The commercial property sector has slacked on sustainability, but smart monitoring offers cost savings which could change that
For everyone except Donald Trump – who seems to have buried his head under a rock for the past 50 years – climate change is now an irrefutable fact. Its main anthropogenic (man-made) cause has been identified as rising carbon emissions in our atmosphere, largely generated through burning fossil fuels to produce electricity. Accordingly, the UK government has committed to the nation achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Commercial real estate is responsible for 11% of UK energy consumption, with offices the most energy-intensive part of this sector. In a private office building, 70% of energy demand comes from the lighting and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) systems. In most commercial buildings HVAC systems run on fixed schedules that do not take account of detailed occupancy information, while lighting does not adjust with ambient daylight and is binary in its operation, either on or off. Furthermore, it only takes a short stroll around any central business district at night to witness the gleaming evidence that individual occupants cannot be trusted to practise energy-conscious behaviour by simply turning off their lights or computers.
Studies suggest that if offices employed occupancy monitoring technologies in their HVAC and lighting systems, they could achieve energy usage reductions of up to 50%. What’s more, this represents a payback period of only a few years on the cost of installing these technologies. With 70% of existing office buildings expected to be still in operation by 2050, this raises the question: why are more commercial real estate assets not using these techniques?