Is The Market Ready For The Latest In Energy Innovations?


BY BART HOLSTERS, OPERATIONS MANAGER OF Cofely Besix FACILITY MANAGEMENT

Whilst it’s true that no buildings are designed to be inefficient, we cannot neglect the fact that efficiencies can always be improved on over time, especially when adopting new technologies. Currently, technology is at the forefront regionally, with SMART initiatives being launched across all sectors in transport, communications, infrastructure, electricity, economic services and urban planning on a daily basis in order to make our lives easier and more efficient.

Similarly, energy management and the associated new technologies also have a lot to offer when it comes to making our lives easier and rendering facilities more efficient. The latest innovations such as Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are definitely on the rise in order to manage and optimise energy more efficiently.

With literally billions of devices connected to the internet today through IoT, generating massive amounts of relatively cheap and reliable data accessible in real time, the availability of such data coming from meters, sensors and actuators will without a doubt, spur further efficiencies within the energy management sector.

As these technologies become cheaper and therefore more accessible, we can now start thinking of integrating functions and connecting the (big) ‘data’ dots within the built environment. Moreover, the previous fragmentation of systems is now slowly being replaced with a more integrated approach when it comes to offering solutions for energy management. Today, we have uniformed communication platforms that allow us to connect different components, operating systems and applications to integrate into SMART Systems.

These SMART systems are equipped with AI functions and allow us not only to make reasoned decisions to optimise energy efficiency, they also learn from the patterns and drive energy efficiency autonomously based on the input collected. Eventually machine learning technology will take over human action as we ultimately want the ‘things’ to work for us without user interference, and simultaneously save money and be more sustainable. The gains to be made from such innovations are obviously significant in terms of saving money and reducing carbon emissions.

But before we get too excited about the imminent prospects, we need to ask, “Is the market really ready for such innovations?”

I personal believe it is, and these innovations are slowly being implemented into both new and existing building stock. Obviously there are few hurdles that we will have to overcome in due time, but as with any new technology an initial investment is required to implement these energy management systems.

‘Leasing’ and ‘shared saving’ models can help overcome certain issues and would allow implementation in return for the commitment to longer term partnerships.

Other challenges include whether a building is ready to accept the new technology. Initially a functioning Building Automation System (BAS) is required. Many facilities already have sophisticated BAS systems in place, however, in many cases these systems are not maintained properly or with insufficient access rights. This is obviously detrimental to the facility in terms of allowing good conduct, as well as generating energy savings through energy management.

Another hurdle is access to Wi-Fi coverage throughout a facility, as IoT requires connection to the internet, especially in areas such as plant rooms. However, with the rise of technologies such as LiFi (data transmission through LED lights) this issue could also soon be resolved as part of a lighting retrofit.

Then there is the issue of ‘big data’ in terms of deciding what data to capture and what data to use for data analytics. Selecting and integrating the right data is key to achieving value and energy savings. Luckily individuals are becoming more and more tech savvy with new data environments and the latest software can already take on a large portion of the job, nevertheless, a higher level of analytic and strategic thinking will be required from our energy managers of the future.

I firmly believe that technology will keep evolving and disrupting the way we operate within energy management today and in the future. The level of transparency these innovations bring not only create more trust and confidence, but also boost energy awareness significantly amongst all stakeholders.

I also believe that energy management will become the next big trend in the FM market. Energy management is a logical extension to a traditional FM contract, and it is difficult to provide energy management as a standalone service. A more holistic approach is advisable to ensure proper integration. For example, integration with CAFM and BMS systems enables communication with facility assets data to be linked directly to assets and actions.

Additionally, the recent announcement on further tariff changes along other ‘Demand Side Management’ initiatives being progressively implemented over the coming years, means that energy and facility management will play a much greater and more strategic role within the built environment in the region. This will definitely also have a positive effect on the need to implement innovative technologies in the future.

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