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Smart buildings: Shaping how we live and work in 2021

Changes are coming in the way that people work, says Matthew Margetts, director of sales and marketing at Smarter Technologies

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: The 5G opportunity

More than half of organisations plan to increase their investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and smart building technology in 2021. That is according to Johnson Controls’ annual Energy efficiency indicator survey. Interestingly enough, these business plans are comparable with investment trends that came after the 2010 recession; now likely to be a result of preparation for the post-pandemic world. 

As people begin returning to shared spaces once herd immunity has been reached, the health of building occupants and energy efficiency will continue to be top of mind – and an investment priority for facilities managers around the world. 

These are the drivers:

  • Health and safety concerns. 
  • Reducing energy use and working towards net zero targets.
  • New awareness around reducing the spread of infection as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The need to increase the ability to operate in different conditions, both planned and unforeseen.

Delving further into the survey and reflecting on the conclusions drawn, it is important to note that while the report reflects an analysis of the US market, many of the themes are appropriate to the European property industry, and the research opinions are probably shared by the majority.

Net zero is the new hero 

As Paris Agreement obligations edge closer, facilities managers are under increasing pressure to reach net-zero targets:

  • 70% of organisations are very or extremely likely to have one or more facilities that are nearly zero, net zero or positive energy or carbon status in the next 10 years – an increase of 7% from 2019.
  • 66% are very or extremely likely to have one or more facilities able to operate off the grid in the next 10 years – an increase of 3% from 2019.
  • 63% invested in on-site renewable energy in 2020 – a 22% increase from 2019.

How smart tech can help

The key to harnessing energy efficiencies is having access to accurate, real-time energy consumption data. By knowing how energy is used in your facility (and when), you can identify an “energy action plan” that works for you. This is the role of a smart energy meter – using these will put you in control of your consumption. 

Other smart, sensor-based technologies can help reduce energy consumption. For example, occupancy sensors can control lighting and heating so that energy is only being used when someone is in the room.

A breath of fresh air

With the evidence strongly indicating that Covid-19 is spread through aerosol transmission, indoor air quality is set to become tantamount to facility safety for facilities managers. 

According to the survey:

  • 79% are planning to increase, or have already increased, air filtration.
  • 75% are planning to install, or have already installed, an air treatment system.
  • 72% are planning to increase, or have already increased, outdoor air ventilation rates.

How smart tech can help

New technology is enabling better air quality by observing and monitoring air quality in real time. Indoor air quality sensors can continually measure the air quality within a given area and send an immediate alert if the air quality or ventilation is compromised in any way. 

Simple, smart management systems

According to 81% of survey respondents, increasing the flexibility of facilities and buildings to quickly respond to a variety of emergency conditions was a “very” or “extremely important” driver of investment.

Managers are looking for multi-faceted, “all-in-one” solutions that can streamline workflows and business operations at a glance:

  • 75% have invested in the integration of security systems with other building monitoring systems – an increase of 36% from the 2019 study.
  • 33% plan to invest in the integration of building technology systems with distributed energy resources in the next year – an increase of 15% from the previous study.
  • 79% say data analytics and machine learning will have an extremely or very significant impact on buildings. 

How smart tech can help

From occupant health to energy efficiency, having an interconnected smart building system is fast becoming the norm rather than the exception. The ability to monitor, maintain and control various aspects of a building remotely via a single dashboard allows the facility manager to – quite literally – ensure a safe, efficient, energy-saving environment at all times, from anywhere. 

The future is here; and, as is evidenced by the survey, the adoption of these smart systems has become a case of “when”, not “if”. 

Matthew Margetts is director of sales and marketing at Smarter Technologies. His background includes working for blue-chip companies such as AppNexus, AOL/ Verizon and Microsoft in the UK, the Far East and Australia. 

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