By Christian Whitaker, Head of Building Performance and Sustainability Performance, Siemens
Building owners in traditional office environments have, for many years, sought innovative ways to minimize operating costs while maximizing competitiveness. It has always been a balance between rent rates, onsite amenities, operating costs, energy performance, and a range of other factors. Today, however, with occupancy rates plummeting, these workspaces are profoundly different; it’s safe to say there’s some level of fear that this change is permanent. And while we can’t know precisely what the future will hold, we can know this: building owners, more than ever, will have to leverage innovative ways to attract tenants and make their building the one everyone wants to be in and feels safe occupying.
Achieving this goal will mean, in part, taking a holistic view of building performance, factoring not only the cost to operate, but also how effectively it delivers what it’s supposed to: a comfortable space that’s safe to occupy. That will require seeking out new and adaptive technologies designed to optimize performance across many competing metrics—simultaneously lowering operating costs while improving overall building comfort, health, and safety.
The technologies we need to make buildings as safe as possible are here today
Safe building occupancy can happen today, and it isn’t science fiction: the technologies building operators need to make occupying buildings as safe as possible are here. In many cases, these technologies have been here for a while, but this pandemic has rapidly brought new applications into focus. For example: Bringing in more outside air for ventilation can be an effective “dilution” method when it comes to virus transmission, an approach that necessarily requires more energy to implement, and may overtax equipment as operators try to achieve a comfortable environment, particularly in hot and humid climates. It is possible to achieve this Incremental cooling without using more energy, for example, by leveraging proven chilled water optimization strategies that increase available chiller capacity and reduce overall energy costs.
In other cases, the rapid development of new machine learning, or AI-based applications , which have been ramping up over the last several years, are cycling faster than ever, adapting to solve new problems. For example, research reveals that viruses like SARS-CoV-2 cannot survive in very warm conditions—conditions that no person wants to work in. But what if an AI-powered solution could automatically and dynamically control a building to meet those varying conditions based on occupancy, such as raising surface temperatures to deactivate viruses at night and on the weekends? What if it could do this while automatically adjusting AHU fan speed and temperature to minimize energy consumption and maximize comfort during work hours, then implement a decontamination strategy to accelerate the rate of decay for viruses when the building is closed? It is possible. It’s a real-world implementation of the science around mitigating virus transmission via the building automation and mechanical systems. And, it can help to alleviate many of the concerns we know people have around coming back into the workplace.
The optimal conditions for buildings continues to evolve, and industry guidelines respond as we add to our understanding of virus transmission. Clearly, the body of knowledge we hold today shows us there are effective strategies to efficiently return workers to buildings. As building owners’ needs evolve to address new challenges like COVID-19, having adaptable and flexible control strategies to combat these challenges becomes ever more critical. Our goal at Smart Infrastructure is to create environments that are as safe and energy efficient as possible so you and your customers can come back with confidence; thankfully, the technologies are here today to deliver on that mission.