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Reducing carbon emissions in non-domestic buildings by addressing poor energy performance

Researchers from LSBU are working with partners in the private sector to improve the energy efficiency and carbon emissions of non-domestic buildings in the UK

The role of non-domestic buildings in reducing carbon emissions

With estimations revealing that non-domestic buildings are responsible for nearly one-fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions and non-domestic floor space predicted to rise by one-third by 2050, it is clear that their management and operation need urgent attention.

This is supported by findings from the Low Carbon Innovation Co-ordination Group, which stated in 2012 that innovations in the management and operation of non-domestic buildings are capable of yielding annual savings of £3.1billion by 2050.

“Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is a key priority especially if the UK is to meet its carbon reduction targets,” says Dr Sandra Dudley, Director of Research and Enterprise in the School of Engineering.

Our system converts the large volumes of data input to the platform into simple, user-friendly views, indicators, fault detection and diagnoses… directing attention to practical solutions for performance issues

Dr Sandra Dudley-McEvoy

The poor energy performance of non-domestic buildings

“All non-domestic buildings at the point of construction sale or rent require a non-domestic Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which is valid for 10 years. However, in 2014, for non-domestic buildings, 16 percent of EPCs were rated as the lowest energy efficiency category, which is clearly an issue that needs addressing.”

The cause of poor building energy performance is often due to misaligned or malfunctioning heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. As an example, a building may have an air conditioning system operating within the same room as a high-output heater, meaning both are caught in a loop of trying to compensate for the over-activity of the other.

Building a bespoke platform to monitor inefficiency

As a result, Dr Dudley, Professor Andy Ford and colleagues from the private sector are developing an innovative approach to diagnosing operational inefficiencies that involves analysing data collected from buildings’ monitoring systems via a bespoke platform.

“At present, buildings’ systems collect data to aid control of the services they operate, but the meaningful and useful analysis necessary to achieve a high level of optimised control is currently limited,” adds Dr Dudley. “Our system converts these large volumes of data input into simple, user-friendly views, indicators, fault detection and diagnoses. It also draws upon data-mining techniques to increase the speed and scope of analysis; interfaces with modelling software to quantify the gap between theoretical design and actual performance; interlinks with strategic carbon management software; enables dynamic demand control; and develops interfaces for a range of audiences, including education and training.

"Finally and most crucially, it will reduce complexity and information overload by directing attention to practical solutions for performance issues.”

Managing energy performance for positive results

The platform is currently in use at 60 sites covering 100 buildings, with one – the Financial Times headquarters in London – reporting that comfort complaints have halved since the platform was installed.

Alongside these here-and-now practicalities, Dr Dudley believes there are considerable benefits for the future too. “With the real need of large-scale buildings to reduce their carbon footprint, the industry requires highly skilled graduates to manage and improve property performance. With worries that there is a shortage of real-world experience amongst graduates, this project addresses industrial needs through smart energy fault-finding systems and will help to produce highly skilled graduates at the forefront of understanding and managing building energy performance.”

Research impacts

  • The innovations generated result in significant energy and carbon savings for buildings, providing major economic and environmental benefits.
  • By optimising building function, this system improves the human comfort level of buildings via the rapid detection of malfunctioning HVAC systems.
  • The project will yield a unique educational software package for LSBU engineering students (based on the commercial platform for real-world experience) on how to use energy management services to deliver improved building performance.