Prologis, the largest industrial developer in the world, has produced a report on how it’s beginning to deliver intelligently connected buildings in the UK. The company predicts that through the use of tech, including Tesla batteries and intelligent building energy management systems (BEMS), energy use in buildings has the potential to be 30-40% lower than required under building regulations. Read the report below.
Due to rising costs and heightened environmental awareness, energy is a key focus in today’s world, not least in the commercial property sector where building owners, operators and tenants are seeking increasingly intelligent and flexible energy management solutions.
While saving energy is an obvious goal, clever use of energy and techniques such as ‘load balancing’ can deliver significant cost savings, without changing the amount of energy that is used.
Until recently, building energy management systems have been localised, and accessible only at the building level, giving little benefit to those who need to ‘see the big picture’. One key aspect of improving building efficiency is to understand how, when and where energy is being used. Not only does this allow energy to be used more efficiently but also allows the monitoring of occupancy and work patterns.
As one of the world’s largest owners and operators of advanced warehousing, Prologis see intelligent building management as a way of delivering a competitive advantage. Buildings that operate at maximum efficiency provide advantages for tenants and demand for such buildings provides benefit to landlords.
The rise of renewable energy in the UK
In common with many countries, renewable energy is growing rapidly as a source of power generation. According to government statistics, gas remains the most popular fuel for electricity generation, representing about 39% of the total. However, this percentage is decreasing year-on-year. Coal and oil combined are now a very small percentage (6.5%) and nuclear power represents about a quarter of all energy generation (24.4%) and this figure is broadly stable.
The only sector showing appreciable growth is the renewable sector, which now represents 30% of all UK electricity generation. As an island nation, it should be no surprise that wind power (13.8%) is the largest form of renewable energy, although this is closely followed by bioenergy (10.2%) – and the two combined now produce more energy than nuclear power.
Solar energy is relatively small (4.2%) but putting this in context, it is almost 50% more than is generated by coal. Overall, government statistics show that in 2016, around 340 TWh of electricity in the UK came from renewable sources.
As of October 2017, there were just under 8,000 wind turbines deployed in the UK, both onshore and offshore and this number is growing, driven by the fact that onshore wind power is the cheapest form of energy in the UK and, in 2016, more electricity was generated from wind than coal for the first time.
The statistics show that wind power capacity in the UK is around 15,000 GWh with new capacity being added regularly. However, wind power is susceptible to weather conditions, if the wind is too low (<2.5 m/s) then turbines cannot produce electricity and if it is too high (>25m/s) then the turbines have to be shut down to prevent damage.
One of the greatest challenges in electricity generation today is balancing supply and demand and this is especially important as currently, renewable energy capacity struggles to bridge the gap between base loads and peak time demands. One way in which energy suppliers are trying to address this is through structured pricing where peak time energy is significantly more expensive than off-peak.
As energy costs continue to rise, a lot of focus is being put on reducing energy usage to reduce costs and, while this is somewhat obvious and a laudable goal to protect natural resources, many people – including commercial building operators – are understanding that there are also cost savings to be had through using the same amount of energy more intelligently – over and above any savings due to reduced usage.
Intelligent buildings – from the office to the logistics area
One of the key goals for operators of large buildings, such as warehouse facilities is now to maximise their time ‘off the grid’, especially during times when electricity charges are at their highest. There are two key elements to meeting this goal; the ability to create and store electric energy, and the ability to monitor the building and its systems to ensure that energy is used intelligently, at the most economically beneficial time.
Modern warehouses are very energy efficient and therefore require little, if any, heating – other than for frost protection. As a result, the primary energy use within the building is for lighting, often accounting for 90% of all electricity usage.
The roofs of warehouses are increasingly being fitted with solar panels to provide photovoltaic (PV) energy for the building. Prologis has been a leader in this area, recognising the benefits of sustainable low carbon energy for their tenants, and adding value to the buildings themselves.
As PV is integral to Prologis’ energy strategy, their buildings are designed and built in such a way that the roofs support up to 25 kg/m2 of loading which is considerably more capacity than is needed for a full PV installation. As an example, a 151,000 sqft Prologis warehouse in Marston Gate, Milton Keynes has a 100 kWp grid-connected solar PV array that generates around 92,300 kWh of electricity for the tenant.
However, as solar PV electricity is generated during the day and the demand for the highest energy use (for lighting) is during the evening / night there is a mismatch and some form of storage is needed to allow more electricity to be retained on site so that it can be used at a later time.
In order to address this need, Prologis is installing multiple small scale battery storage systems in their buildings to allow electrical energy to be stored during the day and then released at night.
Tenants are able to use this locally stored energy at times when demand at both building and grid level is high, leading to higher electricity tariffs. By releasing stored energy at these peak times, tenants are able to reduce operating costs without necessarily reducing the amount of electricity used
With lighting being the biggest consumer of electricity within the building by far, then it comes as no surprise that this is at the heart of the intelligent connected building concept.
In modern warehouse lighting installations the light fittings themselves are highly efficient using technologies such as LED that convert far more of the electricity to usable light than traditional incandescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes. Manufacturers are now also providing light fittings with inbuilt radio frequency (RF) ICs that allow them to communicate as part of a mesh network.
Mesh networks can be wired or wireless and have the ability to connect dozens or even hundreds of nodes to a network allowing for control and collection of data. One good example of a mesh network is the Internet itself, that allows for millions of computers and other devices to be connected together.
