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How can Smart Building Management Systems help combat the upcoming winter challenges in Europe

Garima Bharadwaj
Garima Bharadwaj

24th October 2022

Introduction

European countries are rushing to get ready for the winter by reducing their gas usage, importing more LNG to fill storage caverns, and restarting idle coal power units. An exceptionally busy period for facility managers begins when the leaves begin to fall from the trees, and the temperature begins to decrease, notifying the winter is almost near. This is the time of year when thermostats, heaters, and windows are constantly being adjusted in offices. These analogue interventions need to give way to digital alternatives in the modern world. In this blog post, we will briefly discuss how Smart Building Management Systems can assist in overcoming the recent winter challenges in Europe.

Winter Challenges in Europe

Europe is currently experiencing an energy crisis accompanied by winter challenges. Energy prices have increased as a result of the unpredictability of natural gas supply due to Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. Also, the fears of winter shortages and freezing homes have increased as the price of natural gas has skyrocketed to as much as $500 a barrel of oil equivalent, ten times the normal average. 

A relevant comparison to the current problem is the supply disruptions that occurred in Europe during the winter of 1973–1974. The fear of energy shortages, a sharp rise in the price of oil globally, and a partial prohibition on oil imports was all present in Europe. Similar to how the shock of the 1970s turned out to be less terrible than anticipated, this winter may not cause the widespread outages, rationing, or collapse that some fear. Even if a disaster is averted, the current situation highlights Europe’s precarious energy security and the need to increase resilience, both against upcoming shocks and the impending threat of climate change.

The current intensity of Europe’s energy crisis is comparable to that of the 1970s. But much like with its predecessor, it’s crucial to resist catastrophe predictions. Without a doubt, costs are extremely exorbitant. Despite the situation in the UK, blackouts and severe heating or energy shortages can be avoided by making judicious consumption reductions, and Ireland appears more solemn than the rest of the continent. The biggest economy on the continent, Germany, has used almost 80% of its natural gas reserves. Germany’s inventory situation is solid in comparison to 2021. High regional costs will make Europe an exceptionally attractive market for liquified natural gas exporters, even if European governments will likely impose price ceilings to limit harm to consumers.

On that note, authorities and policymakers in Europe are preparing for a winter of unrest brought on by skyrocketing energy bills and high inflation as a result of the pandemic’s effects and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A winter of unrest is anticipated across Europe as a result of rising inflation and spiraling energy prices, and some governments may even find themselves fighting for survival. The tardy response from the European Commission, which is not directly answerable to the electorate, and national governments under public pressure to address growing energy bills, are in “cognitive dissonance,” according to an EU country’s energy advisor.

Why do European Countries Face Winter Challenges?

In general, 40% of Europe’s natural gas supply came from Russia before the start of the Ukrainian conflict. As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU pledged to cut its imports of Russian gas by two-thirds this year, and its leaders made a principled agreement to halt 90% of all oil imports from Russia by the end of 2022. Given that each European nation depends to a different extent on Russia’s energy exports, the logistics and viability of such a move are challenging. There is a division among the EU’s member states as some favour an absolute ban while others are opposed. 

As European nations work on weaning themselves from Russian energy, alternative energy alternatives include increasing coal use or LNG (liquified natural gas) imports. Both approaches fall short of filling the gap completely. For instance, there are not enough operable coal power plants in Germany, and it will take years to establish the infrastructure for LNG. Given its extensive nuclear capacity and power surpluses, France may offer an obvious solution in the form of energy imports. Although this would be the best option, France’s nuclear reactors are now running at less than 50% of their potential, producing the least amount of energy, adjusted for the season, since 2008. Due to maintenance, the reactors are now down but could be back up in a few months. 

The majority of the solutions needed to emancipate Europe from Russian gas and oil involve building sustainable energy infrastructure and building LNG plants, both of which will require years to implement with the help of desperately needed money. The use of LNG as a remedy presents insurmountable difficulties for other landlocked European nations. What does all of this mean, then? While some nations can transition away from Russian fossil fuels more quickly than others, most EU members will have difficulty making this transition in the near future. This winter, either Europe or Russia may cut off energy. Stability solutions must be found, but there are no simple or straightforward answers, so Europe may experience a long, frigid winter, which is why numerous energy conservation initiatives are currently in place.

Smart Building Management System: How it helps in Energy Conservation?

Energy efficiency is a key concern when it comes to building or facility management. Beyond the need to protect the environment, businesses face rising costs due to inefficient energy use. Additionally, regulations from France and other countries place increasing restrictions on how much energy businesses can use. The commercial real estate industry creates ways to make our buildings intelligent in order to address these issues. Energy consumption may be better managed in smart buildings, which also enhances occupant comfort and lessens financial strain.

