At the upcoming CIBSE Building Performance Conference and Exhibition, we’re going to be focussing heavily on the future of the industry – particularly the ways that new technology can be brought to bear on performance in the built environment; to find easier, smarter and cheaper ways to make buildings perform to their potential in a variety of different ways.
This week, we’re speaking to two industry experts: Mat Colmer, Built Environment Specialist at the Digital Catapult Centre, and Nick Winser CBE, Chairman of the Energy Systems Catapult, who are giving is their views on technology in the built environment: What’s hot, what’s not and where the biggest changes are going to come.
What are the innovations in technology that will make the biggest impact to the performance of buildings in the next 15 years?
N W: I’m not sure there’s going to be a stand-out technology innovation, and fifteen years is actually not that long to make a big impact. A new home energy gateway that learns about the thermal performance of our buildings and the requirements of the occupants could provide a platform for all sorts of innovative energy services, with the potential to start a transformation in consumer and market engagement.
M C: Wireless sensor networks and IoT will have a big impact in the near term. Having reliable hyper-local networks that are off-the-shelf and interoperable will bring down the costs of monitoring our buildings, particularly monitoring the efficiency of services, and allow for products that encourage user feedback. This will allow us to gather far more information on what happens with buildings in-use.
What are the innovations in buildings that will make the biggest environmental impact in the next 15 years?
M C: Advances in curtailing energy use through intelligent metering and management, demand response and the wider use of DC power transmission will have a significant impact. Increased use of DC power additionally makes the prospect of decentralised power generation more attractive and can increase energy security.
N W: Energy efficiency itself isn’t a great driver of consumer action – for most people, spending money just to save kilowatt hours is not that attractive, and it’s unlikely to compete with other household demands. So whilst we must improve the effectiveness of efficiency measures, and reduce the cost, this needs to be coupled with imaginative new business models that refurbish living spaces, provide greater comfort, and as part of this deliver the required efficiency improvements.
If you could only recommend one change in process or method to improve building performance, what would it be?
N W: I think there’s a real need for focus, not just on the requirements of individual buildings, but for whole areas of our cities, towns and communities. Someone, and maybe it’s the local authority, should have the responsibility and design tools to develop local energy strategies that take account of house types, geography, supply networks and the availability of energy resources like waste heat. Growing consensus like this will be a massively important step to help individual occupants make the right future-proof decisions and find suppliers to deliver them.
M C: Make time to learn from the experience of others. Too often the same mistakes are made purely because time and budget constraints discourage creativity and encourage the familiar.
What is the most exciting potential collaboration opportunity in building services over the next 15 years?
M C: Advances in virtual reality and augmented reality technology will enable visual and interactive collaboration across sectors. Many problems in construction projects originate from poor communication. VR and AR technology allows partners to use shared spaces to explain and revise designs. Consequently misunderstandings and errors are less likely to occur.
N W: I think there’s a great opportunity for energy to be much more than a utility purchase. I’m sure we will see retail players who have trusted brands, using their reputations to develop new products that include home refurbishment with energy efficiency built in, and maybe other organisations that can bring a ‘lean’ process mindset to help advance the retrofitting of the nation’s buildings.