Jamie Cameron, director of digital solutions at Johnson Controls looks at the need for tech in cutting costs, improving energy efficiency, and working towards climate change.

The topic of energy efficiency has come back into the spotlight following a myriad of problems, from exponential energy costs to inflation rates being at their highest for 30 years. As firms are forced to maintain the cost of doing business, while still being encouraged to be conscious of their sustainability goals, there’s no surprise that businesses need to implement practical measures to weather the storm. Following two years of volatile market conditions and consumer uncertainty, businesses are searching for solutions to navigate their way towards a more sustainable and efficient future.

There was some hope on the horizon in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement which brought with it a new package of measures designed to incentivise decarbonisation, drive demand for green tech, and curb spiralling business energy costs. The Chancellor set out his plans to scrap VAT on energy saving materials including solar panels, heat pumps and home insulation and pledged to make green technology exempt from business rates, all to incentivise at speed and drive change at scale.

But the onus to curb energy consumption doesn’t just rest on the government. It relies on business leaders, facilities managers, and individuals like us to make the buildings we inhabit much more efficient. The evidence is clear, as buildings are responsible for consumption and a third of the world’s greenhouse gases. As commitments to sustainability are encouraged through both policies and public opinion, businesses may be put at a disadvantage regarding talent, incentives, and profits if they fail to make their buildings more efficient. This begs the question which tools are within businesses grasp and how can they help navigate tough business realities while enabling us to step up to vital sustainability goals?

Energy efficient technology

At first glance, ‘energy-efficient technology’ might seem like an oxymoron. After all, when we think of the relationship between technology and energy, we often picture large commercial city landscapes fully illuminated deep into the night, or rows of office PCs and screens consuming power 24 hours a day. But in recent years, technology that is truly energy-efficient has advanced far beyond incremental changes.

Now, businesses can employ various optimisation software platforms to predict and directly monitor workplace energy costs, and automatically optimise cooling, heating, and power generation. They can use AI-powered data analytics to monitor building performance, enhance tenant experience, and meet sustainability goals. Building managers may still assume that the implementation of such powerful, energy-efficient technologies would be a long, costly process. But the truth is they can be installed into buildings quickly and efficiently, and managers can start seeing results and returns immediately.

The benefits of Machine Learning and AI

What if you could predict the future? And better yet, what if your central plant could automatically adjust your energy usage and costs to prepare for that future? Meet central plant optimisation software. Central Utility Plant (CUP) technology uses predictive algorithms (AI & ML) to maximise buildings’ energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions while delivering reliable utility services. And it dispatches decisions every 15 minutes based on a myriad of ever-changing inputs.

First, it looks at equipment performance models. Every major piece of building equipment, such as chillers, boilers, and cooling towers, is tuned into the system to monitor performance, cost, and optimise efficiency under operating conditions. Next, it pulls seven-day local weather forecasts for temperature, humidity, and cloudiness to predict loads, equipment performance and ambient conditions. For example, if a particularly mild Wednesday was predicted, CUP technology would prepare to reduce the building’s heating output, ensuring the central plant runs at the lowest possible cost, and far more sustainably, too.

Then, the software combines the forecasts with existing data on historical loads, days of the week, time of day, building schedules, maintenance calendars, and special events to adjust operations and automatically make decisions that guarantee the reliable delivery of workplace utility services.

The benefits of data

Installing comprehensive building management platforms are another way that businesses can achieve energy efficiency. These platforms give managers a virtual birds-eye view of buildings and inform decision-making that delivers stronger sustainability practices. They constantly scan workplaces, pinpointing inefficiencies, diagnosing equipment problems, and advocating the corrective action needed to fix them. They also enable managers to monitor not only energy usage, but also assets, space, health, and occupant comfort parameters, all to improve Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) scores.

OpenBlue Enterprise Manager offers an eco-system of cloud-based apps, which enable managers and tenants to instantly adjust heating, water supply, HVAC systems and more in different areas of a building. These self-service apps also mean managers can monitor real-time spending, efficiency insights, and progress straight from their smartphone, helping regularly update stakeholders on sustainability results. So, they’re not just gathering data—they can share it, too.

Positive progression

To alleviate the heavy financial pressures of the cost-of-living crisis and put sustainability to the forefront of the business agenda, new measures are a necessary and positive step in the right direction. If best practices are embraced and undertaken, businesses can help work towards net zero, successfully relieving environmental pressures for all. As bills rise annually and there are constant changes in government legislation, businesses must turn to technology for a wholly improved way of managing utilities. Smart tech is vital for businesses to make dynamic changes for themselves, the environment, and our health and safety. Saving money, improving energy efficiency and tackling the issue of climate change are not isolated issues that must be addressed separately, but instead must be approached holistically to harness their full potential. As the difficulty of operating a successful business becomes clearer than ever, the urgency of a targeted approach to address this trifecta of challenges prevails.