Friday, 23 September 2016

Making cities smarter

With the rise of Big Data in construction and design gathering pace, we have the opportunity to use measurable data to shape buildings and cities around their occupants like never before. Ever on the lookout for the next big technology in the field, the team at Innovate UK recently picked data-analytics company NquiringMinds as IoTUK Boost winners, and they're here to tell us what all the fuss is about.

The Internet of Things has been regarded as the next step in our evolution for a while, but until recently we’ve only just started to realise its full potential. With the ability for everything to be connected and working in a smarter, more efficient way, it’s little wonder that innovators have been looking for different pathways to creating a platform to reap the benefits of it all. Step forward, nquiringminds, who won a Small BusinessResearch Initiative contract to develop an open data platform to help cities deliver key services in a smarter fashion.

To put the power of the technology into perspective, nquiringminds allows cities to capture, secure, analyse and use all sorts of data so that all of its operations can be smoothed out. Whether that’s the running of schools, managing the traffic flow of public transportation, connecting health and social care services or many other things, we now have an answer to make our cities much smarter places to live and work.

The data has always been there, but before there’s never been a chance to round it all up and analyse it with any great depth. That’s because there’s no one organisation or individual who owns it, so the likes of national agencies, emergency services, private companies and subcontractors horded the data and made it tough to decipher. With the nquiringminds platform we have the technology to break down the dam holding the data back, providing the key insights that we’ve been looking for. This means the planning and running of a city’s operations can be streamlined like never before.

The software that nquiringminds developed allows for sensors to be placed into buildings, which then provide state of the art analytics. These analytics can be shared with numerous people and organisations, resulting in a variety of benefits for the people living in them. For example a social worker would be able to tell if an elderly person was moving around the house okay, and a maintenance company would be able to tell if any equipment is close to failing. Elsewhere homeowners will be able to check if they’re getting the very best deals on their energy usage.

New technology is vastly increasing the amount of useful data available to engineers 
These sensors are already being used in 200 council homes in Southampton in order to predict when any refurbishment will be needed. The technology also currently looks into the management of waste, the planning of infrastructure and many other useful insights. Thanks to innovations like this we’ll be able to overcome many of the challenges faced in our cities and enhance the quality of life for everyone residing there.

For more videos like this head to Innovate UK’s YouTube channel, or take a look at their Twitter account here.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Time to pull up a chair

As the UK experiences its hottest September day since 1949, the Government signs a major new emissions target and nations begin to ratify the Paris Agreement, the focus on climate change has never been higher. As part of our look at how different built environment professions can improve building performance Geoff Prudence, Chair of the CIBSE Facilities Management Group, looks at what building performance means to FMs 

The UK Government recently approved its 5th Carbon Budget, committing the UK to reducing its emissions by 57% relative to 1990 levels by 2030. This is an encouragingly ambitious target, but the Government knows it needs to stick to all its current measures, and introduce new ones, to stand a chance of being successful. Most of the hard work so far has been done by cutting carbon emissions from power generation, and the Committee on Climate Change has singled out the built environment as an area that needs to pull its weight.

This will come as no surprise to those working in the built environment, especially facilities managers, who have to deal with the cost and performance implications of inefficient buildings on a daily basis. In fact, the energy consumption of commercial buildings is estimated to be between 15 and 30 per cent higher than was anticipated at the design stage. Sometimes even more. The problem facing facilities managers in this situation is that, while much can be achieved by implementing energy efficient policies within an existing building, a large amount of the fault can rest in the building’s fabric and design. In cases like this, there are many reasons why a building may not be performing to the original specifications laid out by the client.

Countries across the world are signing up to the Paris Agreement to keep
global temperatures less than 2C above pre-industrial levels
First and foremost is poor communication of objectives and a lack of shared vision between the client and the contractors responsible for designing and constructing the finished building. While the performance gap is a known and recognised problem within the industry, there is no party with clear responsibility for ensuring that designers, whether architects or engineers, are all pulling together to prioritise the energy efficiency of the building over its life.

More than just an issue of profit margins, the performance gap has implications for consumer confidence in the entire building services industry. Such large differences between the expectations and the delivered product would not be acceptable in other businesses, and are damaging to the perception of the industry as a whole. As demands on buildings from the users, the climate and from Government increase, it is only going to become more necessary that building services professionals work together to tackle the issue.

