Jamie Cameron, director of digital solutions at Johnson Controls UK & Ireland looks at a more intelligent approach to the way we use, monitor and measure energy in our buildings.

The commercial property market will have a key role to play in helping the UK achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But how do we start moving towards such a seemingly daunting goal? The answer lies in taking a more intelligent approach to the way we use, monitor and measure energy in our buildings. This will require new ways of accurately and efficiently measuring consumption.

Reducing commercial energy usage requires knowledge of where businesses are in the first place. To this end, the UK government has proposed the introduction of a national performance-based framework for rating the energy and carbon performance of large commercial buildings. The framework, put forward by the department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will apply to commercial and industrial buildings above 1,000m² in England and Wales, with annual ratings and mandatory disclosures making up the first steps.

Building and sustainability managers have long needed a means of communicating whether they are on a net zero trajectory. The launch of a performance-based framework like this will bring much greater transparency to the industry.

Creating healthier buildings

Over the past year, the drivers behind healthy building initiatives have evolved beyond cost savings and employee experience. Facility managers have understandably been focussing efforts on creating healthier workspaces and limiting any potential spread of the virus indoors. However, creating truly healthy buildings will require owners to look at the bigger picture and think of steps that can be taken to lower their building’s emissions while balancing that against the requirement for healthy buildings.

One of the key behavioural changes to come out of the pandemic has been a tendency to be more conscious about our environmental impact. This has led employees to be more mindful of the strategies their employers are implementing, or not implementing, to limit their carbon footprint. Under the current system used to determine a building’s energy efficiency, the Energy Performance Certificates (EPC), building owners are under no obligation to measure energy consumption. This means they are unable to guarantee whether their building actually uses less energy or emits less carbon, regardless of its rating.

The introduction of a performance-based framework, however, will put the onus on businesses to measure their energy consumption to determine how close they are to realising their sustainability goals. While only 7% of commercial and industrial buildings in England and Wales are larger than 1,000m2, these spaces consume over half (53%) of all the energy in the commercial property market – with the right technologies in place, the impact of BEIS’ proposals could prove pivotal.

Technology’s role to play

The reality is you can’t improve what you can’t measure, but meeting a a business’ sustainability ambitions does not rest solely on the shoulders of building and facility managers. Technology will have a crucial role to play for BEIS’ framework to yield the hoped-for results.

All of your energy usage – whether it’s thermal, water, electrical, storage or carbon – can be tracked, analysed and managed. But building owners must be equipped with the right technologies. If not, they won’t be able access the insights they need to achieve their sustainability, operational and space health goals.

Smart building automation and advanced analytics systems will help businesses optimise the performance of their businesses and assets while reducing unnecessary waste. Here, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Machine Learning technologies make it possible to identify and diagnose equipment problems, pinpoint efficiencies and take corrective action from the insights provided. To do this, businesses need to implement the right connected solutions that can actually deliver sustainability, operational savings and new occupant experiences.

Championing sustainability at every level

Whether we’re aware of it or not, the buildings we use on a daily basis have a huge impact on our environment – and this can no longer be ignored. Sustainability must therefore be at the centre of everything we do if we stand a chance of reducing emissions in the UK commercial property market.

Delivering on the country's sustainability pledges will ultimately require decisive action, and BEIS' proposals for a performance-based framework will be important first steps towards a greener future. Taking a data-driven approach to managing a building’s energy performance cannot be underestimated. Only by measuring, collecting and analysing this data can a company then move forward into how best to reduce it.

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