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Knowledge is (saving) power: How data can drive climate and health improvements in commercial property

Simon Brammer, Ashden, discusses the need for technological integration to decarbonise our buildings.

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The buildings we spend our lives in are responsible for about 30 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Most of these emissions are from the operation of a property, largely because of inefficiencies built-in during construction.

 

In commercial properties, 60 to 70 per cent of operational emissions come from heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and poor building controls. Despite the best efforts of the building management systems (BMS) engineer, inefficient operation is a problem in both existing properties and in new buildings - where emissions are, on average, four times their building regulations requirement.

 

However, data and measurement have the power to reduce the impact of wasted energy in buildings and can deliver quick wins for climate change mitigation, while also promoting the health, productivity and happiness of building occupants.

 

In commercial properties, 60 to 70 per cent of operational emissions come from heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and poor building controls.

 

Even in the most efficient of new buildings, operational savings of at least 10 per cent can be found relatively easily.

 

Correcting performance

 

The HVAC and BMS are critical to decreasing energy use and increasing the health and wellbeing of the building’s occupants. As well as financial and climate benefits, if the building is not functioning correctly, it can have numerous negative impacts on human health. Therefore, correcting performance is good for both the planet and the people in the properties affected.

 

The IEA’s Future of Cooling report forecasts that global energy demand from air conditioners alone is expected to triple by 2050, so the issue of poor building control is one we must solve.

To keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees, we have to act in almost every sector of our society, and that includes property.

 

As temperatures rise, we will experience more extreme weather - hotter, drier summers and wetter, warmer winters. It is in the properties in which we live and work that we will feel these changes happening, and their impact will become particularly acute in cities.

 

Last summer’s heatwave, the hottest on record, was a taste of what will become a more frequent occurrence. If a property does not have sufficient HVAC capacity and insufficient building fabric, people will be affected in extreme high and low temperatures. Potentially, this could lead to a property becoming a stranded asset, or in need of an expensive upgrade.

 

Drivers of change

 

Both climate change mitigation and adaptation may have been the sole domain of a few concerned sustainability professionals in the property sector, but times are changing quickly.

 

There are two additional key trends in motion. The first is the changing terms of commercial property leases as a result of the rise of co-working companies like WeWork. More flexible, shorter lease terms mean an increased risk of lease voids if tenants are not content with the operational performance of a property.

 

Second, the rapid adoption of smart building technologies means that data on operational performance is more readily available – not just to the property owner and managers, but also to tenants who have access to mobile applications which monitor the quality of the indoor environment.

 

Poor operational performance is becoming more transparent. This is not just about wasted energy, but also the substandard quality of the internal environment. It is possible that performance data could become a valuable digital asset for real estate. Technology which is used to monitor the health of the physical assets and used to improve the property’s performance could make it healthier to work in.

 

Technology which is used to monitor the health of the physical assets and used to improve the property’s performance could make it healthier to work in.

 

With these trends combining, there is the added possibility that the health of a property asset will impact lease income and asset value.

 

Data goes mainstream

 

Sonny Masero, Chairman of Demand Logic, a software tool that provides actionable intelligence for property and an Ashden Award winner in 2015, said: “Over the last few years, the notion of using data analytics to improve property performance has become recognised as good practice. Expert organisations, like RICS and BSRIA, have recently published reports on the topic showing that this approach is now entering the mainstream. We have worked with the likes of The Crown Estate, MJ Mapp and Mace to improve over 100 properties, including The Leadenhall Building (the ‘Cheesegrater’), the Royal Academy on Piccadilly and The Peak - home to Ashden and the Sainsbury Families Charitable Trust."

 

To avoid the difficulties that are attendant with a physical property losing its asset value, we need to use digital technology that can easily capture and analyse data about how that property performs in use.

 

The data should encompass the condition of equipment in the building, the efficiency of operation, the effectiveness of the maintenance regime, the quality of the environment for tenants and the management of future insurance, health and safety, and climate change risks.

 

A good digital monitoring tool will plug into existing data, adding value to the physical asset over time by providing insight to the property management team, allowing them to get on the front foot to pre-empt energy and wellbeing problems.

 

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