Whereas most look at what can be done to the outside of a building to make it more energy efficient, the EU-funded OrbEET project decided to focus on what happens inside.
Forty percent of the EU’s total energy consumption occurs through buildings. This in turn accounts for 36 percent of the EU’s total carbon emissions – of which at least 70 percent can be attributed to occupant behaviour and the everyday business activities happening inside a building. Thus, to truly understand how a building consumes energy and be able to accurately identify where potential savings can be made, one needs to go inside.
“As occupant behaviour is a significant determinant of building energy use, changing this behaviour can have a big impact on reducing a building’s energy needs and consumption,” says OrbEET Project Leader Dery Torres. “This is what the OrbEET project set out to achieve.”
A new approach
Traditional modelling frameworks tend to focus on the static factors of building design, such as building covers, facades and, to some extent, appliances. Treating the occupants inside as passive heat generators, these frameworks ignore the impact that human behaviour has on a building’s energy performance.
Seeing this shortcoming, Torres and his team of researchers decided to take a different approach. The result was the establishment of a holistic framework that analyses how, where, when and why energy is used and how this behaviour impacts the building’s performance.
“The OrbEET framework looks at business processes, facility characteristics and occupant behaviour and treats occupants as the main catalyst for sustainable operations,” explains Torres. “As a result, energy efficiency is achieved through progressive improvement of organisational efficiency, while energy performance is optimally balanced with business performance and occupant preferences.”
The OrbEET system installs sensors throughout a building – from computer workstations to radiators and copy rooms – that continuously monitor energy use and environmental conditions. The collected data is then analysed and correlated as feedback. “With this information, occupants not only become aware of how energy is used, but also of their own role in saving energy,” says Torres.
One of the project’s key outcomes was the establishment of a systemic enterprise occupational rating framework. This framework provides real-time building monitoring and continuous measuring of the impact that different activities have on a building’s energy performance. “Most importantly, the framework provides timely, relevant and personalised feedback to the building’s occupants,” adds Torres.
To support the process of positive behavioural change, this information is made available in various formats – including a fun, interactive game for smartphones. “By exploring energy data through gamified features and activities, feedback is presented in an engaging way for the users, further incentivising them to change their behaviour,” says Torres. Users can also access the information via an intranet portal and in-office display.
To test and validate the project, four pilot buildings were chosen from across Europe. At the Imperial Palace in Innsbruck, Austria, for example, researchers focused on the building’s museum and events area, along with general office space. After a 12-month demonstration, the building saw a significant energy savings of nearly 19 percent – most of which came from a reduction in heating and lighting consumption. Because of this success, the system is now being rolled-out at 110 historic buildings around Innsbruck.