We need a hero – Smart tech to reduce costs, improve energy efficiency, and keep of track with sustainability

By Jamie Cameron, Director of Digital Solutions at Johnson Controls

Amid the energy crisis, the rise in the cost of living, and inflation at its highest in 30 years, energy efficiency is at the top of the agenda for businesses across the UK. Organisations need solutions that will keep the costs of doing the day-to-day business down, whilst keeping up the pace towards achieving aggressive net-zero goals. Staying afloat during tough times has been the focus for two years since the global pandemic began and the search is on for solutions to diminish the effects of rising costs and steer their way to sustainable reaching a sustainable future. No easy feat for any business in today’s conditions.

There was some hope on the horizon in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement which brought with it a new package of measures designed to incentivise decarbonisation, drive demand for green tech, and curb spiralling business energy costs. The Chancellor set out his plans to scrap VAT on energy saving materials including solar panels, heat pumps and home insulation and pledged to make green technology exempt from business rates, all to incentivise at speed and drive change at scale.

But the onus to curb energy consumption doesn’t just rest on the government. It relies on business leaders, facilities managers, and individuals like us to make the buildings we inhabit much more efficient. The evidence is clear, as buildings are responsible for consumption and a third of the world’s greenhouse gases. As commitments to sustainability are encouraged through both policies and public opinion, businesses may be put at a disadvantage regarding talent, incentives, and profits if they fail to make their buildings more efficient. This begs the question which tools are within businesses grasp and how can they help navigate tough business realities while enabling us to step up to vital sustainability goals?

AI for good: energy efficiency

 At first glance, ‘energy-efficient technology’ might seem like an oxymoron. After all, when we think of the relationship between technology and energy, we often picture large commercial city landscapes fully illuminated deep into the night, or rows of office PCs and screens consuming power 24 hours a day. But in recent years, technology that is truly energy-efficient has advanced far beyond incremental changes.

Now, businesses can employ various optimisation software platforms to predict and directly monitor workplace energy costs, and automatically optimise cooling, heating, and power generation. They can use AI-powered data analytics to monitor building performance, enhance tenant experience, and meet sustainability goals. Building managers may still assume that the implementation of such powerful, energy-efficient technologies would be a long, costly process. But the truth is they can be installed into buildings quickly and efficiently, and managers can start seeing results and returns immediately.

Better workplaces with utility software

What if you could predict the future? And better yet, what if your central plant could automatically adjust your energy usage and costs to prepare for that future? Meet central plant optimisation software. Central Utility Plant (CUP) technology uses predictive algorithms (AI & ML) to maximise buildings’ energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions while delivering reliable utility services. And it dispatches decisions every 15 minutes based on a myriad of ever-changing inputs.

First, it looks at equipment performance models. Every major piece of building equipment, such as chillers, boilers, and cooling towers, is tuned into the system to monitor performance, cost, and optimise efficiency under operating conditions. Next, it pulls seven-day local weather forecasts for temperature, humidity, and cloudiness to predict loads, equipment performance and ambient conditions.

Then, the software combines the forecasts with existing data on historical loads, days of the week, time of day, building schedules, maintenance calendars, and special events to adjust operations and automatically make decisions that guarantee the reliable delivery of workplace utility services.

You need visibility to succeed

Installing comprehensive building management platforms are another way that businesses can achieve energy efficiency. These platforms give managers a virtual birds-eye view of buildings and inform decision-making that delivers stronger sustainability practices. They constantly scan workplaces, pinpointing inefficiencies, diagnosing equipment problems, and advocating the corrective action needed to fix them. They also enable managers to monitor not only energy usage, but also assets, space, health, and occupant comfort parameters, all to improve Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) scores.

OpenBlue Enterprise Manager offers an eco-system of cloud-based apps, which enable managers and tenants to instantly adjust heating, water supply, HVAC systems and more in different areas of a building. These self-service apps also mean managers can monitor real-time spending, efficiency insights, and progress straight from their smartphone, helping regularly update stakeholders on sustainability results. So, they’re not just gathering data—they can share it, too.

The time to act is now

Now is the time to implement new measures to alleviate pressures of rising costs and put sustainability back on track – we need this to succeed and win against climate change. If businesses adopt best practices globally, they can achieve the goals of a healthier, happier planet, whilst achieving the individual objectives for the organisation. Technology is the only key that will fit into that lock but we need new, smart ways of managing utilities to reduce the effects on our planet and health. This starts by having a holistic approach to technology to harness the full potential of our new smart world. Businesses need not be disheartened and should instead use the ongoing events to focus their minds on remaining prepared for whatever may be thrown at them. With a targeted approach to address the three-fold threat of challenges, the solutions to help are becoming much clearer.