COVID forces a smart buildings rethink

By Dominic Ellis
The pandemic is revolutionising office designs with more emphasis on healthier, smarter and more efficient environments

The return to offices has started. But while there may be disagreements between companies on how often staff should attend the office, there can be no question that the notion of corporate life has changed irrevocably during the pandemic.

The advent of remote working, rush to digitalisation and emphasis on sustainability has consigned pre-pandemic practices to history – and no more so than in the buildings and construction sector.

According to a recent Honeywell report, Rethinking Buildings Post-COVID-19, 75% of surveyed US facility managers say COVID-19 has caused them to permanently rethink how their facility operates. Nearly 60% are more likely to invest in indoor air quality optimisation and other healthy building solutions, rising to 70% who are willing to invest in smart building solutions that help drive efficiency and support sustainability efforts.

"A notable transformation driven by the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting US facility leaders to reconsider their operational strategies and invest in smarter, healthier technologies," said Vimal Kapur, President and CEO, Honeywell Building Technologies. 

"As occupants become more aware of how the buildings they use for work, school and care can affect their well-being, we expect them to push building owners and operators to implement new procedures with efficient, sustainable solutions that better support occupants' safety, comfort and enhance their experiences, not only for the immediate return to office but for the long term as well."

The survey results from facility managers in the US underscore five key themes:

The pandemic will likely have a lasting impact on facility management and operations
Many believe changes and upgrades made during the pandemic will be kept in place in some form, yet only 36% of those surveyed expect updates to the air quality system to remain permanent. COVID-19 is also driving facility managers to adjust their priorities and investments. For example, 62% are more likely to invest in indoor air quality optimization and other healthy building solutions and 56% are more willing to invest in occupant experience solutions like contactless building access, smart parking and personalized experiences.

COVID-19 remains a source of widespread unease
Among surveyed US facility managers, 22% mention pandemic-related issues as their top concern.

A healthy building is a top priority and will remain important
A majority (58%) of respondents consider having a healthy building a top priority right now, and 62% say it will continue to be a top priority post-pandemic. Improving indoor air quality ranks as the most important aspect of a healthy building for those working in healthcare and educational facilities, while those working in data centers and commercial real estate buildings cite cleaning procedures as their top priority.

Digital transformation of facilities is accelerating 
Since COVID-19, more than half (54%) of respondents have seen digital transformation accelerate in pace as the need for remote facility management became more acute. More than 9 in 10 facility managers (93%) said that remote facility management is important now and 67% of respondents indicated they are more willing to invest in smart building solutions that drive efficiency or sustainability, including data aggregation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Respondents are interested in upgrades to improve the occupant experience, with a contactless building experience ranking high
According to surveyed US facility managers, there is strong interest in upgrades such as improving indoor air quality, energy efficiency and sustainability efforts, and supporting an inviting and innovative building environment. Yet respondent input shows a gap in the technologies currently deployed in buildings. More than half of those surveyed say the buildings they manage do not have air quality solutions (57%), integrated lighting that improves occupant productivity (66%), contactless building entry (67%) or an app that provides real-time information on building health (73%).  

Core4Grid trial from geo shows emissions savings

Households are saving an average of 49% on their annual energy bills and cutting their carbon footprint by 14% as part of a trial led by smart energy specialist, geo, to assess how real-time smart meter data enables Whole Home Optimisation of energy.

Funded by the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the trial, known as Core4Grid – backed by £1m of government funding – uses geo’s Whole Home Optimisation solution and the data generated by an EDF smart meter, to manage the use of rooftop solar generation and home battery storage in 24 homes across the country.

Once users have opted in, it connects to the home’s smart meters and uses machine learning to assess how best to use the smart energy tariff supplied by the energy retailer and any energy the home is generating, to accurately calculate the homes’ energy needs. At the same time the system uses that knowledge to balance stored and self-generated energy to minimise waste, energy costs and household carbon emissions.  

“The Core4Grid trial is the clearest proof to date of the immense potential of Great Britain’s smart meter rollout to homes across the country,” said Steve Cunningham, CEO at geo. “Whole Home Optimisation is driven by real-time smart meter data, allowing us to predict and balance individual household energy usage to save consumers far more than UK Government had initially estimated for the rollout. This moves theory into practice and clearly shows how households can actively – and automatically – reduce their carbon footprint, reduce their bills and at the same time, play a critical part in the drive towards net zero.”

Camilla McCorkell, Head of Blue Lab Proposition Innovation at EDF said the trial showed how smart meters can enable whole house optimisation.

“This means customers can utilise cheaper, zero carbon off-peak energy through our GoElectric tariff, and store energy to heat and electrify their homes or electric vehicles throughout the day. This extracts significant value for both customers – as we can see from the savings – and the grid, as the data allows us to predict supply and demand, helping customers reduce their emissions in the UK’s transition towards Net Zero by 2050.”

The trial is funded by BEIS Energy Innovation Programme and involves partnerships with energy supplier EDF, electricity distribution network operator UK Power Networks, energy aggregators Upside Energy, consultancies Cambridge Energy and Everoze, and the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust.

One Beverly Hills to showcase sustainable design

One Beverly Hills is adding three environmentally sustainable buildings – two residential condominium towers and a third building housing a 42 All-Suite luxury hotel and 37 shared ownership condominiums – all set around eight acres of botanical gardens. 

Some of the biggest names are behind the project, which aims to open in 2026, with designs from Foster + Partner and Gensler, working with holding company Alagem Capital Group and private real estate firm Cain International. 

Glumac, the global sustainable building design and engineering firm, is coordinating systems that aim to achieve LEED Platinum and WELL certifications. The new buildings, spanning 1.375 million square feet, will be built from recycled, low embodied carbon and low toxicity materials.

They will use a central geothermal system, harnessing the earth's constant soil temperature to efficiently create heat, hot water and reject heat for cooling without the use of gas. The system also reduces the number of cooling towers needed saving millions of gallons of water annually.   

In a bid to support grid harmonisation and safeguard local energy infrastructure, the project is designed with a significant centralized battery storage system, onsite PV array, and a chilled water thermal energy storage system. 

This will allow the project to be flexible in managing electrical demand by minimising imported electricity in real time intervals when grid generation is composed of dirtier fuel sources. 

Using collected rainwater and recycled greywater, the extensive One Beverly Hills landscape will be 100% water sustainable. 

Johnson Controls launches net zero services

Johnson Controls has announced OpenBlue Net Zero Buildings as a Service. Johnson Controls will provide a one-stop shop for companies looking to achieve net zero carbon and renewable energy goals. It covers a full spectrum of sustainability offerings tailored to schools, campuses, data centers, healthcare facilities as well as commercial and industrial companies.

Mighty Buildings secures $100m funding

Mighty Buildings, a construction technology company that is revolutionising the construction industry by using 3D printing, advanced materials, and robotic automation to create sustainable homes, has raised an additional $22m to accelerate their carbon neutrality roadmap, swelling its overall funding to $100m.


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