Lights that only operate when someone is there, air-conditioners that are central yet create climate zones for different comfort levels, banks of computers or other machines that can be “put to sleep” after a period of non-activity, lifts that only switch on lights when called, underground carparks that remain dark until movement occurs. What once seemed like science fiction, is an everyday reality thanks to digitisation and the fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) pushing energy efficiency.

“Digitisation enables buildings to become ‘smart’,” explains Barry Bredenkamp, general manager of energy efficiency at the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI). “The building is then able to integrate and optimise all systems to ensure resource sustainability, without relying too heavily on the occupants applying the correct behaviour to ensure sustainability.”

Managing energy consumption

The Internet of Things (IoT), or the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, includes things such as the refrigerator in your home, the aircon in your office and the entire production process in your factory. The more efficiently these appliances or systems run, the less energy is expended.

Bredenkamp says: “In a smart building, this could mean that all systems such as security, biometric data, energy consumption and virtually everything else can be ‘connected’ and communicate with each other via cellphone technology and/or computing equipment. For example, occupants can receive real-time data such as their energy consumption and time management.”

These Building Management Systems (BMS) are not just for the office building. There are smaller versions, available locally, that can be wired into an individual home’s distribution board. “These can be used to shut down what the industry refers to as ‘vampire loads’, all the plugs with indicator lights that are not in use but on standby, any appliance using clocks or readouts when not in use – these can be put into ‘sleep’ mode,” highlights Bredenkamp.

Additional options
If one wants to go a step further, there are apps available as Building Management Systems which offer automated sensing solutions for occupancy and motion. These harvest natural daylight to reduce the amount of artificial light needed and remotely operate various systems from a single device, such as a cellphone.

Bredenkamp believes this is just the beginning of digitisation in buildings. “In the future, we can expect to see buildings that not only have the ability to interact with occupants and automatically report on critical performance areas of the building, but that will also be able to communicate and integrate data from other buildings, such as a group of shops in a retail chain, to automatically optimise resources within such a retail group,” he concludes.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to Barry Bredenkamp from SANEDI for the information contained in this article.

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