Kas Mohammed, vp of digital energy at Schneider Electric looks at how commercial buildings can become more efficient

Global warming remains at the forefront of public discussion, with noticeable effects such as more extreme weather and rising sea levels covered in the news almost daily. The increased awareness of the issue, and the available solutions, has motivated many to act more sustainably. Even larger than this, the concept of sustainability has become politicised in recent years, seeing world leaders, governments and organisations put policies in place to slow global warming.

However, a special report from the IPCC has indicated that, even if the current global environmental policies are met, global warming is predicted to continue to rise by almost four degrees by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. Despite being a significantly smaller increase than the effects of no action, this prediction is still higher than the two degrees regarded as the ‘tipping point’. This is the stage at which irreversible effects of global warming will begin to take place, including severe heatwaves causing droughts, and coastal flooding.

With cities accounting for 80% of the world’s energy consumption, and buildings being the largest contributor, it is clear that we need to decarbonise our urban environments on more than an individual scale. Commercial and industrial scale change is needed urgently in order to mitigate these risks.

Whilst we are seeing a rise in sustainable technology, zero-carbon cities must be the end goal we are working towards. An entire sustainable city sounds daunting but, like any seemingly impossible task, we must first break it down and tackle the major issues. Looking specifically at buildings, we must address the way we use and manage our electrical infrastructure and set KPIs to reduce consumption, particularly within those which are large and critical.

Electrical infrastructures in buildings are complex by nature and require some level of intelligence to function efficiently. In order to monitor and maintain this infrastructure within large and critical facilities, an energy management system, ranging from high level metering to more comprehensive solutions, is necessary.

As with any effective system, total output is greater than that of the individual parts. The key to driving greater results and efficiencies lies in creating higher levels of communication, simplifying management and maintaining supply.

Realising the potential of IoT

We are entering a new digital era, full of potential for hyper-efficient commercial buildings. With ever-improving data collection and analysis, IoT energy management systems allow facility managers to make more informed, smart choices for efficient and sustainable buildings.

The new generation of energy management systems harnesses the benefits of connected technology. This is achieved through a variety of IoT-enabled devices modelled on a single online platform, which ultimately provides heightened visibility into the entire infrastructure from a web interface. The volume and variety of data points collected allows for in-depth, holistic analysis of an entire electrical infrastructure, rather than individual assets or isolated systems.

Data is collected in terms of:

  • Energy consumption
  • Power quality
  • Temperature
  • Oil levels
  • Demand/usage

Using trends, heat maps, benchmarking and forecasting, amongst other methods, to analyse this data gives full visibility of system performance and opportunities for optimisation.

Real-time monitoring and tracking not only provides event alarms related to benchmarking and compliance but also the trends leading up to these events, allowing for predictability in the case of recurrence. If an alarm is identified on a particular system, it is also possible to look at a virtual single line diagram, inclusive of data readings, to determine the causes upstream and consequences downstream of the event.

Remote control, monitoring and access

2020 has seen a surge in decentralisation, which was already creeping into the facilities management industry slowly in previous years. In the current climate, the ability to effectively monitor electrical infrastructure remotely is no longer just a useful asset, but a necessity. IoT energy management systems make it possible to monitor and/or control assets and systems from a web interface, removing the need for physical intervention and on-site presence, which are becoming increasingly interrupted and, at times, impossible.

If an event has occurred on a system, it can be located and isolated through the web platform. This allows a maintenance team to fix the issue more efficiently, potentially reducing consumption through preventing malfunctions such as overheating by minimising the time to interact with the system.

Prioritising operational efficiency

Large facilities often contain a variety of critical assets such as servers, medical equipment, CCTV, lifts, fire systems, lab equipment and many more. These tend to be power intensive and sensitive to power quality disturbances, making efficient energy management a top priority.

Power quality disturbances come about when the electrical waveform supplied is not smooth but rather suffers from harmonics, voltage sags and swells or spikes. These may cause noticeable faults or failures in the assets but more commonly they will slowly degrade the equipment and increase its electrical consumption. The effect of this on the sustainability of a building is not solely caused by the unnecessary increase in power consumption, but also the lowering of design life, which can result in premature failure and replacement of equipment, leading to an increase of electrical waste in landfill.

Sub-optimal power quality will also cause an increase in unusable reactive power, brought about by a phase shift between current and voltage waveforms. This unusable reactive power is incorporated in the total kWh charge on an energy bill and may also incur an additional fee if the root cause is traced back to the facility internally. By identifying these issues facilities managers can act promptly, minimising consumption and pinpointing the root cause. Ultimately, this will allow for corrective equipment to be installed at an optimal location.

Facilities managers can easily monitor for disturbances, using advanced reporting options to view a clear summary of system performance and the internal or external causes of disruptive events. In the case of an internal cause it is simple to see the source of the disturbance and understand its financial and operational impacts.