Digital transformation
  • 02 Dec.2020
  • 4 min read
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Net-Zero Buildings with Data Analytics – The First to Last Mile Activity to retain and sustain it

by Sumit Nawathe

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Net-zero means keeping a balance between self reliance for generating carbon-free energy and accepting accountability to track and consciously consume resources which are responsible for the carbon emission. Not all the existing buildings have the liberty or feasibility to produce carbon-free energy at the point of consumption but they certainly manage and control their operational energy consumption during the lifetime of the building. 

According to the UK Green building Council (UKGBC) defined target trajectory for operational energy efficiency for commercial offices, to be net-zero carbon by 2050, we need to reduce our buildings’ operational energy use intensity by more than 60%.  

Most of the organizations that have committed to become net zero by 2030 have a large portfolio of commercial buildings. Renovation or refurbishment of the facade can help to save energy on design aspects such as better daylight utilization or improved self-cooling cycles, with the use of sustainable material they can further reduce lifecycle carbon emission. However structural changes come with their own challenges, they are hard to carry out in older buildings or buildings that are in close proximity. 

The one more way to improve operational efficiency, which has always been staying away from the limelight is the Building analytics. Building Analytics is nothing but closely monitoring a building’s critical assets and taking proactive actions to improve asset’s health, utilization and ultimately maintain optimum operational efficiency.

Analytic solutions, sits on top of the building’s data management system. Other data assets like CAFM or CMMS and a lot of other data monitoring layers into it before it reaches the analytics layer. The complexity and scale of integrating multiple technologies and solutions need a unified approach which is not possible without the digitalisation of critical infrastructure. Forward-looking businesses all over the globe have been going through a complete re-designing of their business processes, digitizing their operations, in order to create better products and services, drive efficiencies and become more profitable while being more sustainable. Although the term Digital transformation has become instantly popular after COVID crisis, its implications have still remained less explored. 

With the lingering uncertainty towards future work, surge in interest and viability of digital technologies in the commercial real estate(CRE) market globally, and the commitment towards net-zero targets, we are at the juncture to see a complete facelift to the way facilities have been managed and controlled around the globe. 

Where does Building Analytics fit?

According to an article published by World Economic forum, path to Net zero carbon buildings is driven by four major trends: Decarbonization of the electric power grid, Electrification of building space and water heating, Efficiency improvements to reduce energy demand, and Digitalization to provide needed flexibility in meeting the needs of building occupants and the energy grid. While decarbonization is not in the hands of facility operation teams, they can certainly attain rest of the solutions. Needless to mention, data analytics play an important role in achieving efficiency inoperations with the help of digitalization.     

Analytics, not only provides answers to what went wrong in the past but also suggests ways to mitigate similar challenges and improve resource efficiency. It provides a wide range of insights todescriptive, prescriptive and contextual ones. Despite all of these benefits, we rarely come across a facility which has fully leveraged its data resources and have delivered an effective solution for multiple use cases. 

So, what’s stopping facilities to make sense of building data?

Siloed and too much of Data 

Although the Data is key to optimising decisions for low/no carbon buildings, unstructured and unorganized data has now operational value. In most of the facilities data has been generated and stored in silos and there are building automation systems, building management systems, computerized maintenance management systems which operate in  isolation. Problem does not start with the data storage, it starts with legacy systems which do not communicate or share structured data over different platforms or tools.   

Lack of interoperability:

There is very little freedom for a facility manager to create the technology stack of his choice as most of the asset specific applications operate within the predefined conditions. Traditionally, building portfolios have independent infrastructure and disparate automation systems. Most of the systems are proprietary in nature and need dependency of BMS service providers for changes, integrations or improvisations, making it difficult to integrate with the other applications.

How Facility Management teams can get started for Net-Zero Campaigns? 

Centralize data:

Centralize all sorts of Building data to manage and share information that drives operations and maintenance workflows. Once all building data is centralized, it’s possible to get an end-to-end view of the entire portfolio. This holistic view allows us to understand, evaluate, strategize and plan for the performance dynamic benchmarks. The application of real-time data analytics on top of these consolidated data-sets can unlock powerful insights for multiple stakeholders. With centralized data, creating a report and keeping track of KPIs becomes incredibly flawless.

Open architecture: 

Opt for an open architecture based platform which can bring together real-time information with advanced technology across multiple sources in one place (such as BMS, BIM, CAFM and other sensors) and keep it connected. This real time data on asset functionalities can be interrelated with design and external influencing factors to provide insights on how the asset will work in different circumstances and scenarios. Real time data analytics, numerous insights for facility managers as well as the operators.

Build as you go:

Once the data has been centralized,can add up different tools/applications on top of it to explore various use cases.  

What does this mean for Facility Management firms?

  • Strategic Involvementwith Client’s Net-Zero Initiative:

With the current economic conditions companies want to reach net zero targets keeping the cost of the initiative in check. Not to mention, but they would also want to accelerate the speed, which was almost stagnant due to the COVID Crisis. This could be seen as an opportunity for the facility management teams to engage with clients (CRE building owners or tenants)and provide them with solutions and tools to make their net zero journey faster, smoother and cost effective. 

  • One more reason to strengthen digital aspect:

With more clients committing net zero targets, FM firms would need to now strengthen their focus on digitalization specially on hard services (something that’s always missed the due credit) 

  • Initiatives to keep CAPEX in check: 

Asset specific, performance based contracts should be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate value analytics and preparedness to net zero campaigns. More contracts of similar nature can be seen in recent times as attention will shift to meet the emission targets.

  • Finding better margins with performance contracts:

Changing contracts could make Facility management firms review their business strategies and explore new revenue opportunities. 

To be able to meet the net zero targets, facility management teams need to maintain the operational performance standards, and that means ensuring the improvised facility on energy performance over time, by setting minimum energy intensity benchmarks. Building analytics helps facility managers explore the hidden potential of their data and provide much needed push towards resource and ultimately operational efficiency.

To know how forward-thinking facility management companies are planning for the Net Zero Campaign from Industry Experts, REGISTER HERE for the global virtual event organised by UNISSU and sponsored by Xempla

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