Taking account of usage to improve the energy efficiency of buildings

Opinion column published on 18 April 2023 on Business Immo.


The energy crisis is a key concern, and has prompted the government to take a number of measures to address the risk of energy shortages. These include the launch, via the Commission de Régulation de l’Energie, of a mission to manage the building sector, which is currently the worst performer in terms of energy consumption in France. As a reminder, buildings consume 44% of energy, 30% of which is wasted in buildings that are poorly used. And yet, on closer inspection, a building’s energy consumption is intimately linked to the way it is used… uses that have themselves been profoundly transformed since the health crisis. That’s why, now more than ever, new uses and the energy transition need to be tackled in tandem, using digital technology to help buildings improve their service, economic and environmental performance.


Digital, the lever of all transformations


The need to control the energy consumption of buildings has put the spotlight back on the various smart building technologies that can be used to regulate building equipment – heating, ventilation, lighting, etc. – to optimise energy consumption and thus improve energy efficiency. – to optimise the energy consumption of buildings and thus improve their energy efficiency. Today, it is estimated that it is possible to reduce a building’s energy costs by between 20% and 30% a year. For its part, the advance of hybrid workplaces has plunged office buildings as we know them into inexorable functional obsolescence, just as it has made them the promise of a new value proposition for employees: comfort, safety and quality of life at work. New ways of working have highlighted the rise of all the so-called smart office technologies, with all that this implies in terms of IT infrastructure: being able to offer seamless interaction, being able to ensure data security in increasingly open systems, facilitating the use of services rendered to the user.


User experience and energy efficiency, the same battle


Today, however, it is a question of bringing together usage and energy efficiency. Energy losses linked to the operation of buildings could be limited by the implementation of systems that optimise consumption to meet the needs of occupants. We no longer hear of offices being heated on a Friday when they are empty, or of car parks being opened for just a few cars. And, until now, these two worlds – smart building and smart office – didn’t talk to each other. Doing a smart office meant having an ad hoc database, for example to manage the working positions and other needs of users of tertiary spaces, while doing a smart building meant building another database dedicated to the operation of the building and its active equipment. Reducing the energy footprint of buildings will necessarily require the creation of a single database, a single, unified repository feeding a single information system capable of converging both usage and building data. These service platforms will enable data from sensors analysing air, water, electricity, ventilation, etc. to converse with data from position, counting, flow, presence and facial recognition sensors, etc. These multi-services platforms are aptly named, since they provide a range of services: for occupants, by giving them a quality of working life unmatched by digital technology; for building managers, by streamlining the way they use their buildings; and for asset managers and other developers, who can have a complete view and visibility of their property assets, how they are working, the savings they are making, and therefore their profitability. An essential asset at a time when property continues to be the second largest item of expenditure for companies in France.


From building to city


It’s clear that the more a building is managed, monitored and controlled according to use, the greater the energy savings achieved. But we need to take things a step further and think of these connected service platforms as open infrastructures that can also integrate and aggregate the information systems of other ecosystems surrounding the buildings for which they have been designed. This could involve the information systems of other private structures located nearby, or those of the local authority. Seeking energy efficiency in a building and controlling it according to use therefore also means that the same services platform that automatically closes a car park for company A because it is not very busy can, for example, tell visitors or employees that a public car park B is located nearby so that they can park their car there and not lose out on convenience. Once again, the pooling of resources, made possible by the interoperability of different information systems, appears to be at the heart of all service, ecological and economic performance. These platforms must be able to tell the building what it produces, what it consumes, what it stores, but also what it can offload, accept and receive from outside requests.


In this age of continuous technological innovation, it is now a reality to embark on a smart building project that is relevant and aligned with usage. The fundamental challenge in this construction lies in the organisation of data governance and the resulting digital architecture of the project. This is a major issue if we are to ensure that the data is used efficiently and that each stakeholder in the project can achieve its objectives. So the solutions exist. But even though they are already being deployed here and there across the country, good examples are few and far between, and the situation is urgent. Firstly, there is a legal urgency, since the BACS (Building Automation & Control Systems) decree requires commercial buildings to have a system for controlling their equipment by 2025. But above all, it’s environmentally friendly. According to the 2021 Barometer of Responsible Real Estate, although a control system can save 53% of energy, if only by controlling heating and air conditioning – the main areas of energy consumption in buildings – it is estimated that only 5 to 10% of buildings are equipped with one to date.

Pascal Zératès, CEO of Kardham Digital.