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Inside Johnson Controls’ push to decarbonise public sector real estate

For more than a century, Johnson Controls has been at the forefront of building tech and infrastructure. As competition grows from thousands of fledgling innovators, what is it doing to continue leading the way towards a smarter, greener future?

“I think the competition from startups is fantastic,” says Jamie Cameron, director of digital solutions at Johnson Controls UK & Ireland, clearly not too worried.

Though startups might be more agile, what sets Johnson Controls apart, according to Cameron, is what he calls “the enterprise view”.

While startups – particularly new ones – tend to focus on a single problem and solution, Johnson Controls has, over time, created a comprehensive set of hardware and software that controls everything from HVAC and security to smart homes and automated building systems.

Jamie Cameron Johnson Controls

Jamie Cameron, director of digital solutions, Johnson Controls UK & Ireland

Last week, the company announced its latest acquisition: Asset Plus, an energy service provider that helps the UK public sector decarbonise through energy efficiency measures and retrofits. These include things like heat pumps, LED lighting and solar power.

One reason for the acquisition was Asset Plus’s extensive work with the public sector. The company is part of several low carbon energy procurement frameworks. These frameworks do much of the legwork in the procurement process, allowing public bodies to use these approved suppliers without conducting a full procurement process themselves.

“We believe the opportunity for us to grow based on the frameworks [Asset Plus is] on is exponential,” Cameron says. Asset Plus already works with multiple NHS organisations, local authorities and schools.

Cameron’s vision is to use Asset Plus as a launchpad to work with customers “from Land’s End to John O’Groats”.

OpenBlue sky thinking

While Asset Plus gives Johnson Controls new inroads to public sector clients and some new green technologies, the real value comes from combining Asset Plus with OpenBlue – Johnson Controls’ building management software.

Cameron says: “OpenBlue is the software framework that sits on top of the building to enable the sustainability use cases.”

In other words, Asset Plus sells customers the technology and OpenBlue then tracks whether a building really is cutting its energy use.

As a tech-agnostic platform, OpenBlue can connect to any building management system that uses open protocols (“The customer needs to put in the BMS that feels right for them,” Cameron says).

From there, the platform ticks many of the boxes the industry has come to expect from real estate tech. These include:

  • Automated facilities management, so people don’t have to check meters manually
  • Data and analytics on FM to ensure teams prioritise the right jobs
  • Air quality management
  • Analytics that track how occupiers use space
  • Hot desk and meeting room booking
  • Access control systems

These things ­– alongside OpenBlue’s other features – all contribute to more efficient building management.

Case study

Powerhouse Brattørkaia

Building | Powerhouse Brattørkaia

Location | Trondheim, Norway

Challenge | To create a building that produces more energy than it consumes over its lifetime

Features | Johnson Controls installed:

  • LED lighting
  • VAV (variable air volume) HVAC systems, which maintain a constant temperature and use less energy than constant airflow HVAC systems
  • Heat pumps
  • Electric car chargers
  • An energy system that draws heating and cooling energy from the ocean
  • A digital dashboard that tracks occupancy, comfort and sustainability KPIs across the building

Results | Powerhouse Brattørkaia produces more electricity than it consumes (on average), supplying a local microgrid with enough renewable energy to power itself, neighbouring buildings and nearby electric buses, cars and boats. The building achieved a BREEAM Outstanding certification and produces 485,000 kWh annually, which is enough to charge 200 electric vehicles.

Read more

On the importance of flex office tools, Cameron says: “We’re moving to this concept of a shrinking footprint. The best way of reducing your carbon is to reduce your footprint. So, reducing your footprint requires you to then use more agile technologies.”

As he talks about energy efficiency measures, the light in his office suddenly turns off because he hasn’t moved in several minutes.

He laughs, waves his arms and says: “I think 33% of a building’s electricity use is the lighting infrastructure. So, if we were to leave these lights on when I’m not in here – it doesn’t make any sense.”

Next big trend in decarbonisation

“We’re on an electrification journey,” Cameron says, laying out Johnson Controls’ next priorities. “What we’re starting to see as a sort of trend is pushing electricity back into the grid, becoming completely self-sufficient.”

Although electrification has “been around for a while”, businesses increasingly want to run their sites with as little reliance on the grid as possible, opting for battery storage powered by solar and wind instead.

That tech forms a central part of what Asset Plus helps the public sector understand and implement – and it should come as no surprise that Johnson Controls took the opportunity to strengthen its foothold in that part of the market.

Cameron says: “We believe we’ve acquired a fantastic business in Asset Plus, so we want to keep them focused on their core competencies and we want to give them the team to grow.”

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