A second issue is the problem of exactly how the performance gap is defined and measured: Should the performance of the building be measured against the estimates at the design stage, or should it be measured against the more detailed plans produced when the tendering process is complete? The latter may give more accurate estimates based on the exact design of the structure and the materials to be used, but it also has the potential to reduce ambition and allow the designers to be too conservative, sacrificing performance for cost.

Measuring performance based on plan can allow
designers to get away with being too conservative
Within this issue, there is also the problem of exactly how to measure building performance in the first place, from the conceptual stage all the way up to the finished product. There is no universally agreed way to measure and correct the observation of energy performance for factors like design change, occupant behaviour, changing weather conditions and simple wear and tear. These can all impact the performance of the building over and above its design, but must be estimated before a more accurate measurement is taken, which can create a wide discrepancy with actual performance.

The root of these issues is really that the ‘performance gap’ is just a handy phrase for summing up a whole series of different problems that occur with many different aspects of a project, including lighting, ventilation and energy performance. Without a clear model with defined metrics from which predictions can be made, and results tested against, it is difficult to create a definitive solution for disappointing performance.

Another aspect of the performance gap is that what is designed may be changed during the construction and installation stage. Products can be substituted, installation details may not be fully correct and systems may not be fully commissioned.

The services plant, from boilers to air conditioning units, requires constant maintenance to keep at peak condition. Focusing on a building’s performance at its design stage neglects the importance of measuring performance over its entire life-span. To achieve this, there needs to be both a common thread of individuals collecting this data and continuously monitoring the building’s performance, as well as the framework in which to store this information for it to be retrieved by future users.

Without this, the building’s performance will slowly degrade as elements are gradually replaced by cost equivalents without reference to the original performance targets set at the building’s design. Only by ensuring that changes and maintenance keep the building’s energy performance within acceptable standards, subject to proper testing of new elements in comparison with the old, can the performance gap be addressed in the long term.

Maintenance is just as important as the building's designed performance
in measuring whole-life performance
So what is the role of the Facilities Manager in making sure that buildings are able to perform as required? The answer requires a much more hands-on approach on the part of Facilities Managers, even before the first ground is broken on a new project.

As the people running the building in the many years to come after it is finished and handed over, Facilities Managers are the perfect choice to be the guardians of its performance throughout the life of the project. There is a tendency for the many parties involved in the design and construction of a project to see the shiny new school, apartment block or hospital as the objective, when for the client it is merely the start of a long relationship. The FM knows the management strategies they favour to get the most out of a building, so they should be implementing these at the very start of a project rather than working around what already exists when they move in. There need to be examples of FM and Systems thinking implemented directly into the design process.

A fantastic tool that can be used to make this dream a reality is Building Information Modelling (BIM). Its application in the design and construction sectors is already much appreciated, but the real potential behind the technology lies in helping a building maintain peak performance end-to-end throughout its lifecycle. Nobody knows the day-to-day realities of running a building better than Facilities Managers, so they should be pushing to have much more input into the building’s model – making sure it is designed for every day of the next 60 years, and not just for handover.

Facilities Managers should have input into the creation of the original BIM model
Facilities Managers need to ensure that the information being fed into models is what they need, for example standard classifications for plant items and the maintenance that they require. This all contributes to the idea of the FM as the thread of continuity running through the life of the building, knowing what systems are in place, why they exist and how to maintain them correctly. In this role, the use of BIM would back up the decisions of the FM with actual data, which could be used to inform changes to the complex, interdependent and ever-changing needs of the building. The most important thing is to get Facilities Managers up and engaged with the need for this, because if you don’t then you won’t get a seat at the table.

However, the adoption of the BIM model as an efficiency enabler is just the start of a wider FM revolution that could make it a firm part of the design process. The vision is a building and it’s design around use and business impact, being constantly monitored for greater efficiencies. The practical application of all this data can then find its way into every aspect of the building’s operation, from the O&M manual to Commissioning Codes.

