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I was impressed and delighted to see 25 of the UK’s leading commercial property owners recently sign up to net-zero real estate portfolios by 2050 as part of the Better Building Partnership’s (BBP) Climate Change Commitment

Their commitment demonstrates real green leadership and highlights the need for collective and decisive action across the building industry to tackle climate change. As signatories, these companies have committed to publicly publishing their own pathways to achieving net zero carbon emissions by the end of next year.  

For more than five years, CIM’s building analytics technology—the PEAK platform—has enabled companies to operate their large buildings at peak performance and improve efficiency, sustainability and comfort across property portfolios. 

Along the way, we’ve captured vast amounts of data and insights into what drives successful carbon reduction programs. I’ve condensed these insights into five simple guidelines to help any commercial property owner achieve the best results from their own net-zero programme. 

By applying a smart, data-driven approach to your carbon neutrality journey, you can benefit from more than just energy savings and improved outcomes across the entire spectrum of your building operations management while driving up the profitability of your asset.

Guideline one: Focus on demand-side energy management

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that up to 25% of energy in the commercial sector is wasted. It has labelled energy efficiency as ‘the very first fuel’, highlighting the obvious fact that reducing energy waste should be the first and primary focus of any net-zero carbon roadmap. 

A high percentage of wasted energy can be prevented by optimising and retro-commissioning existing plant and equipment. You can do this by analysing all the live and historical data within your building to pinpoint when and why existing large plant and equipment—chillers, boilers, air handling units for exampleand associated pumps and fans are not working as they should be. By then making the necessary adjustments, you can get your building running at peak performance again and eliminate waste.

This can typically be achieved for little or no capital investment by implementing intuitive building analytics across your individual sites and portfolios. At CIM we have seen property portfolio owners significantly reduce their energy use and carbon footprint without CAPEX outlay by taking this approach. 

Guideline two: Empower and engage all building stakeholders to play their part

Buildings are designed for people to work, visit and live in, and when these stakeholders are empowered to do what they can to reduce their own energy consumption within the building, it can prove transformational for your carbon reduction programme. 

At a basic level, communicating internally about your sustainability commitments and sharing useful tips that remind people to make simple yet effective changes such as turning off their computers at the end of their workday is an important part of any programme and can lead to significant energy savings across the building. 

Taking it one step further by empowering your operations team to be more collaborative, productive and proactive in their approach to facilities management is where the real magic happens. 

Smart building analytics provides your team with real-time, fact-based information on all facets of a building’s operations including equipment performance, thermal tracking and carbon intensity. With this information, facility managers and contractors can make better decisions and resolve problems faster, getting ahead of the issues before they become bigger problems compromising tenant comfort and productivity. With less tenant complaints to deal with, your operations team can spend more time adding value to your carbon reduction programme.

Guideline three: Upgrade rather than replace

Many incumbent Building Management System (BMS) and facility management companies are incentivised to sell new equipment. 

Without advanced (and independent) building analytics technology, however, it can be difficult to determine whether or not your equipment does indeed need replacing or if it is simply overloaded and not optimised to run as efficiently as it could. Defaulting to the common and expensive practice of replacing equipment that isn’t working properly without assessing the potential performance of existing equipment can be detrimental to your carbon reduction programme. 

Gaining a true and accurate picture of equipment performance issues through accurate root cause analysis is crucial and can result in significant energy and cost savings. In our experience, by taking this approach you will find that it is often not the asset itself that needs replacing, rather a single component that needs upgrading to maximise the overall performance and lifespan of your equipment.

This guide is a useful introduction to how building analytics can enhance your existing BMS and give you more control over building performance.

Guideline four: Consume energy generated onsite efficiently

Generating your own electricity onsite is an effective way to reduce a building’s carbon emissions as this energy is generally also used onsite resulting in no distribution and transmission losses (which can account for up to 30% of efficiency loss). 

However, trying to achieve your carbon neutral goals just by adding onsite energy generation delivers no investment payback. It must be undertaken in tandem with the existing equipment optimising efforts I mentioned in guideline three. 

Regularly optimising the equipment you already have and then increasing your alternative sources of energy is the most efficient way of achieving carbon neutral goals. This approach ensures that all energy consumed is used as wisely as possible with zero-waste. As you upgrade equipment or generate new sources of energy within your building, be sure to continuously monitor and measure performance to ensure your equipment is running as efficiently as possible. This way, you can also verify the impact to your carbon programme of replacing any energy intensive equipment.

Building analytics solutions give you this visibility and control over your assets. These solutions apply logic controls to automatically improve the efficiency of your systems and equipment while flagging any operational faults that need attention. For example, as more building owners introduce solar into their green energy solution, advanced building analytics technology can monitor the efficiency of a building’s solar PV array and ensure it is performing against its theoretical output.

Guideline five: Procure (certified) green energy

Once all demand-side management strategies have been successfully deployed and your building stakeholders are engaged and empowered, the remaining energy load—the quantity of energy that should be locked into a certified renewable power purchase agreement—is difficult to reduce.  

Ensure the utility company that you are procuring your renewable energy from is able to issue you with Guarantee of Origin (GOs) retired in your company name. This will prevent any accusations of ‘greenwashing’ that may arise if the renewable energy is generated in other countries. 

Also look at your own onsite energy storage. For example, if you chose to be on a floating price model your building could act as a thermal store so that at times where there is little or no wind and energy costs are high, you can switch from the grid to the energy you have generated and stored. When energy costs are low, your stored energy can be preheated or precooled to be used later. At CIM, we are currently integrating energy procurement data analytics into our software to help our clients procure their green energy more cost effectively in the near future. 

One last thing

These five simple guidelines can help any building owner make their carbon reduction program successful, profitable and geared toward achieving the best environmental outcomes possible. Building analytics is pivotal to this process because its the only way of accurately understanding the facts about any building’s performance and to quickly and easily make data-driven decisions. 

CIM is proud to help property portfolio investors, owners and managers meet their sustainability goals by:

  • Optimising existing equipment to get rid of all wastage. This means that all existing equipment can run as efficiently as possible, including repairing technical or operational faults, or implementing logic controls to improve efficiency.
  • Future-proofing future investments. When asset owners invest in renewable energy or battery storage, CIM future-proofs that investment by ensuring consumption is kept to the minimum at all times. If consumption keeps increasing, any new energy sources will not be fit for purpose in the future. 
  • Enabling more intelligent CAPEX to maintain optimum performance. Granular visibility within a building or a portfolio helps identify and prioritise the best equipment or controls upgrade expenditure to help assets achieve their goals. Our clients are using the PEAK platform as a strategic CAPEX planning tool.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you achieve your carbon reduction targets, please reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you.