy, but we also need to be mindful of the energy requirements of schools, universities, local government and other public buildings.

The Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme aims to reduce emissions in public buildings by 75% by 2037. It has just released more £400 million to drive down the carbon emissions of public buildings, with a strong focus on energy efficiency. However, if the public sector is going to achieve net zero then some buildings may be sufficiently retrofitted, but others will simply need to be rebuilt to ensure adequate efficiency levels.

Designers and electricians working on these new buildings will have a big role to play throughout their lifecycles, but their main focus must be on the building’s design. After all, a building can’t operate efficiently if it wasn’t designed that way to begin with.

To plan a net-zero building, designers must use software to 3D model its electrical installations, from automated design to equipment sizing. 3D modelling allows designers to bring a space to ‘life’ in advance, enabling the development and acceleration of energy-efficient digital transformation through every stage of the project’s lifecycle. Then, the BIM (Building Information Modelling) design can be exported to software tools that allow engineers to collaborate, make better decisions and optimise electrical designs. This can be augmented with the use of digital twin software that offers an active blueprint of the electrical power system. An automated system that provides continuous analysis, through design, integration, and ongoing maintenance support.

Meanwhile, engineers can use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create 2D and 3D model electrical engineering and electrical installation designs. It allows even novice users to quickly produce drawings for maximum productivity, and provides access to IEEE/IEC component and symbol libraries, automatic numbering for components, terminals, cables and wires, and auto orientation and real-time symbol numbering for ultra-effective and efficient electrical schematics.

Creating energy-efficient spaces

Let’s move into the physical building phase of construction or smart retrofits. Specifiers, general contractors, and building operators looking to accelerate efficiency and sustainability can use software that integrates the project lifecycle management with 5D BIM for advanced project planning, costing, and carbon emission monitoring.

These 5D BIM construction management solutions connect people, processes, and data from across the project lifecycle, safely organising them into one centralised system. Then, contributors to the project can simply and efficiently collaborate for faster, more informed data-driven decisions and savings.

If we take a look at the NHS for example, a hospital’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can account for 30% or more of the total energy consumed. Improving the electrical design to support the efficiency of HVAC, lighting, and other systems can significantly reduce energy consumption and costs.

Long-term operation and maintenance

Once a highly-efficient building has been built, or retrofitted, it would be negligent to think the job is done. Energy waste can still occur, whether through human or mechanical error—so, it’s crucial to continuously monitor and analyse the building’s energy performance.

The operators of public buildings can leverage intelligent platforms that utilise IoT, mobility, sensing, cloud, analytics, and cybersecurity to deliver safety, reliability, efficiency, and sustainability. Building operators, estates and facilities management teams can use these systems to constantly monitor performance and identify faults. These systems can also be used to identify areas that need optimisation, enabling facilities managers to proactively address inefficiencies, minimise energy waste and cost, and maximise sustainability.

Public buildings for the future

Public sector spending is always coming under scrutiny. Energy efficient buildings based on smart electrical designs will help to reduce utilities and maintenance costs, and lower emissions. The tools and technologies needed to identify and tackle energy waste and optimise energy use are available now. Properly implemented they can help the various departments and offices of state to meet their net zero targets, while also providing buildings and spaces that are more conducive to needs of the occupants. Helping to drive productivity, improve wellbeing and, in the case of the NHS, deliver improved patient care.