A different approach to design could see FMs
present from design through to delivery
Without a proper evidence base behind them, commissioning a system is effectively guesswork based on estimates which we have already seen have the potential to be flawed. While it is a legal requirement to prove that commissioning has taken place on systems installed in a building, there is no set commissioning cycle that the installation team has to follow – good commissioning and bad commissioning are the same in the eyes of the law. With the aid of a robust data set to inform decisions, a hand in construction from the start, proven Commissioning Codes and effective maintenance based on CIBSE Guide M, it is possible to ensure that all of the building’s systems are set up to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

The ‘performance gap’ remains one of the greatest challenges facing the building services industry today, particularly to the facilities managers who have to face the everyday reality of a poorly performing building in the form of spiralling energy bills and missed targets. As climate change becomes a more urgent issue in the built environment, and the pressure to crack down on waste increases, it is only going to become harder to meet more and more stringent requirements with buildings that are just not up to the job. This is why it is more important than ever that the influence of the facilities manager grows to influence the design and construction of the building from beginning to end of life, and act as the informed cheerleader for better performance.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Time in the sun

Continuing our series exploring alternative methods of power generation, including Micro-CHP and Surface Water Source Heat Pumps, we turn our attention to photo-voltaics (PV). This week, we explore the work done by Dr. Cynthia Skelhorn, Qatar Green Building Council and Dr. Maria Muhlbauer, UnionBent GbR, Management Systems, Germany in determining the potential of PV in the two countries.

All countries and forward-thinking governments are aiming to address two main issues in developing long-term energy policies.  First, from a demand perspective, they must consider how to decrease energy consumption by implementing energy efficiency policies and technologies. There are several benefits to this; it can lower the Government's own energy bills across the national portfolio of publicly owned buildings common to many countries, it can lower the household and business bills of a country's citizens, and it reduces a country's reliance on imported energy, increasing that country's self sufficiency.

Micro-generation using PV is a promising avenue for renewable initiatives
Secondly, from a supply side, they must consider their best options for alternative energy sources in order to reduce the CO2 emissions that accompany the consumption of fossil fuels. Carbon-intensive methods of energy generation are first on the chopping block, with Governments across the world exploring ways to switch from coal, oil and gas to renewable alternatives like wind and tidal. Despite a leveling or declining trend in the US and OECD countries, consumption of liquid fuels continues to increase on a global scale.

Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), a member of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), hosted Dr. Maria Mulhbauer from UnionBent GbR in Germany in order to develop and adapt her expertise in Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) management systems to the climate and economics of Qatar and the GCC region.  Dr. Mulhbauer is investigating the potential for demonstrating a BIPV system in Qatar’s first Passivhaus, located in Barwa City, developed in cooperation with Barwa Real Estate Group and Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation (Kahramaa), and other numerous private companies and organizations operating in Qatar.

Germany aims to generate 60% of its power using renewables by 2050
Building up photo-voltaic  micro-grid generation could be one of the most promising approaches for supply-side policies. However, the integration of BIPV has its own drawbacks. Every country that seriously wishes to distribute PV micro-generation must have comprehensive information on risks and benefits for its citizens.  Additionally, PV systems must be adapted to the environmental conditions, the economic situation and the requirements of the inhabitants. Matching these requirements will be more sustainable than temporary subsidies or exorbitant feed-in tariffs, as adopted in some European contexts.

To demonstrate this statement, two different countries - Germany and Qatar - are compared.

Annual Solar Radiation
German annual solar radiation amounts to approximately 1000 kWh/m2. High temperatures and dirt are not frequent problems. While the radiation is five times higher in the summer than in the winter, the level of solar radiation on any particular day depends on the cloud cover, the number of daylight hours, and the altitude above sea level. Moreover, the position of the sun, which is determined by the various seasons and the geographical latitude, influences the intensity of the sun and so the output of the PV system.

Energy security fears are driving countries in the
Arabian Gulf to explore renewable generation
The annual number of daylight hours in Germany stands at about 1,300 to 1,900 hours (compared to 8,760 hours in a year). Management systems that can automatically switch on different appliances to match the consumption to the small PV energy peak during the daytime present a means for the most effective utilization of energy in systems that are not yet developed for storing the energy generated.

In contrast, Qatar, as a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), belongs to one of the most productive solar regions with some of the highest summer temperatures in the world. It is fortunate in having a high annual irradiation level of 2190 kWh/m2 and up to 3400 daylight hours. This represents an environment for utilizing solar energy, but also with some drawbacks, such as reduced efficiency of the modules by these high temperatures and near-permanent covering of the modules with sand and dust. Therefore, the PV systems need additional equipment for cleaning and cooling to reduce these extreme climate effects.