In order to monitor environmental data and occupant energy consumption patterns to optimize building operation and energy performance, smart building technology integrates effective and automatic controls and systems that use intelligent energy devices, interconnected sensors, and data analytics software. Smart controls and technologies are gaining importance not just in research and development (R&D) but also in the industrial and commercial sectors, which is causing a continuous increase in their use in the building industry.

A sophisticated microprocessor-based controller network called a building management system (BMS), also known as smart building technology is installed to monitor and operate a building’s technical services and systems, such as air conditioning, lighting, warming, and video surveillance. The management of industrial activities requires these services. Hence, the administration of industrial infrastructures and a building’s mechanical and electrical systems is improved by BMS and centralized building management systems. With operational and cost efficiencies as its primary objective, the BMS system effectively regulates the use of energy, boiler operation, lighting, the fire alarm system, and plumbing water levels, among other things.

How will building management systems handle the difficulties this winter in Europe?

Building owners, developers, and facilities managers traditionally have concentrated on management in terms of comfort and ease. No matter how warm the temperature or weather may be in between, it is customary for businesses to turn on their heating at the beginning of October and turn it off in April. Although it could appear like a practical method of managing buildings, it isn’t the most effective. According to reports, 265,000 buildings that house workplaces are responsible for 42% of London’s emissions, and businesses spend a combined £4 billion a year on gas and electricity. As a result, 49% of the energy used in non-domestic stock is for space heating. Following at a combined 11% are lighting, cooling, and humidification.

This winter, there are a number of challenges that facilities managers must deal with. In order to promote occupant comfort, improve indoor air quality, and reach energy efficiency goals, the hybrid working paradigm necessitates special care. In the event that there is an upsurge in COVID-19 instances over the winter, the UK government has recommended that working from home might be utilized as a safety net. Although such changes are unavoidable, management and facility managers nevertheless have a duty to keep offices as secure as they can, especially in light of the fact that workers are feeling the effects of work-from-home weariness and need creative cooperation in teams, ideally in person. In response, building management systems and video analytics can help to maintain compliance with social distance and mask rules, improve indoor air quality depending on building occupancy, and address this issue.

To combat the peak winter crisis, facility managers are optimizing the Building Management System (BMS) with a focus on enhanced indoor air quality and energy efficiency while providing an atmosphere that fosters occupant productivity, keeping these ever-changing aspects in mind. The system will offer an updated feature that delivers better synchronization between the operation of the various systems within the building if facilities managers choose to opt for it. This will collect information from occupancy sensors, light detectors, temperature, ventilation, filtration, pressure, and humidity sensors, enabling the system to ultimately decide intelligently based on information and guidelines established by you, the facility managers. For instance, a standard procedure would be to enable heating rather than leave it on continuously if building temperatures fall under 18 degrees Celsius for 50% of the day.

BMS in Action

An effective BMS might significantly alter how energy is utilized and consumed in buildings. Many popular companies in the world experienced a 41% annual energy reduction as a result of effective BMS deployment. Through the program’s monitoring and reporting of air quality, temperature, and energy use, they were able to examine all facility metrics. This made it possible for BMS to be continuously optimized, thereby lowering its energy expenses. The key performance indicators (KPIs) emphasized as part of the BMS programme have made it simpler for facility managers to take additional action as necessary.

Facilities managers are working hard to prepare for another difficult season now that winter has arrived in Europe. They will have to balance the requirement to develop healthier buildings with the environmental impact of additional heating and ventilation, in addition to dealing with unpredictable weather. This winter, occupant comfort and safety are more crucial than ever. Facilities managers may better balance these aspects and increase indoor air quality while increasing energy efficiency with the use of an efficient BMS. In order to enable in-person working after 18 months of home-based employment, facilities managers are essential. By fostering a healthy work atmosphere, they make it possible for employees to cooperate and communicate face-to-face, allowing for the resurgence of more innovative and effective techniques.

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Conclusion

Ultimately, because of their wide range of control capabilities, including those to automate lighting, HVAC adjustment, and access control, among others, BMS are predicted to become increasingly popular in Europe, especially during the winter crisis. It is important to note that veteran companies have entered the energy management industry to offer affordable solutions for small- and medium-sized buildings, including IT, lighting, and smart home firms. In the contemporary business world, we're already heading toward complete automation, where lighting and HVAC systems would automatically turn on or off and change based on users' behaviour patterns or needs. AI and occupancy sensors will be essential as buildings "learn" on their own using collected data. Last but not least, consumer-friendly interfaces are popular because they make it easier for building operators to engage with the BMS and get insights. And when BMS gets more developed, suppliers may differentiate themselves in this way.


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