Piero-Giorgio Schiannini, global product group manager, energy distribution at ABB Smart Buildings, says that sustainable smart buildings must be driven by data.

With governments around the world now setting stringent targets for reducing carbon emissions and energy efficiency, building ‘green’ is no longer a luxury option, but a must. Building developers are expected to include active emission mitigation technology in their developments from the outset to meet the sustainability demands of regulators, clients and occupants.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the buildings and construction sectors combined are responsible for over 30 percent of global energy consumption, and nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions.

For facilities managers responsible for the day-to-day management of buildings – often across multiple sites and sometimes multiple countries – the past year has included the additional challenge of monitoring properties remotely and responding to new ways of working.

Therefore, one of the outcomes of the last 12 months has arguably been an acceleration of the need for digital solutions to optimize building efficiency.

This drive towards digitalization – and the need to react and respond in real time - means that facilities managers are turning towards smart, cloud-based solutions that integrate energy and asset management in a single intuitive dashboard. This technology provides users with full remote visibility of asset and electrical system behavior, allowing them to view, manage, and optimize building systems from anywhere, at any time. It also empowers them to use data-driven analytics to implement predictive maintenance and ensure the reliability and availability of the power system and equipment.

Effectively analyzing the data produced is a positive way for facility managers to make better decisions, providing a more tangible and sustainable impact. Users can understand their energy usage at-a-glance and optimize it in real time to achieve maximum energy efficiency and lower costs. This can allow users to manage consumption of the facility, significantly reduce OPEX and save up to 20 percent of energy use.

However, not all managers will be using this data in the most effective way to reduce the carbon footprint of their properties. At the end of the day, a facilities manager cannot optimize what they do not know. That is why it is often beneficial to ‘start small’ and scale up over time – both in new and existing installations - with cloud-based solutions that are flexible and can easily integrate technologies as they come online.

The benefits of this approach are clear. By taking meaningful action from insight gained from the data, operators can implement effective building controls to manage efficiencies, identify maintenance issues, ensure the wellbeing of occupants, and inform future investment priorities.

In a recent example, OPPO, one of the world's largest manufacturers of mobile devices and a growing global 5G player, needed to ensure reliable, energy efficient power supplies for its new, state-of-the-art technology park in Chongqing, China. OPPO chose to install the ABB Ability™ Energy and Asset Manager to monitor, operate, and maintain its power distribution system. The new solution gives site managers access to continuous, real-time insights on the operating condition of power equipment. Operations and maintenance teams receive automatic alerts so they can proactively address issues, helping to optimize performance and maximize uptime.

As a result, OPPO has seen a reduction in energy costs of up to 20 percent, a safer and more reliable power distribution system, optimized maintenance workflows and reduced power outages.

In a different installation, an innovative smart power distribution solution has been installed at Fusion Swansea, a £50 million student accommodation development in Swansea, Wales. The hardware and software package will enable developer RDE Silex and its partner Fusion Students, to optimise energy consumption and power availability across the new landmark Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) building, which includes 780 student bedrooms, shared study and social facilities, reception and ground floor retail units.

The building is designed to combine comfort for students with excellent energy efficiency performance for increased sustainable living. It features individual heating controls in every room, as well as monitoring and control systems to optimise energy consumption and raise alerts to keep building managers informed.

The project is a clear example of how connected hardware and cloud-based monitoring and control can support operators in deploying low-energy building design, particularly as the UK drives towards becoming net zero by 2050.

For businesses serious about sustainability, smart energy management systems are no longer just functional. They should be at the centre of an energy ecosystem that integrates a range of technologies and moves buildings to operate as resilient, autonomous microgrids with a holistic set-up including electric vehicles, renewable energy sources and storage systems, showing how the sustainable energy transition can succeed. When people start understanding the value and how to use the data at their disposal, they will realize the true benefits of smart buildings.