Paris climate commitments, escalating energy prices, and sustainability goals have created a perfect opportunity for IoT retrofits in London’s older buildings.
“Build, build, build,” is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan for the U.K.’s post-pandemic economic recovery. However, there’s also a tension here, because, at first glance, it seems the intention is to build back better and in a more environmentally sensitive and sustainable way using smart buildings technology for greater occupant comfort.
There is no doubt that the heating, lighting, and energy consumption of London’s building operations account for a high proportion of their carbon emissions – and a 2018 Greater London Authority (GLA) report says as much. But the same report acknowledges that carbon emissions from other stages of the building lifecycle can be equal to, or greater than operational emissions.
Embodied emissions need to be considered alongside operational emissions
According to RMI, a not-for-profit independent organisation founded in 1982 “working to accelerate the clean energy transition and improve lives,” buildings account for at least 39 percent of energy-related global carbon emissions on an annual basis. They go on to say that at least 25 percent of the total emissions associated with buildings result from “embodied carbon” – the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials.
And this is the source of the tension: It’s the smart new Buildings of the Future, constructed for efficient operations and sustainability, which catch the headlines. However, most embodied carbon emissions occur when a building is first constructed and are therefore locked into the asset’s full lifecycle. Mitigating these emissions, together with those associated with a building’s demolition and disposal, should be a major consideration.
London’s existing building stock – those older buildings which aren’t quite so noticeable on the modern metropolitan skyline – offers a way to avoid this additional source of emissions with a little retrofitted assistance.
Upgrading existing buildings for greater sustainability
With Cop26 just around the corner, RMI says that to reach our climate goals the construction industry needs to “reduce the carbon embodied in building materials and to reconsider these materials as an opportunity to sequester and store carbon.” An important way to help achieve this goal is to focus on retrofitting and instrumenting existing buildings to substantially upgrade their operations and make them more efficient and more sustainable.
By identifying this work with existing buildings, I am in no way advocating a moratorium on new construction. I am merely suggesting a large and relatively untapped opportunity. For example, instrumenting an existing building – adding sensors to monitor equipment and rooms – has never been easier or arguably more cost-effective to install than it is today. This is thanks to the advent of low-cost, IoT wireless devices. With an investment in these technologies, data can be harvested and analysed to provide insight into critical characteristics; from the air quality and light in spaces to the energy being consumed by a plant for heating and ventilation.
The good news about an IoT – or “smart” – approach is that it is entirely compatible with existing Building Management Systems (BMS) and largely unobtrusive. Installation does not require drilling a lot of holes, for example, meaning that it’s uncomplicated, fast, and efficient. In addition, it can be introduced into any environment, including listed buildings and those governed by strict building regulations.
Data is key to operational efficiency and greater sustainability
In every walk of building operations, monitoring and measurement always provide the key insights to making improvements. The implementation of sensors can enable managers to develop and measure the effectiveness of real-world strategies to improve sustainability and energy efficiency. Consequently, data and analytics is being widely used to deliver actionable management information for better decision-making.
Today, the Greater London Authority (GLA) is taking on the impact of emissions when considering whether to replace existing buildings with new sustainable ones, to refurbish existing stock, or to continue to operate buildings as they stand. Each of these approaches, they say, brings different gains in efficiency or embodied carbon displacement. However, the retrofitting of IoT technology provides a more even playing field and enables older stock to be operated with greater sensitivity to environmental concerns.
For more information, visit the Lloret Group website.
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