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May 20, 2020

Energy Consumption Higher During COVID


If someone asked you whether office buildings have been consuming more or less energy in the past few months, you’d probably answer less, right? It makes sense – the buildings have been pretty much empty since working from home has become ubiquitous during the Covid-19 crisis. While this answer may be correct for appliance electricity use, with fewer computers and coffee machines operating all day, the truth is that many office buildings have been consuming more energy to run their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. This might seem counterintuitive at first – the offices are almost empty, so why would they be using more energy?

The reason is that the building no longer has the extra thermal gains which are normally contributed by all the people, computers, and other machines running all day long. Therefore, during the colder months, the building actually needs even more heat to reach the desired comfort level compared to previous times. To put things in perspective, large office buildings (>15.000 m2) can use more than 1 MLN kWh of electricity and 4.000 GJ of heating energy per year, which is in the range of what 400 – 500 Dutch houses consume on an annual basis.

You might be asking yourself – if there’s no one in the offices, why can’t we shut them down completely? Well, it’s not that simple. Based on data Spectral has collected from the commercial real estate assets connected to our smart building platform, BRIGHTER, it appears that many offices in the Netherlands have still had a few people working on location – to “hold down the fort,” collect mail, and answer phone calls – during the COVID-19 lockdown. Therefore, completely shutting down the HVAC systems is simply not an option.

So how can we ensure that these buildings won’t waste a lot of energy during these periods of ultra-low occupancy? That’s where BRIGHTER comes in. Using advanced AI-based algorithms, BRIGHTER takes over the control of HVAC systems in order to optimize indoor comfort levels while saving huge amounts of energy and drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By combining (real-time) data collected from within the building together with external data streams, such as weather forecasts, the SBP’s algorithms are able optimally to steer the HVAC systems in order to minimize the amount of energy supplied while at the same time improving the indoor climate conditions. Spectral’s wireless environmental sensors serve as the “eyes and ears” within the building, providing a constant feedback loop of data to ensure that every zone within the building stays within comfort targets.

The sensors perform an even more important function during times of low occupancy such as those we’ve seen during the COVID-19 crisis. They’re not only able to measure the temperature and humidity within a building – each of them also comes equipped with motion, light, and CO2 sensors, which enables BRIGHTER to further optimize zone-based control of the building. In one of the large offices currently controlled by the platform, using the Variable Air Volume (VAV) valves with which the building is equipped, the SBP is able to cut off the supply of hot or cold air if there is no motion detected within the zone. In other zones, where there is some motion detected, BRIGHTER is able to continuously adjust the position of the VAV valves in order to supply a minimal amount of energy, while ensuring that temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels are comfortable for the people inside.

The result? Instead of actually consuming more energy for running the HVAC systems, the offices connected to BRIGHTER are saving up to 40% on energy use. And that’s without requiring any investments into physical building retrofits – it’s purely thanks to the BRIGHTER’s smart, fully automated, data-driven control strategies.

While the COVID-19 crisis has emphasized the importance of transforming existing real estate portfolios into smart, adaptive buildings, it is certainly not the only reason to do so. By opting for BRIGHTER, our clients were already saving between 20 – 40% on the annual energy use of their buildings well before the crisis came about. With the need to implement social distancing measures and the changing patterns of how we use buildings, BRIGHTER provides a fit-for-future solution that ensures that real estate owners can continue to achieve their sustainability targets and optimize the efficiency of their building portfolios in an ever-evolving context.

BRIGHTER is the most comprehensive smart real-estate solution available on the market. It consists of a number of modules that can function as stand-alone products or be combined into one integrated solution. At its core, BRIGHTER enables real-time, predictive optimization of buildings to significantly improve energy efficiency and comfort levels

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