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Buildings account for about one-third of global energy consumption and energy-related carbon emissions, making them one of the largest contributors to climate change, ac- cording to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

For the world to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals to fight climate change, the WRI says all buildings must be net-zero carbon by 2050 — yet fewer than one per cent are today.

Reducing the carbon footprint of buildings is “one of the most proven, cost-effective climate mitigation solutions available,” says the Washing- ton, D.C.-based research organization. But efficient buildings featuring the latest in architectural design aren’t just good for the environment, the WRI says they also “enhance quality of life, health and productivity of people living and working in them.”

It’s why the WRI recently announced a global “Zero Carbon Buildings for All” initiative at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, endorsed by the United Nations Secretary-General, that pledges to make new buildings 100-per-cent net-zero carbon by 2030. For existing buildings, the goal is net-zero by 2050.

“When it comes to climate change, we need to shift from ‘doing better’ to ‘doing enough,’” WRI chief executive officer Andrew Steer said in a release.

THE SMART SOLUTION

Smart buildings — which use data and technology to help increase efficiency and reduce maintenance, energy usage and costs — are considered critical to helping the industry meet its carbon reduction goals.

Using connected technology, such as sensors that control a building’s lighting, heating and air conditioning, can help to reduce energy use by as much as 30 per cent, according to Shonodeep Modak, chief marketing officer for the North America region of Schneider Electric, the company behind EcoStruxure, an IoT-enabled system used in 500,000 sites around the world.

“A smart building helps reduce operating costs by being able to predictively see what’s about to fail or is failing, and calculate energy usage at specific points,” Mr. Modak says.

Smart buildings are also designed in a way that support the well-being of occupants by intuitively adapting to the environment in areas such as temperature and lighting.

“Smart buildings bring people together through connectivity and sustainability,” Mr. Modak says. “[They] create a work environment that people are happy to be in. That, in turn, helps to attract and retain top talent, which is increasingly difficult in today’s economy.”

An often-cited example of a smart building today is Deloitte’s The Edge in Amsterdam, billed as the world’s most sustainable office building. When it was finished in 2014, The Edge received a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) accreditation score of 98.36 per cent — the highest ever for an office building — by the Building Research Establishment, a global assessor of sustainable buildings.

The Edge operates using a broad range of building management solutions, electrical distribution systems, and IT infrastructure provided by Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure technology.

“The Edge is a great example of what we’ve been able to do with a customer to drive the sustainability agenda, reducing energy consumption  while creating an environment that is healthier and more productive for employees,” says Richard Henzie, director of digital power at Schneider Electric Canada.

The result? The Edge produces more electricity than it consumes thanks to an extensive solar panel network and below-ground thermal energy storage. Its Ethernet- powered LED lighting system is 80 per cent more efficient than conventional illumination. The building reuses rainwater from the roof and balconies to flush the building’s toilets and water its gardens.

OLDER BUILDINGS CAN BE SMART, TOO

Smart building technology isn’t just for new construction; it can also apply to older structures that are renovated and upgraded. An example is Winnipeg’s Fort Garry Hotel, which was built in 1913 by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The iconic building is historic–and so was its electrical system.</</p>

Facing rising energy costs and overwhelming operational inefficiencies, not to mention guest complaints about issues such as inconsistent room temperatures, the current owners teamed with Schneider Electric Canada partner BARCOL Controls Ltd. for a much-needed update using EcoStruxure technology.

“We used advanced building management software systems and connected devices to do the guest room and lobby upgrades,” Mr. Modak says. “We also added a layer of intelligence to existing systems, which created a level of automation that an old hotel would never have had.”

Since the revamp, the Fort Garry Hotel has seen a 20-per-cent reduction in energy consumption and a 25-per-cent decrease in maintenance staff hours, while guest complaints have been reduced significantly.

Smart building technology has ushered in new possibilities for buildings like the Fort Garry Hotel, from preparing heating and cooling systems to be more efficient to monitoring air quality during flu season and triggering action to optimize bacteria- killing conditions.

“If you can actually prepare the hot water for boiling for heat, or you can prepare the AC units to come on at a certain time of day, you can save up to 50 per cent in efficiency by using analytics and save building maintenance costs at the same time,” Mr. Modak says.

SMART BUILDINGS ARE MORE ACCESSIBLE

The good news for the building industry is that the cost  of connected technology has decreased dramatically in recent years, making it more accessible, says Mr. Henzie. In many cases, these solutions can pay for themselves in a few short years. With retrofits, the payback can sometimes be immediate.

“Studies show the benefit of having a smart building, and it’s not just financial but also an improvement in the performance and engagement of the tenants,” Mr. Henzie says.

That, in turn, can increase its overall value. But where smart buildings have the greatest potential, Mr. Henzie says, is helping to lower emissions not just on site, but globally.

“If we can have an impact on reducing consumption within those buildings, the overall impact on carbon emissions would be enormous.”

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