There is an increasing reliance on carbon offsetting but many are missing a vital way to reduce consumption and lessen this reliance, improving the energy performance of their buildings. Here, Don McLean, the CEO of IES (Integrated Environmental Solutions), discusses how digital technology can enable facilities managers to reduce the energy consumption of buildings under their management to lessen their impact on the environment.
The built environment currently contributes 36% of total global energy-related CO2 emissions, meaning the sector has a vital responsibility to decarbonise and help reach net-zero targets by reducing its own emissions. Facilities managers play a crucial role in this fight against climate change with the ability to improve energy efficiency and reduce the energy consumption of buildings.
Many businesses’ road map to net zero, and indeed the government’s own strategy, incorporates the principal of carbon offsetting: the reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere.
However, new research has revealed that 70% of those in the built environment sector believe that the government’s target to bring carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 relies too heavily on carbon offsetting. The sector wants and needs to do more to tackle its emissions at source instead of turning to offsetting, but there is little guidance on how this can be done.
Facilities managers’ role in reducing energy waste in their buildings can help to reduce the reliance on carbon offsetting. Their ability to do so can be enhanced by digital technologies, such as digital twins, which can help to identify where operational improvements can be made.
Closing The Performance Gap
The performance gap, where buildings don’t perform as intended at design, is a long-standing issue in the building industry. One which ultimately needs to be resolved by more detailed modelling at design stage, incorporating unregulated operational energy consumption. However, since many of today’s buildings have this issue it is often left to Facilities and Energy Managers to find ways of bringing the buildings energy consumption closer in line with expected performance to close the performance gap.
It is well known that most buildings waste up to a quarter of its energy. Therefore, the easiest and most effective place to start is to find out where energy is being wasted and fix the problems. But how do you do this?
Digital technology can be used to identify a performance gap once a building is operational and then identify where energy is being wasted and where savings can be made. Model calibration by combining physics based simulation and real operational building data is fundamental to this.
Using Digital Technology To Measure And Improve Building Performance
A key tool available to facilities managers is digital twin technology. A digital twin is a virtual model of a building that reacts as its real-world counterpart would and can help to inform decisions made throughout a building’s lifecycle.
The digital twin isn’t only useful when designing a building, the model needs to evolve at every stage and continue to be developed at an operational level. A calibrated digital twin at this operational stage is capable of identifying sub-optimal performance and system faults which may be causing the building to be less energy efficient and in turn, have higher energy consumption.
Once energy waste has been identified, digital twins can be used to measure the implications of different proposed improvements, retrofit options, and energy conservation measures, to work out the best way to reduce the energy consumption and decarbonise a building. Setting, tracking and then improving building performance helps to reduce overall building energy use and assist facilities managers and all those involved with a building to make informed decisions backed by detailed data. This also prevents costly mistakes being made.
This same technology also allows facilities managers to access dashboards which bring all of this data together in one place, in an easy to understand format. This means that building performance can be consistently monitored, as can the impact of any operational changes or improvements being made. Ultimately, inefficient control systems contribute to wasteful energy and digital technology provides the best way to monitor and reduce energy consumption.
The Importance Of Reducing Consumption Instead Of Offsetting
Bringing it back to the main point, to reduce the reliance on carbon offsetting, we need to first address how we can reduce energy at source. There are so many wasted opportunities, where simple, cost-effective changes could be made to a building to reduce energy consumption and decarbonise. Many of these are within the remit of facilities managers, for example simply turning off lights left on at night, changing to energy saving lighting systems or installing a new form of heating or cooling.
Those in facility management can have a major impact on reducing building emissions, which places those in the sector at the heart of the battle against climate change. In 2019, CO2 emissions from buildings reached an all-time high, so it’s crucial to consider the ways in which these emissions can be reduced at source, opposed to just being offset. The latest reports are a stark reality check that we must go further and address the performance gap to reduce consumption and work to net zero, by utilising digital tools to measure performance and identify potential improvements. Simply relying on carbon offsetting will not allow us to reach the designated goals.
We need a green revolution to produce tangible change and cannot carry on as normal without devastating consequences. However, too much reliance on carbon offsetting is not solving the problem at source and as the cost of offsetting continues to climb, it will soon become an unfeasible option for businesses. Instead, we must be turning to the readily available technology to reduce energy consumption and actually decarbonise the built environment to prevent the need for reliance on offsetting.
Facilities managers and the built environment sector as a whole have an increasing responsibility to lead the way in the fight against climate change, and can do so armed with the power of technology.
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