Modern buildings are built to last one hundred years or more. However, this means that acting now and investing in smart buildings will be essential to hit net zero by mid-century. Here, automation technology provider Beckhoff UK outlines the benefits of automation technology for a more sustainable built environment.

When we think of energy consumption and carbon emissions, we tend to think of transport as the biggest culprit. However, the data shows we should be focusing just as much, if not more of our time in trying to create a greener built environment. In the EU, buildings are responsible for 40 per cent of total energy consumption and 36 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. In the US, it is a similar picture, with energy consumption from buildings at 40 per cent, a greater share of overall consumption than transport (28 per cent).

Heating and cooling are the biggest users of energy in buildings. That’s why focusing on these two areas offers significant benefits. The traditional method of making buildings more energy-efficient was to focus on roof insulation and double glazing. With 75 per cent of Europe’s housing stock currently classified as energy-inefficient, it is certainly worth investing in this area. However, it can be many years before you realise a return on investment and given the realities of the ongoing climate crisis, measures such as these will not be enough by themselves.

Building automation benefits

Modern smart buildings have technical systems to control a range of functions, from HVAC and lighting, to media controls, security and access controls. Automating control of HVAC and lighting will be essential in moving toward an intelligent and green built environment. When buildings are equipped with digital tools allowing occupants or facilities managers to control key functions such as heating and lighting, the optimal use of energy is much easier to determine and put into effect.

By automating control over heating and lighting, you avoid situations where energy is wasted heating and lighting rooms that are not in use. Sensors can monitor things like usage, occupancy and environmental conditions, automatically adjusting lighting and HVAC systems accordingly. With access to data about the building’s usage and energy consumption, continuous improvement is a possibility. In other words, the system gets more efficient over time as the data gathered allows for further optimization.  

However, this optimal outcome is more difficult to achieve unless all technical systems are integrated under one platform. These can then be coordinated with each other in real-time, and continuously optimized through integrated energy metering and cloud connectivity. PC-based control aggregates all data points in one system, generating synergy effects. It is only this type of integration that enables sustainable, energy-efficient construction and living in the sense of a green building – with control software for all functions and software libraries for all technical systems.

Investment in building automation delivers benefits across the entire value chain. Architects can make ground-breaking green building concepts a reality, while investors enjoy investment security thanks to energy-efficient buildings that can be repurposed for many years to come simply by making software enhancements. Given the potential for the usage of buildings to change over their lifetime, this flexibility will be key to more intelligent building design.

For system integrators and specialist engineers, a quality automation toolkit makes the implementation and engineering processes much simpler. Furthermore, in addition to energy-efficient buildings, operators and occupants enjoy maximum comfort. This will be especially important in improving productivity among workers, with scientific research having shown that cognitive performance is negatively impacted by working environments that are too hot or cold.

A smart built environment, with PC-based control of technical systems, offers a clear return on investment by delivering significant savings in energy, especially when all systems are integrated under one platform. However, we need to move beyond the financial incentives. Building automation will be vital in ensuring the energy consumption and environmental impact of the built environment can be reduced to more sustainable levels.

Beckhoff offers PC-based control for building automation systems. To find out more visit www.beckhoff.com/en-gb/industries/building-automation/