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Smart buildings can generate many operational advantages but are businesses making the most of their potential? Jonathan Feaver explains how organisations can derive real financial, operational and occupant-based benefits from BEMS data.
Named after James Robert Flynn, a New Zealand academic who documented it in a series of studies starting in the early 1980s, the Flynn Effect has been used to demonstrate that the intelligence levels of human beings have been rising since at least the early 20th century. As people get smarter, it stands to reason that they want the technology that runs the buildings they own, operate and occupy in to be smarter too.
Workplaces have changed over the last decade but this remarkable evolution is far from over, thanks to more intelligent and intuitive building services. At the forefront of these developments is the Building Energy Management System (BEMS), but even though it already provides significant business benefits, including energy savings, many are failing to realise the true value it can provide.
Developers, architects, facilities management and other professionals involved in the design and implementation of working environments should give serious consideration to how a BEMS can help create a smarter workplace. It has the potential to create a superior indoor environment that improves occupant comfort and productivity; reduces energy consumption and operations staffing; and makes the most effective use of space.
Working at an office that uses software-based tools that can help you find a parking space in the morning, book you a space for your conference call, and warm a work area or meeting room to just the way you like it, is all possible. The data produced by a BEMS can also maximise space utilisation and ensure that every available square metre provides a return on investment (ROI).
All too often commercial buildings are lit up after hours, with only a small number of maintenance and cleaning professionals left in the property, most of who are concentrated in the same space. Collecting and analysing building occupancy data can greatly assist in determining where exactly in the premise lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and other power hungry building services are needed, without wasting energy on unoccupied spaces.
The same principle applies during office hours. In utility areas, for example, traffic is typically lower than in the actual office space. Using sensors to understand the level of traffic in specific areas provides a huge opportunity to reduce energy use, as heating, cooling and light settings can be pre-set in accordance with demand and lowered to set back mode, or even turned off, when not required.
Strategically equipping a room with sensors allows data to be fed back to a centralised software-based monitoring and management platform that can develop insight-driven data. For example, a BEMS can show how particular spaces are used by incorporating a meeting room booking system, which can work with the information provided by movement and occupancy sensors to give a more accurate indication of actual use. For example, if a room is booked 80 per cent of the time but there is only 50 per cent occupancy, it highlights that measures should be taken to find out why this resource is being underutilised.
A BEMS can integrate with meeting room booking systems, access control, lighting and heat sensors to create a more accurate space usage picture. Questions can then be asked about whether it would it be more cost effective and productive to change the configuration of rooms, whether fewer but larger spaces are necessary, or even whether under-utilised desk space could be turned into meeting areas.
The same principle can even be applied to the way that individuals operate within a work area – something that is particularly useful in hot-desking environments. To improve comfort conditions and overall functionality, user feedback through a ‘rate my space’ service allows information about issues such as temperature, layout and lighting levels to be provided. This, as well as encouraging a greater sense of employee engagement, comfort and wellbeing, allows proactive steps to be taken to remedy any operational inconsistencies.
A word of warning though – while there is the potential to acquire lots of data, collecting it merely for the sake of it is a pointless exercise, as it’s what you do with it that counts. Organisations need to hone in on developing insights from data collected in a building in order to drive action that will have a positive business impact.
There is also a danger that a ‘one size fits all’ approach could be applied, which instead of increasing wellbeing, could do the opposite. Many of us have worked in environments that we consider to be too hot or too cold, yet the temperature is perfect for others. In modern open plan offices this can lead to conflict, discomfort and energy wastage on a colossal scale through, for example, windows being open while radiators are on and the use of fan heaters.
Companies can give back local control through the use of a prominent touchscreen display that is linked directly to a BEMS. This enables users to view and adjust operating times and temperature levels, monitor alarms and make adjustments to controller parameters, allowing them to act upon environmental information instantly.
Furthermore, it is also possible to create an individual user profile that allows an employee to specify his/her own preferred working conditions. For instance someone who wants to work near a window with a temperature of 20°C and a specific level of lighting, can do so, and these parameters can be set by the individual as soon as he or she enters the building and a suitable desk allocated.
Nowadays there is a greater focus on the need for wellbeing in the workplace and a BEMS is able to help with this by checking environmental conditions such as air quality and creating lighting schemes around a specific task or activity.
The data a BEMS can collate, along with the analytics necessary to turn it into meaningful information, are crucial tools for building owners and managers, as they are pushed to reduce costs and maximise the potential of both people and assets. Just as importantly, a smart building that has wellbeing at its centre offers an ROI through improved productivity, less absence through illness and highly motivated personnel. In short, smart buildings help to create even smarter occupants.
Jonathan Feaver is senior design partner at Trend Control Systems