Vlog: The Evolution of Data Monitoring at the Active Buildings

In this vlog, SPECIFIC’s Technology Director, Justin Searle, discusses how the energy monitoring systems and capability within our demonstration buildings has evolved over time.

Q&A Timings:

  1. Please introduce yourself and your role at SPECIFIC: 00:06
  2. Why is it so important to monitor energy performance of Active Buildings? 00:39
  3. How have you evolved the energy monitoring strategies/systems from the Active Classroom to Active Office? 01:22
  4. What has been the most surprising discovery from the energy monitoring?  02:17
  5. What has been the most challenging? 02:52
  6. Are there any specific energy monitoring/data projects you are working on right now? 03:27
  7. Have you identified any further improvements to the energy systems within the current Active Building demonstrators, from the energy performance data? 04:40
  8. How will you share your experience and learning with the wider construction industry? 05:23

Vlog Transcript:

  1. Please introduce yourself and your role at SPECIFIC

Hi, my name’s Justin Searle and I am the Technology Director at SPECIFIC IKC. I am responsible for the technology integration, building demonstration programme and the technical side of business engagement. I work with a small team of very clever individuals from electrical engineering, electronics, building physics and architecture backgrounds, and together, we look at how systems can be designed, implemented and integrated together for the best impact and energy performance of our buildings.

  • Why is it so important to monitor energy performance of Active Buildings?

A lot is changing in the construction industry at present and so monitoring the performance of systems and technology is vital to quickly understand what works well and what doesn’t in certain situations and the only way this can be done is via effective performance monitoring. This in turn will have benefits in improving the accuracy of pre-construction modelling capability, understand how people impact on the building performance itself and enable maintenance and operation improvements. The rate of change is significant, so the quicker we learn this information, the better, and the more information we have, the quicker that will be.

  • How have you evolved the energy monitoring strategies/systems from the Active Classroom to Active Office?

So, in the office we have more thermal monitoring, such as hot water and space heating that are fed by thermal circuits rather than electrical inputs. So, we know what energy is generated, stored and consumed and where it is sourced from. Some of this we have retrofitted to the classroom, such as calculating the thermal input from the TSC or transpired solar collector. We have also looking more closely at carbon in use for both buildings and trying to minimise carbon emissions by utilising the battery at beneficial times.

In the future energy market, and production, when you use the energy will be almost as important as how much energy are consuming. So understanding what your profile looks like currently and how you can influence that in the future will be key to the best use of the available resources.

  • What has been the most surprising discovery from the energy monitoring?  

The most surprising thing to me was how much relatively low power items that are operating continuously consume over time. For example, we made a decision that all data collection and processing would occur within the building, so there were no hidden energy requirements outside of the building (such as a data centre). The IT that runs this is relatively modest, but it is on 24hrs a day and this soon adds up. So, the focus on standby and base load consumption reduction can have a significant impact on the annual energy consumption.

  • What has been the most challenging?

People – without people I think most of the modelling and calculated performance metrics would be more accurate than they are when people interact with the buildings. Its surprising how 20 degrees one day appears to be a comfortable temperature, the next day people can be suggesting its cold and wanting to turn the heating up! So the balance between automated control for best performance and some level of user control is important. Any level of predictive or automated intelligence needs to be able to handle the more nuanced requirements of the occupants.

  • Are there any specific energy monitoring/data projects you are working on right now?

There is a great project called FRED that is just coming to an end at present, this was looking at using EV charging hardware from MyEnergi within a virtual powerplant controlled by Evergreen Smart Power. It’s obviously been challenging over the last 18 months or so but the project progressed well and showed that there benefits to virtual power plant applications (where lots of small consumers are controlled as if there are a single entity and can therefore shape their demand profile over time). It also showed that as tariffs become smarter (such as hourly or half-hourly) the control also needs to respond and automation with clear visibility of what the technology is doing is a workable approach.

The other one that is interesting is the work we have done with Safehouse – this is looking at using LoRaWan communications for aggregating sensors locally and then transmitting from that point. The opportunity here is the long-distance communications can work over and the multitude of sensors and hardware that is coming on stream that can work with this.

  • Have you identified any further improvements to the energy systems within the current Active Building demonstrators, from the energy performance data?

Obviously the last 18 months has been far from normal for most commercial buildings, our included, however we have been making changes to the heating systems to improve efficiency. This includes looking at varying the thermal store temperature depending on the anticipated heating requirements. This enables more efficient use of the solar thermal generation, lower losses from the store while maintaining the response of the heating system if there is a cold snap. It’s very much a ‘work in progress’ but it appears to be working well. The true test will be when there are people back in the building to provide, you know, constructive feedback!

  • How will you share your experience and learning with the wider construction industry?

We are documenting a lot of the work we are doing and the findings – either through case studies or via the Active Buildings toolkit or publications. However, we are also engaged with a variety of design teams working on current projects where we can work through the toolkit approach and get feedback and provide input to these projects directly.

The Active Building Centre also have a number of projects that we are involved with where we have provided input to monitoring specifications and data capture requirements in order to evidence and make use of the data to achieve the goals set out by the Transforming construction Challenge.

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