The latest automation and digitalisation technologies have the potential to make buildings “perfect places” that optimize both energy performance and indoor comfort conditions for occupants.

Stefan Schwab, head of Siemens Building Technologies, said that while many organisations are currently preoccupied with how to use automation and digitalisation to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, it’s also critically important to consider that these technologies can enhance indoor environmental conditions and maximize human comfort

“For decades, building automation systems have been able to run reports on information and trends in a facility, and we have only just started to use this information to make improvements to the energy efficiency of facilities,” he said.

“Another aspect which also requires our attention, however, is how to use digitalisation and data to enhance the comfort of the people who actually occupy a building.”

Schwab notes that focusing excessively on energy efficiency to the potential detriment of comfort is likely to lead to a poor outcome for built environments, particularly given that their original purpose is to provide sound shelter to users.

Developers and other stakeholders should strive to achieve a judicious mix between efficiency and comfort in order to create buildings that are “perfect places,” optimizing internal comfort conditions while minimizing environmental impact.

“If we create a building that’s energy efficient but we’re not providing comfort, then we’re missing the fundamental purpose of that building, which is to create a safe, secure and comfortable location for human occupants,” said Schwab.

“On the other hand, we can’t create a building that’s only a perfect place in terms of human comfort, yet consumes ridiculous amount of energy, because this will have an adverse impact on the environment and means failing in terms of our sustainability obligations.

“The important thing then is that balancing act – achieving energy performance outcomes as well as comfort outcomes simultaneously. They have to go hand in hand.”

Achieving a balance between efficiency and comfort means satisfying the disparate needs of both owners and occupiers with respect to buildings.

“The building owner wants efficiency because he can lease his property with greater ease or at a higher price if it has a certain energy performance,” said Schwab. “A six star Nabers rating will enable the owner to appeal to a broader range of potential tenants and get a better return on investment, for example.

“Occupants, however, aren’t necessarily as concerned about the environmental impact of the building, but instead want to be comfortable. Businesses want them to be comfortable as well and this can optimize their productivity.”

A key means of achieving this balance between efficiency and comfort is the integration of the multiple services and functions of a building into a single digitalized management platform.

This enables buildings to apply Internet of Things solutions to efficiency and comfort issues simultaneously, using the data streams generated and shared by a centralised management system.

“When we integrate systems and use technology to tie the services in a building together, then we can really start to apply Internet of Things and digitalization concepts using the data that’s produced,” said Schwab.

An outstanding example of how integrated building systems can use Internet of Things approaches to simultaneously improve efficiency and comfort lies in the the management of idle meeting rooms.

Buildings have long used presence detectors to determine when rooms or other spaces are unoccupied, automatically switching lights on or off to reduce power consumption.

An integrated management system can rope in other systems as well, such as HVAC and ventilation, and use data to operate them in a more flexible and nuanced manner that achieves a better balance between efficiency and comfort.

“Originally, you would use a presence detector to switch the lighting or HVAC systems off completely if a meeting room were unoccupied,” said Schwab.

“We can now use data to instead relax those systems so that they’re in a less energy intensive state, yet still keep them operating at a set threshold so that when someone enters the room we can restore those comfort conditions more quickly.

“This means reducing the amount of energy that the building would otherwise consume, while also maximizing comfort conditions in meeting rooms once occupants are scheduled to make use of them.”