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It’s often difficult to see the positives or silver lining during periods of immense uncertainty, grief and trauma. However, the optimists among us could see the response to Covid­ 19 as a wake­up call. It’s provided the realisation we needed about the importance of embracing more flexible ways of working, preparing for the future and better understanding the value in using something we already have access to – data.


ith data, we have

knowledge; we have the power to make informed

changes. Author and speaker Simon Sinek once said “more information is always better than less” – whether data is being used to make life-changing decisions on lifting Covid-19 restrictions or it’s used to better understand our surroundings and monitor the energy efficiency of our buildings, information is a powerful tool that can give us the reasoning we need to make certain decisions.

At a time when adaptability is the key to survival and there is greater scrutiny towards tackling the climate emergency as we get closer to the UK’s climate change target – to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels – using data and analytics will be even more important to help building services teams re-evaluate their operations and manage their buildings.

Benefits of a performance­focused culture

After decades of focusing on what buildings are theoretically capable of and how efficient they could be, the built environment industry is finally focusing greater attention on performance. This follows the government’s recent consultation – which has now closed – on a performance-based rating framework for large commercial and industrial buildings, emulating Australia’s successful NABERS (National Australian Build

Jim Saywell, Director, and Dr Shrikant Sharma, Director of Analytics, Buro Happold

Environment Rating System) scheme. It’s a huge step in the right direction – and adopting a similar system will have a much bigger effect on energy performance than any other legislation has had over the last 20 years. Why? We have a compliance-focused culture in the UK. Office buildings often consume over three times more energy in operation than is estimated using design simulations. The only way to

address this performance gap is by shifting from a compliance-focused culture to a performance-focused culture, ensuring there is more attention on the desired outcome of reducing energy use in buildings. The consultation comes at a time when we need to significantly improve the way we design, build and manage our buildings in order to drive the sector towards achieving our net zero carbon goals. Being transparent about energy consumption will give us the opportunity to use real-life performance data to inform decision making on new-build designs and retrofit improvements. The proposals made in the consultation favour a simplified version of the new NABERS UK scheme, which was launched in November 2020. NABERS UK is based on a system that has been tried and tested in Australia, and, over the past few years has gone through a rigorous process of adaptation to the UK market by the Better Buildings Partnership. Adopting similar processes to NABERS UK, without requiring NABERS certification on all buildings, would provide a clear and consistent method for measuring and verifying the actual energy use of existing buildings, helping building owners and operators to accurately track and communicate the energy performance of their assets. However, if the UK isn’t going adopt a similar scheme to NABERS UK, then there needs to be a system that ensures reporting is done consistently and accurately.

NABERS UK is currently a voluntary scheme, but if the proposals in the consultation become a reality, energy ratings and disclosures will be required from April 2022, so the industry will need to move quickly in order to get on board and become more familiar with the process. Moving to a mandatory reporting system is the right thing to do, but it’s a big step – it took the Australian NABERS scheme 10 years to become compulsory, so the industry had plenty of time to understand what it was and slowly implement it. The result? The market-driven approach has worked. In the last decade, the focus of the Australian scheme towards building performance has


How building performance data, analytics and insights can help to set the energy efficiency bar even higher

seen office buildings reduce their energy use by 34 per cent without mandating a minimum required rating; in comparison, the UK’s commercial buildings saw an average reduction of four per cent. It would be great to see a similar approach to the Australian scheme in the UK, where the first step is simply mandatory energy reporting using the methods used in NABERS UK to obtain a good understanding about how much energy buildings use. Minimum levels of performance or requirements for continuous improvement should only follow when the framework is up and running, which would allow building owners and operators time to adjust and buy into the process. It will also allow regulators time to assess where the industry sits and develop appropriate targets for improvement without delaying the implementation of mandatory energy reporting.

The power of data

Not only can real-life performance data help to better understand energy consumption, but it can also be used to help manage the building’s services day-to-day – which can be done remotely and provide insights into how a building is performing, helping to create a more efficient environment. Sensors can be installed into overhead smart lighting systems that connect directly to the cloud and allow real-time data to be available for analysis. They can monitor how and where spaces are being utilised and assess the behaviour of its occupants; for example, how often people leave their desks for a break, where they start conversations and how long a ‘one-hour meeting’ actually lasts. By using data in this way, a complete picture can then be built to demonstrate how effective a building is in terms of its space utilisation, environmental and energy efficiency, and, most importantly, connectivity,

productivity, wellbeing and safety of its people.

Sensors and remote monitoring are providing deeper insights that were previously not possible. For example, analytics are now driving decision making at Vodafone’s London


office, in terms of space use, employee productivity through better CO2 monitoring, and improved insights into staff collaborations, as well as monitoring other energy services such as lighting and temperature. The analytics have uncovered opportunities to reduce more than 30 per cent of meeting spaces by resizing them to meet actual usage demands and it has highlighted opportunities for significant improvement of productivity. The sensors also revealed that a third of time seemed to be over the CO2 threshold considered optimum for human productivity, so the team is now able to better manage the levels with a pinpointed accuracy. Not having regular access to buildings has certainly made things challenging for building service managers and environmental engineers. This is where remote dashboards have become invaluable, giving insights and data into how buildings are performing, where changes can be made and remotely managing key variables, such as air quality, lighting, temperature, humidity and space use, at the touch of a button.

Don’t wait for ‘next time’

Undoubtedly, the challenges of Covid-19 and the climate emergency have taught us that the built environment needs to change. Whatever the future may hold, the biggest lesson has been in recognising the vital role that data and analytics can play in building management and scenario planning, which will enable us to learn and adapt as we go – rather than wait for the next wake-up call. Not only that, but better operational ratings also lead to increases in lease lengths, rental income and property value, and reduced environmental impact, supporting the net zero carbon pathway. We’re getting closer and closer to the UK’s new 2035 climate change target, so the time is right to set the bar even higher when it comes to energy efficiency best practice. We need to act now and start reporting.

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