Cities are growing at an unpresented rate today; by 2030, around 60% of the global population will live in cities. At the same time, urbanisation and climate change threaten to be a dangerous mixture, putting new pressure on already vulnerable infrastructure and disrupting basic urban life styles. Buildings are a key element of the cities’ infrastructure and can play a crucial role in helping citizens and businesses improve their resilience to climate change and improve the energy security, fight energy poverty.
The European Union has a great opportunity ahead of her with the review of the EPBD: accelerate the rate of renovation of the European building stock, by introducing more optimization and performance-based energy management practices, provided by Building Automation and Control systems and data analytics.
The built environment in cities is in the middle of a profound transformation. At the core of this transformation is the concept of Smart Building, which essentially refers to advanced building automation, data analytics and cloud-based software tools. A building is no longer a building, but rather a network of information which could be better used to achieve greater energy efficiency. Security, HVAC, fire detection systems etc – they all have now the capacity to connect devices, optimize data and track energy usage. It is no longer enough to install energy efficiency technologies, without a way to control, connect and make them interact to achieve significant long-term energy savings. Intelligent buildings utilize sensors, controls and analytics to improve energy efficiency, lower operating costs, and improve asset reliability. For example, research demonstrates that Building Controls are key to reduce energy consumption in existing commercial and industry facilities. A study conducted by the European Commission on energy saving potentials in the industry sector highlights the importance of an Integrated control system. According to this study, this measure is classified as “projected sector energy saving opportunities with highest technical potential” (with <2 year simple payback).
A Smart Building gives to the consumer an unprecedented insight into the building’s performance, by making extensive use of available information about the operation of the building and its environment, including computerised optimisation of its systems during the hours of occupation. The performance of the building is controlled and monitored in a way that is easy, informative and empowering to the owner or occupant so that the right decision on the long-term operation and performance of the building can be taken on the basis of real time data. Moreover, consumption patterns can be collected and used for the management of the building and future renovation strategies. However, in collecting the data, attention should be paid to the rights to privacy of building owners and occupants.
In the case of EPBD, setting minimum requirements for Building Automation and Controls Systems (art 8) would significantly increase the energy savings. Regarding nZEBs and on site production of energy from renewable sources, Building Controls can play a key role in balancing local production, grid and storage. Moreover, the introduction of a definition for Building Automation and Controls Systems is also needed in order to raise awareness on their use and potential. The combination of equipment and controls is crucial to close the gap between designed and actual energy performance of buildings. In many cases, equipment can be perfect, but if the Building Automation and Controls System doesn’t exist to activate devices and adapt them to the needs of the building, the energy efficiency potential decreases and improvements cannot be identified.
In conclusion, Building Controls and Data Analytics have tremendous potential in delivering performance-based energy efficiency improvements and creating more resilient, flexible infrastructure within cities; but ambitious legislation is very much needed. The lack of transparency in building data has been a key barrier to wider adoption of energy efficiency in the built environment for too long. Now it’s the moment to correct this and set minimum requirements for Building Automation and Controls Systems functionalities in large buildings, by 2023. If we don’t do it now, the next review will be too late – from a climate change and market perspective.
 European Commission. Study on energy efficiency and energy saving potential in industry and on possible policy mechanisms, Brussels: 2015. Can be downloaded at: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/151201%20DG%20ENER%20Industrial%20EE%20stu dy%20-%20final%20report_clean_stc.pdf