Optimising operational energy use for net zero carbon goals and occupiers’ needs
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Optimising operational energy use for net zero carbon goals and occupiers’ needs

Colin Ma
Author: Colin Ma CEO March 11, 2021

In January, we were identified by our peers and the UKGBC community through a crowdsourcing exercise as a provider of innovative solutions designed to help reduce operational carbon within the built environment and enable a data-driven approach for meeting net zero carbon objectives (find out more here)

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Specifically, we were featured as a solution provider for those who are committed to reducing operational energy consumption with occupancy levels of office buildings in mind.

As COVID-19 vaccination programmes in the UK and other parts of the world continue to progress, signs pointing to a more definitive return to the office in the foreseeable future are emerging. With the Fabriq team keeping a close eye on the circumstances that we will likely be returning to the office under, we thought this would be a good opportunity to highlight how some of our partners and clients monitor occupancy and usage patterns within buildings and optimise the delivery of building services with sustainability performance, efficiency, as well as cost savings in mind.

Monitoring occupancy levels

Occupancy levels within buildings are becoming increasingly straightforward to monitor, especially within office settings. Sensors and technologies designed for quantifying occupancy levels are becoming more accurate and sophisticated and are often deployed by our partners and clients on a ‘plug and play’ basis to monitor how a specific floor or section of a building is occupied or used.

Fabriq typically partners with sensor and technology providers such as Basking and LightFi (our neighbours at Paddington Works who are also featured as an innovator in the UKGBC study!) when asked to deliver solutions for monitoring occupancy levels. The sensors that our partners offer can connect with the Fabriq OS platform and provide end users insights on occupancy and usage patterns of any building.

Some occupancy-monitoring kits take the number of mobile phones or laptops that are connected to a WiFi network at any given time to serve as a proxy for a building's or a floor's occupancy level. While others feature micro sensors that can be placed directly on doors, desks, or chairs to track the number of times a door was opened or closed during a day or the number of individuals who were seated within a specific room or a space to gauge occupancy levels at any given time.

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Additional technologies are expected to come on line to make the monitoring of occupancy levels within buildings even more accurate. Of course, privacy concerns will continue to be an important consideration when applying such technologies, especially within offices.

Overall, for the office setting, kits that are available now should at least serve as a good starting point for those who want to use occupancy data to make better-informed decisions regarding energy use or how building services should be delivered.

Optimising the delivery of building services per occupiers’ needs

High-resolution (e.g., hourly) occupancy data are also becoming more-readily available and are being used by our partners and clients to examine intraday occupancy patterns within buildings. Peak and average occupancy levels as well as occupancy density can also be calculated and visualised such that they can be analysed alongside energy-consumption levels as well as data sets for other metrics (e.g., indoor air quality, temperature, operating efficiency of HVAC systems) to identify opportunities to optimise systems and energy use with occupiers in mind.

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And there are also those who adopt a more proactive approach. For example, rules can be configured using a solution like Fabriq OS such that system-generated alerts are sent when energy use is or the settings of building systems are not consistent with occupancy levels.

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Alerts that are triggered can be followed up on or investigated such that the appropriate changes in how services are delivered (e.g., an improved maintenance programme) or how much resources should be devoted to serving specific parts of a building can be identified accordingly. And of course, with equipment and operational practices for delivering building services optimised according to occupancy levels and how a building is used, savings in financial as well as environmental terms can undoubtedly be achieved without sacrificing the quality of services delivered to occupiers.

What we have learned and looking ahead

While many buildings have been vacant or experienced significant decreases in occupancy levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic, clients and partners of ours have used the opportunity to re-examine the energy-performance models for buildings and install submeters and sensors to provide high-resolution visibility into occupancy levels and energy use within different areas of buildings. It has also been revealing that many clients and partners of ours reported cases whereby energy use did not decrease significantly while occupancy rates decreased or dropped to virtually zero because of the pandemic. These findings highlight that many systems for delivering building services had not been or are not currently optimised according to occupancy levels. With that said, it is highly-probable that there are ample opportunities to reduce waste and to achieve significant savings, which should hopefully motivate more in the community to take action.

As we begin to re-emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for buildings to open back up (hopefully for good this time around), this is a good opportunity to look into how building services should be delivered in anticipation of a world whereby the usage and occupancy patterns of buildings are expected to differ and be more erratic compared to those before the pandemic. With the right set of data and tools, those who operate buildings should be well-positioned to adopt a holistic approach for optimising energy use within buildings with occupiers' needs in mind and achieving significant savings. By all means, please get in touch if there are any additional thoughts and ideas on how building systems and energy use can be optimised with sustainability performance and occupiers in mind!