Smart buildings can help China manage energy use

By Li Ning Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/25 22:33:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

Industrial production and manufacturing have a reputation as heavy energy users. But few people are aware that, in line with the global trend of urbanization, large public buildings and facilities have an increasingly prominent role in energy consumption. Data shows that buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of global energy consumption and 21 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Along with China's rapid urbanization, the electricity consumed by buildings accounts for 10 percent of the country's power use. This is particularly worrying in large public buildings where lighting and central air conditioning are arguably electricity gluttons. Given that the country's electricity production is mostly coal-fired, the energy consumption in buildings turns out to be a source of air pollution, just like vehicles' exhaust fumes.

This means the country should embrace intelligent buildings that enable efficient energy use, for there to be a genuine ecologically sustainable economy.

In 1975, the US state of California began implementing strict energy efficiency standards for buildings and home appliances as part of its solution to air pollution. In 1984, the City Place Building in Hartford, Connecticut was completed. The 38-story office building, hailed as the world's first intelligent building, was equipped with advanced telecommunications, office automation, automatic monitoring, and architecture equipment management systems. A thinking "brain" was thus implanted in the building, which marked the advent of the smart building sector.

People's understanding of smart buildings was initially confined to logistics functions such as automatic fire-fighting and security systems, in hopes that there would be smoother operations of the buildings with existing staff. But increasingly, there have been concerns about how energy resources can be effectively distributed in buildings to reduce total use while also making tenants more comfortable.

Unlike normal buildings, smart buildings can use sensors that transmit real-time monitoring data, allowing for more meticulous management than manual efforts. A typical day in an intelligent building could be like the following scenario.

People arrive at work, triggering air conditioners and ventilating systems. In unoccupied rooms, the equipment remains shut down, while sensors for things such as PM2.5, temperature and volatile organic compounds support the function of the building, sending real-time data to the control center.

Electricity consumption starts to climb as the day gets busier. Sunlight streams in and lights dim automatically according to indoor illumination intensities, while sensors monitor the number of people in meeting rooms and adjust ventilation and indoor air quality.

After the workday is done, the building's access control system counts the number of people still inside, and in unoccupied rooms, the system automatically turns off lighting, air conditioning and ventilation.

Having said all this, there are a few points that are worth mentioning in China's push to create intelligent buildings.

First, a well-functioning intelligent building needs more than just advanced equipment. It also requires data management support and expert capacity. There are various sensors on the surface of and inside an intelligent building that transmit real-time data such as temperature, intensity of sunlight and air pollution levels so the energy consumption and device startup mode align with conditions. There must be an expert team to research and compare global operation data, creating an optimal solution to balance energy consumption and comfort.

Second, in terms of operating costs, a balance must be struck between the focus on a particular function and the emphasis on overall energy efficiency. Due to concerns over air quality, Chinese users are keen on having a central ventilation system in a building, which they believe is the best way to ensure that the indoor PM2.5 concentration is held to a minimum. This is actually a misguided idea. The pure pursuit of high indoor air-purification capacity will consume more energy and cause higher pollution at large. Humans actually have the capacity to purify the air they breathe to some extent and PM2.5 within a certain range is acceptable. That means it is justified to have a more balanced approach to design decisions.

Third, as to the design of intelligent buildings, integration is the trend. A system should address factors such as safety and security, networking, monitoring, intelligent analysis, and data-facilitated operations and easy monitoring and maintenance.

The China Life Data Center uses the Enterprise Buildings Integrator system. All safety, security and building automation subsystems are integrated into one management platform, which enables the interlock between software and hardware, reduces manual maintenance and ensures seamless connection among all energy-conservation measures. At the Beijing Jiaming Center, Building Performance Suite solution not only reduces the false alarm rate by 90 percent, but it also means half of the managerial personnel can focus on other priorities. On the center's WeChat public account, you can see the real-time energy use, CO2 emissions and indoor PM2.5 of the center. Without a doubt, effective integration leads to optimum user experience.

Overall, the development of technologies of intelligent buildings fully utilizes the Internet of Things, the Internet and big data to connect self-controlled systems and building information systems. From that, we can use intelligent functions like automatic adjustments for lighting, temperature and humidity, power monitoring and emergency response, and help customers effectively and efficiently operate a building through data analysis, transforming the building from a "heavy consumer" to a "major saver."

The author is president of Honeywell Home and Building Technologies Greater China & APAC and Safety and Productivity Solutions Greater China & India. bizopinion@globaltimes.com.cn



Posted in: EXPERT ASSESSMENT

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