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Closing the performance gap in energy efficiency

‘Accelerators’ are an exciting forum for solution-finding, inviting innovators to pit their wits against industry challenges. We sponsored and set five infrastructure-related problems for the Tech Fest Accelerator, run by New Civil Engineer magazine in October. Shortlisted start-up Demand Logic came forward with an impressive solution for optimising property performance.

Cities occupy only about 2% of the world’s surface but account for more than 60% greenhouse gas emissions. However, their contribution to climate change can be reduced with the aid of new digital tools.

A 2019 report from the international initiative Coalition for Urban Transitions titled ‘Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity’ found that about a third of all urban emissions could be cut by making buildings more energy efficient, all by using technologies and policies that already exist today.

One such solution is a data acquisition device developed by Demand Logic. The majority of commercial buildings are controlled by a building management system (BMS). Demand Logic connect directly into the BMS, gathering information on every piece of kit within the property – heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, utility meters and internal environmental sensors for temperature.

Because the device is capable to gather a large amount of data – it easily handles 185,000 datasets every 15 minutes in some properties – it is able to pick up on the minutia, such as individual sensors, valves, motors and pumps. The property and FM teams can then use the data to see where inefficiencies happen – for example, air conditioning that runs when it’s not needed, faulty sensors, or heating and cooling an unoccupied area. Demand Logic provides the insight through their platform, with support from their Technical Account Managers, who work closely with the building management team to identify areas of improvement and resolutions. About 90% of the actions the data analytics platform identifies are either cost-neutral or very low cost.

“As a business, we can, and are, supporting our clients some of the way to becoming net zero,” says Demand Logic head of strategic partnerships William Hulls. “We are in 120 properties across the UK and in those properties, just through optimisation, we identified around 43,000t of CO2 emissions a year, which is equivalent to the average emissions from 6000 homes. If you extrapolate that across the number of commercial properties in the UK, there is a huge opportunity to have a big impact on the carbon emissions in the UK and beyond.”

Hulls points out that part of the issue is with the UK’s lax attitudes to energy efficiency: “The way in which energy performance certificates measure efficiency within buildings is completely dysfunctional,” he says.

One of the biggest problems is known as the performance gap – the difference between anticipated and actual performance. Essentially, you can have an A-rated building that is less efficient than an F-rated building. What is worse is that, due to a lack of visibility or understanding, the owners, property managers and occupiers do not know when their property is inefficient.

A 2017 study from Innovate UK looked at 50 new buildings and found that, on average, they were four-times less efficient than the levels which were specified on design.

“We've been facing these problems in our cities for a number of years and nothing seems to have changed,” Hulls adds. “We're still managing and maintaining properties in the same way we were 30 years ago.”

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