The Pay Back Time (PBT)
The PBT is often used as a guide to cost effectiveness. If the PBT is significantly less than the expected lifetime of the system, the project is considered to be cost-effective. Electricity tariffs play an important role in this cost-effectiveness of BIPV systems.

In Germany, the grid parity was reached in 2012. Therefore, the price for electricity for private consumers is similar to the costs for own-produced energy, as in the BIPV system.  This leads to an estimated PBT of 6 – 8 years to repay the costs of manufacture and installation, depending on the proportion of own-consumption.  The conditions for the extended micro-grid generation currently are very good and in the coming years it is likely that 20-30 % of the entire electrical power supply will be covered by PV energy.

Qatar experiences some of the highest summer temperatures in the world
The current low electricity tariff in Qatar leads to a high PBT of more than 100 years for both south tilted and horizontal BIPV. In order to promote the additional advantages of renewable energy in this particular situation, the government must develop and provide additional incentives to its citizens.

Because of the current low cost of electricity, the motivation for adoption of renewables in Qatar must be based on something other than energy cost savings.  Several other motivations might include: the desire to be viewed as a pioneer in renewable technologies within the GCC region, adopting a policy of saving energy resources internally in order to export the savings to the international market, or perhaps taking the lead in placing a value on CO2 emissions and using this as a platform for increasing alternative technologies.  Whatever the motivation might be, it is clear that Qatar certainly has the right environmental conditions for developing and utilizing PV and BIPV in its energy policy plans for the future.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Shedding new light

LED lights are becoming more and more popular as a solution for local authorities in preference to older sodium and fluorescent alternatives, but what should procurement managers know before they take the plunge? Matt Snowden of CIBSE takes a look.

Having signed into law the next tranche of targets, which commit the country to reducing its carbon emissions by 57% relative to 1990 levels by 2030, the UK Government is stepping up its emphasis on sustainable policies designed to promote clean generation and greater efficiency. As well as a focus on renewable sources of power, these policies also include measures to improve the energy performance of the UK’s buildings, both current and yet to be built.

It’s a sensible plan, because buildings make up a large percentage of the UK’s carbon footprint – accounting for nearly 40% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 70% of electricity consumption, much of which is produced by carbon-heavy generation methods like gas, coal and oil power. The low-hanging fruit in this mission would seem to be its own buildings, and there are quite a lot of them: In 2011 the Government calculated there were over 180,000 buildings in public ownership meeting a variety of needs, from sports stadia to hospitals.

Though there is plenty of work for central Government to do on this, two thirds of the total property portfolio is actually managed by the 86 local councils around the UK, so these areas have been the focus of much of the work. Initiatives such as the Green Investment Bank have been rolled out to incentivise the take-up of energy efficient technology, and help regional bodies become greener.

2012 Olympic venue The Copper Box, managed by the Greater London Authority,
makes extensive use of LEDs and light tubes 
There’s something in it for Councils too, of course, when budgets are increasingly squeezed and opportunities for savings are welcome: On energy saving LED street lights, local councils in Durham and Stirling have savings of up to £30m over 25 years projected. So emphatic is the support that Quirin Sluijs from the European Investment Bank (EIB) urged any local authority with the budget to ‘just do it’ at the European Commission's conference on LED Lighting for Sustainable Smart Cities.

Lighting is an extremely important arena when it comes to sustainability in buildings because it is so ubiquitous and so costly as a result. It is also all around us wherever we go, in our homes, offices and streets, so it must be comfortable and practical for us to live with. Energy spent on lighting buildings represents 19% of UK energy use, which equates to tens of millions of pounds and 32 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide. LED lighting is widely accepted by the UK Government and Governments and climate organisations across the world as the most promising avenue for the future of lighting, and investment in the technology across the world is expected to grow to $160bn by 2020.

LEDs can produce a variety of colours, making them more
versatile to use in design
And it’s for good reason: LED technology has moved forward unimaginably over the last decade, and is able to do things we wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago. Since the year 2000 its efficiency has increased by ten times, which has in turn greatly increased the savings possible with the technology, both from a financial and carbon perspective. Commercially available LEDs can now boast energy savings of up to 70% (80% if accompanied by smart control systems), and have vastly improved lifespans.

