Recent years have seen the emergence of a slew of new technologies for raising the efficiency and ease of operation of the modern world's built environments in a multitude of areas.

According to Stefan Schwab, Head of Siemens Building Technologies, the incorporation of these new technologies into a single platform or system can raise their effectiveness even further by permitting the unified management of complex built environments.

“Studies have shown that if you do a deep and proper integration in your building management system, you can save up to 40 per cent more energy,” Schwab said. “You gain so much efficiency simply by having the subsystems work together as part of a single network. And by simply monitoring the energy on top of this and identifying the gaps, you can save another 10 per cent.”

According to Schwab the latest building management systems permit the incorporation of an increasing number of sub-systems into a single platform.

“Right now we can integrate many other sub-systems, such as security, fire safety, evacuation systems, lighting and power management into  building management systems,” he said. “The next step is to incorporate energy production and consumption as well, bringing together smart grids and smart buildings.”

The use of integrated management platforms raises efficiency by permitting the more precise and nuanced control of multiple building functions, from the shading and lighting of different parts of a facility to the scheduling of changes in room temperature based on expected periods of occupancy.

“Efficiency doesn’t just mean using less energy – being efficient also means using energy when it’s available to a reasonable market price, and the building management systems of today can achieve this,” said Schwab. “For example pre-booked meeting rooms aren’t usually incorporated into the building management system, so you would normally start heating up or cooling down too early and waste energy as a consequence.

“When the booking system is integrated into the building management system, you know already who is coming,when they arrive and what their preferences are. You can have a pre-set condition for the room, so that the system knows exactly when is the best time to start HVAC systems so that your temperature reaches the right level for your eleven o’clock meeting.”

Schwab further notes that integrated building management systems can further raise efficiency by permitting the precision scheduling of energy usage. This plays a critical role in building efficiency given the intermittent nature of power supplied using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

The importance of scheduling power usage was amply demonstrated by a recent day-long spike in renewable energy generation in Germany. During this period, 87 per cent of power consumed in the country came from solar, wind, hydro or biomass plants, pushing power prices into negative territory for several hours and compelling utilities to essentially make payments to large-scale commercial customers to consume the electricity they generate.

“What is even more important in the future for energy efficiency is not just using less energy, but consuming energy at the right time when it’s available,” said Schwab.

Another key benefit of the incorporation of multiple building functions into a single management system is improvements to usability and operability for building managers themselves.

“I think it’s very user friendly because the operator only looks at one screen, and you don’t have to switch between several different sub-systems,” said Schwab. “You can manage fire security, shading, lighting the building automation system from one screen, making it all much easier and avoiding operating errors.”

For the owners or tenants of facilities, this improved operability can translate into more secure and streamlined building management and they can focus on their core business.

“From the customer’s perspective, this is an easier backup solution because you can have only two or three staff trained using the same system,” said Schwab. “We have one client who has integrated all the sub-systems, and now they are operated using only two members of staff at any given time – one who operates the security system and one who operates the building management system.

“In the past you would have needed one person for each sub-system, as well as one for back-up, so already building management has become far more efficient.”

Improving the operability and user-friendliness of management systems means facilities themselves users can focus less on running buildings, and more on their own businesses.

“It’s not just about labor costs – it’s about providing more comfort, benefit and value to the customer,” said Schwab. “It shouldn’t be the core competence of customers to operate the building management system. Technology should make life easier for them, so that they can focus on what their actual core competence is.”