Creation of smart buildings in the housing industry – Digitalization as an enabler

Creation of smart buildings in the housing industry – Digitalization as an enabler

Now that digitalization has had firm grip on the energy sector for several years now, one can see stirrings in the housing industry as well. While the primary objective in the energy sector is the modernization of distribution grids by integrating intelligent metering systems, the future focus of digitalization in the housing industry will be the digitalization of entire buildings. Amendments to various EU Directives (like the Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings (2010/31/EU) or the EU Energy Efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU)) and their subsequent transition into national law mean that the requirements placed on residential and non-residential buildings will also be changing in the future. The “intelligence” of buildings is currently mainly restricted to the implementation of smoke detectors or sensor systems for measuring temperature. At the most today, integration of measured value ICTs systems, which in in turn are connected with an actuation system, is found in industrial and business buildings. That will change in the future.

More energy efficiency and process optimization with smart buildings

Some sections of the amendment draft for the Directive on Energy End-Use Efficiency and of the draft bill for the German Building Energy Act show initial indications for an obligation to expand energy consumption data logging to the sub-metering level. In particular, creating a communication link from heat meters and heating cost distributors to smart meter gateways (SMGW) can make it possible to render energy consumption transparent for end consumers, and also to check and monitor the energy efficiency of buildings.

However, the measurement and analysis of energy consumption data only represent one component of the smart buildings in the future. Many additional sensors and actuators will be installed, too. Similar to voice assistance systems, where a microphone can be implemented into virtually any device, sensor systems for instance, can be a component of white goods (e.g. temperature-measuring light bulbs or heating units with smoke detectors). The deployment of measurement and control technology in buildings and transparency they provide will yield a wide array of new application cases for the property industry. One example is measurement of the pressure in water and gas lines in order to check for leaks. Using critical operating parameters in conjunction with regular measurement and analysis of all technical systems, it becomes possible to determine optimum maintenance times and extend the residual service life of those systems. Since building management systems are designed to have a long service life, predictive maintenance makes particular financial sense here. That aligns with the objective of reducing operating costs in a lasting manner, securing the technical availability of systems, and retaining or even increasing the value of the buildings over the long-term. Analysis of the data collected in smart buildings will no longer be tradable. That makes it necessary to implement a central ICT system and/or management software in the form of a building management system.

In addition to introducing building management systems for optimal building operation, the property industry will also see an increase in the use of energy data management systems (EDM systems). As a crucial element of every city and boasting a final energy consumption share of 40%, the property sector has one of the largest energy appetites in the whole of Europe. The logging, analysis, and intelligent control of the sensors and actuators installed in buildings can lead to a reduction of energy consumption. In light of the deployment of supplementary technologies (like energy generators, electrical and thermal accumulators) and networking with other buildings (smart quarters), smart buildings will also be actively participating in the energy market of the future, which means they will be a natural component and/or actor in the distribution grid of an intelligent city.

Smart buildings deliver advantages for the property and energy sectors

The aforenamed examples illustrate how there are indeed parallels between the future challenges of the property sector and the implementations currently being made in the energy sector. Both sectors will have more focus on the measurement, transmission, and analysis of data in the future. The types of data do differ, of course. Yet ultimately in both cases data constitutes the foundation for subsequent decisions (e.g. switching operations). The intersection between these two industries is found in the components responsible for communication, i.e. the smart meter gateway (SMGW). The SMGW is frequently used as a synonym for the secure transmission of energy consumption data, yet it much rather represents a secure communication channel for transmitting all types of information. Roll-out of this infrastructure is being driven forward today by metering point operators, which will foster the spread of smart buildings in the future.

The understanding of what a building is and what a building is capable of doing will change in the future, not lastly due to adjustments in legal framework conditions. For the housing sector, the question arises of how it can profit from these changes and how it would like to leverage them, especially in the field of building conceptualization and facility management. To answer this question, the following are some of the points to be considered:

  • Analysis of the opportunities and risks in the business field of “smart buildings”

  • Cost effectiveness analysis (investment in the setup of a smart building infrastructure vs. saving operational costs and potentially generating additional revenues from new services)

  • Development of use cases / products for smart buildings

  • Conceptualization and operational implementation

It is important not to overlook the similarities to developments that energy industry has undergone in recent years. Despite initial high investments, digitalization has made a great deal of opportunities and new business models possible for the respective actors. Parallel to the roll-out of intelligent metering systems, energy utility companies are increasingly working on the development of products and value-added services built on top of the new infrastructure. For the residential sector, the modernization of edifices to become smart buildings also yields the potential of offering customers additional services and added-value services (like increased security and ambient assisted living).

For several years now, Q_PERIOR has been supporting energy utility companies in their digital transformation and leveraging its wealth of experience to assist the housing sector, too.

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