For local councils, these are game-changing benefits in energy efficiency. The potential cost savings are obvious, as is their utility in meeting carbon-saving objectives, but they also make sense as part of the wider economic eco-system. Even the most advanced fluorescent lamps can’t match the lifespan of an LED, meaning they have to be replaced far less frequently, and their durability means that failure rates are low and they suffer less from decay in light output as they age. They also come in a variety of colours enabling them to more effectively mimic natural daylight in office environments, and as streetlights can reduce light pollution by being much more directional – only providing light where it is needed.

All this being the case, there is a danger of complacency. LED technology is a growing and exciting area of the lighting industry, but it’s far from a ‘magic bullet’ solution. Like any technology, it has to be implemented properly, and with consideration for its impact on the whole system. No energy efficient solution is ‘fit and forget’, and the worst thing a council could do would be to assume that switching to LED is an automatic win.

Firstly, judging the performance of an LED is not as simple as looking at the values of the chip. It might have Ferrari performance on paper, but a lot depends on the effectiveness of the system it is designed into. It can only perform well in a luminaire (light fixture) that suits its strengths, making sure it is at the right temperature for example, and trying to get one to perform in a badly designed context will greatly reduce its performance and may even damage it over time – like taking your Ferrari on quicksand. There are many different light sources and set-ups that best suit specific circumstances, so it’s vital an engineer designs the system to get the best out of the LED solution.

LEDs are extremely versatile, but require correct installation to deliver
the expected results
LEDs are just a light source at the end of the day, and there’s as much work to be done on the part of the user to get the best out of them as there is by the light itself – and for that you need a strategy around how they’re going to be used. Even optimising the lamp and luminaire to get a 10-15% increase in efficacy isn’t much compared to the 80% increase you can get by implementing a good control strategy. LEDs, unlike some sources, actually perform better when dimmed as less energy flows through them.

This is a great advantage when implemented with other systems like motion sensors to turn the lights off when there’s nobody around, or to dim them when it’s brighter outside. LEDs should not just be used as a direct replacement for older light sources – the irony is that LEDs can be so much cheaper that we then use too many of them, wiping out cost and carbon savings. Without controls more sophisticated than a light switch, that’s not an efficient solution, and a properly designed control system can do a lot to alleviate these issues.

The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ also applies here. Lighting is more complex than simply ‘on’ and ‘off’, with factors such as the light colour temperature and the colour rendering –and it’s not a purely artistic consideration, it also has the potential to impact on the wellbeing and productivity of the people who live and work in council buildings. Cheaper, poorer quality LED lights can perform less effectively in a number of ways, but one of the most notable is in light rendering – this is the way in which the light from the source accurately represents the colour of objects in a room. Cheaper and poorer quality LEDs are less effective at this, and so the light in a room may appear ‘off’, which can have negative psychological effects for the occupants.

LED light can be sympathetic to the Circadian Rhythm, which
can be disrupted by artificial light
Similarly, the colour temperature of the light also has an impact. One of the benefits of LED lights is their ability to be tuned and even mimic natural ‘blue’ daylight far better than phosphorus or sodium lights, which have a distinctive yellow glow. This can be an advantage in daylight, helping to stimulate people with little or no access to natural light in the workplace, it has a similar effect at night. The blue rich white light can keep us stimulated and delay the onset of sleep as it delays the secretion of the sleep drug, melatonin. By reading our e-readers, watching films on the lap top or checking social media this can contribute to the delay in the onset of sleep.

LED technology is the biggest advancement in lighting in recent times. Its efficacy is improving at a high rate, while at the same time costs are falling. It will be an integral part of the energy efficiency strategies of a wide variety of people, companies and governments for years to come, but it is important to remember that it can’t be taken on its own as a complete solution to the problem of efficiency in lighting.

In order to ensure that the technology is properly utilised so that it is as effective and efficient as possible, local councils will have to ensure that it is professionally designed as part of a wider strategy that bakes efficiency into the design of their buildings. It’s not as simple as replacing one technology with another like-for-like: it needs to be properly installed by an engineer following industry guidance, such as that produced by the Society of Light and Lighting and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, to be as effective as it can be, and ensure that works harmoniously with the building, the occupants and the other systems in play.