Commercial and public buildings - creating a smarter more efficient energy future
There is no doubt that there has never been a more exciting or interesting time to work in the energy sector.
On the one hand, the goals of improving energy efficiency, de-carbonising, and changing how we as a society think about energy and the choices that we make are very clear, very real and without question very challenging.
On the other hand though, in the commercial buildings sector we have never been better armed than we are today to address these challenges, with an increasingly capable technology tool box, a growing sector willingness to change and try new solutions, and with energy awareness and energy literacy on a gradual and consistent rise.
Providing new technologies and flexible systems
Whether at a building level, at a business process level or a human end-user level, the goal is basically the same, that of providing new technologies and flexible systems that enable those interfacing at these levels to make the most energy efficient and cost effective investment and operational choices, using the minimum amount of energy for their needs, and to get the best value out of their energy assets.
Digital systems will be the glue
Intelligent systems, energy storage, grid demand response systems and new ways of engaging end-users will be diverse ingredients in the future mix, supported by fast paced new tools such as the Internet of Things, low-cost sensors, and energy harvesting which will all have a powerful impact on the future of energy efficiency, thermal management and increasingly on the prediction of energy needs for a building or a business. Digital systems will glue them together in desirable products, services, and value offerings, many of which no-one has thought of yet.
As a comparator, the iPhone App store had 5000 Apps on it in 2009 – it now has 1.5 million. The sort of business model creativity that produced Airbnb, Uber, Waze, aggregating users and data in clever ways is therefore anticipated to be a key opportunity in creating opportunities to either provide a business gain or address a business pain.
As well as delivering functional benefits to end-users and business managers, these innovations will also increasingly deliver connectivity externally to the wider local and national energy grid, enabling it to be more in tune with end use, and improve its overall efficiency and resilience.
So, exciting times!
Smarter Energy Futures workshop
We are leading a new workshop based initiative called “Smarter Energy Futures” focussed initially on stimulating and accelerating the development of new ideas and value adding opportunities in energy in the commercial and public buildings sector.
Using a new brainstorming approach and a new way of thinking about how energy is used and valued, the workshops bring together energy and facilities managers with innovators and technology companies to produce really creative, fresh thinking and stimulating ideas. These ideas will either add value to or address issues experienced by professionals in the sector, supporting the reduction or smarter use of energy in this part of the building sector, where one of the challenges is engaging the users and visitors to those buildings when they typically have no visibility or responsibility for the energy costs.
Ideas from previous workshops
Some examples of ideas from previous workshops orientated around commercial office space are shown below:
- A means of linking the colour hue of localised lighting in a building room to the temperature, to indicate which parts of the office or room are warmer or cooler, so that an employee can sit where they can “see” it might suit their thermal comfort needs (particularly in offices where hot desking is an increasing feature, or other environments such as conferences)
- A Fitbit type device that follows you and learns and communicates your comfort level and communicates it to the area of the building you are in
- A way of knowing when you flick a switch, how much cost/hour will then be incurred, (and vice versa) or a way of knowing how much energy cost/hour is consumed in a room when you walk into it. The same idea could apply to the point of use control of machines/industrial process controls, giving similar benefits in terms of increasing energy literacy and encouraging efficient use.
- Replacing office desks with personal microclimate pods with separate upper and lower zone control (akin to the sophistication we are increasingly used to in cars), so you can tune thermal comfort exactly to your needs, reducing the need for bulk office volume heating/cooling. Such a pod would also improve office noise levels and give an improved environment for personal teleconferencing.
- A way of easily mapping electricity cabling/metering in a building so you can identify what is being used or metered at each point
- A means of providing employees with good knowledge about the energy they have consumed at work that day
- Ability for a business to understand the thermal preferences of employees and to cluster location of desks for people to match those thermal preferences
- A coating that could be applied to electrical devices that indicates visually how much power is being consumed by the painted item, or a radiator that turns red when hot
- Something that tells an individual the likely temperature/humidity of the office space that they will be working in that day so they can best determine what to wear
Information, knowledge and improved user experience
One interesting observation is that many of the ideas suggested centre around providing information and knowledge, to enable both improved awareness and use of energy as well as improved control while ALSO increasing the quality of the end user experience.
Additionally, in most cases the ideas could be delivered with expertise and technology that already exists, suggesting that the challenge is one of creativity of offering and selling the benefits than “missing technologies” per se. So, we are only really limited by our imaginations!
Join us in Birmingham on March 3rd
For anyone interested in contributing to the thinking on future energy solutions, and meet innovators and potential solution providers in a creative and stimulating day, the last Smarter Energy Future workshop in the current series is on March 3rd in Birmingham City Centre.
Innovate UK is seeking energy and facilities managers or other interested individuals from a wide range of sectors including (but not limited to) commercial office, universities/schools, healthcare, retail, airports/transportation, museums and libraries and the hospitality sector, and innovators who are interested in exploring opportunities in this sector.
The event is free and with registration information here
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