In general, wireless mesh networks are becoming more popular as without the need for wires, installation is easier and the costs are lower – especially for networks that cover a large area, such as a warehouse. Using their on-board RF, each node communicates with other nodes via one of several protocols – some are proprietary and others are based on common standards such as wireless Ethernet (Wi-Fi).
Each node is programmed with software that tells that node how to interact with the wider network. Information flows across the network by hopping wirelessly from one mesh node to the next. The nodes choose the routing automatically and intelligently using a process known as dynamic routing.
There are a number of benefits of mesh networks. For example, their dynamic nature allows them to be self-configuring and self-healing, meaning that the whole network does not fail if just a single node fails. They also become faster as they become bigger and do not impose high data loads on the main network.
Sensors can be included in the lighting mesh network to enhance functionality. A simple daylight sensor can prevent lights being used when ambient light levels are high, and switch the lights on automatically when light levels diminish. This can be improved through the addition of dimming controls, so that individual fittings will constantly adjust their light ouput to make use of available daylight.
Adding movement sensors to the network, such as passive infrared (PIR) sensors can further control the lights so that they only operate when there is one or more people in the vicinity thereby saving energy while maintaining effective (and safe) lighting conditions.
With a mesh network that contains lighting and PIR sensors, tenants and building operators are able to gather valuable data. For example vehicle and pedestrian movements within a warehouse can be captured and analysed allowing the efficiency of the racking layout to be understood and potentially improved.
Advanced software can take the data gathered over a period of time and product ‘heat maps’ showing the most and least frequently accessed areas of the warehouse. This data allows tenants to confirm that goods are organised in the most efficient layout for the building and their type of business. The data can be continuously monitored to allow changes to be made for new products, or even seasonal variations to product lines.
Building owners / developers can use this information to better understand the way different businesses operate and improve the design of future buildings, tailoring them to the specific needs of target occupiers. This may include things such as the placement of the dock, or the form factor of the building footprint, making buildings wider or longer to suit different types of operation.
Beyond efficiency – connected buildings
While monitoring and controlling energy producing systems (such as solar PV and batteries) and energy consuming systems (such as lighting) is a logical starting point for intelligent buildings, there are many more opportunities to integrate other systems to produce a truly connected building environment.
For example, the health of employees is a key concern of all businesses. Network-connected air quality monitors can be placed at strategic locations (identified with the assistance of the building heat map) to monitor temperature, humidity and CO2 levels. By connecting the HVAC into this system (or by using remotely-actuated windows in naturally ventilated spaces), any air quality issues can be automatically addressed. Logging the data, can provide employers with a permanent record of long term air quality throughout the building.
The opportunity to make buildings more intelligent extends to any system that can be ‘connected’. ANPR-equipped security cameras can record every vehicle entering or leaving the premises providing added security, or simply booking in a vehicle automatically as it arrives.
Initially, heat maps have been two-dimensional, but sensors are also able to differentiate within the vertical plane. This will help tenants understand how often picking from higher locations is required adding another dimension to efficiency planning for warehouses.
Connected access control systems can maintain records of the number of people in the building, including when they arrived and when they left. This is invaluable in tracking hourly-paid employees, but could also be life saving in the event of an emergency such as a major fire.
An intelligent BEMS: EnergyDeck
Bringing together many different types of system within a building into a single cohesive system brings many benefits, but also has challenges. As there is relatively little standardisation then integrating all of the data to ‘see the big picture’ is often where connected buildings can struggle. However, London-based EnergyDeck provides a software platform for remote monitoring that promises to ‘reduce building operating costs, increase efficiency, and enhance occupant well-being and productivity’.
The software is web-based and includes all building metrics and data into a single platform, whether they are manual or automatic feeds. The ability to connect any type of sensor means that anything that can be network connected can be monitored by EnergyDeck. While the system was originally developed for energy management, it is suitable to become the central hub of any intelligent connected building.
EnergyDeck software allows unlimited users, meaning that information about the operation of the building can be disseminated widely throughout the organisation, empowering all building users to manage energy usage and other important aspects carefully.
The reporting features of EnergyDeck are highly customisable, allowing users to establish dashboards to suit the different functions and user groups, both within the equipped building and at central monitoring locations (such as the company headquarters).
EnergyDeck’s ability to both ‘drill down’ and ‘roll up’ data allows visualisations to be created showing information from a single device all the way up to a portfolio of buildings, and everywhere in between.
The software also includes the ability to configure alerts in the event that a parameter (for example air quality) exceeds pre-set limits, or if a reporting device fails.
While users with multiple locations / buildings are able to benchmark across their portfolio, EnergyDeck provides the ability to benchmark across the entire EnergyDeck user base using anonymously crowd-sourced data.
This gives building operators and tenants a unique insight into how their buildings are performing across a broad range of other buildings within the same industry sector and, therefore, the ability to make improvements where any aspect of the facility lags behind the industry ‘norm’.
The business world is becoming ever more competitive and every competitive advantage has the potential to deliver significant business benefits. Connected buildings can contribute to this by making operations more efficient, ensuring an optimum working environment and controlling energy usage.
While a high degree of building automation is already available in advanced buildings, such as those managed by Prologis, we are at an early stage in the evolution of intelligent buildings. As more sensing technology is integrated, so the opportunities increase, allowing tenants to make better use of their buildings and helping developers to design and build facilities that are flexible yet specifically targeted towards the particular needs of tenants.
This report was produced by Simon Cox, project management and UK sustainability officer, and Maurice Dalton, head of project management at Prologis.