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May 24, 2017 - Building

"The specifics facing operators and planners remain vague"

The EU continues to promote energy efficiency in buildings – which includes an increase in the importance placed on building automation. Quite correctly, opines Peter Hug, CEO of the Association for Building Automation and spokesperson for the forum on building technology in the VDMA.

The EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is supposed to be updated in 2017. What substantive changes are being discussed?

"It is encouraging that the EU commission has recognized the potential that building automation can contribute to energy efficiency. Whereas in the first drafts, where retrofitting of existing buildings was also recommended, the EU commission has virtually set automation technologies as a replacement for inspections in the currently published version. This is certainly not the last word; however, building automation can deliver large amounts of information regarding error functions and potential optimizations in system technologies via monitoring and analyses. There are, however, vehement arguments against the commission’s draft, with references to a quasi subsidiary principle. This means that individual countries want to set up their own requirements and not let the EU decide. There are many more details under discussion, not just about building automation, which will have to be hammered out between the parliament, the council, and the commission."

The evaluation report about the current EPBD identifies an increase in the quota for renovations and improvements in the quality and efficiency of existing buildings as the greatest challenges for the next decades. Why is this so important.

"The EPBD, like the Energy Saving Ordinance (EnEV) in Germany, which represents the implementation in national law, refers to new construction and complete renovations. This forms, in comparison to the energy consumption in the extant building stock, only a small portion. There are initiatives that hope to double or triple the number of renovations. As of yet, with no success. In my opinion, the requirement for total renovations is the wrong approach. According to this, the windows should be replaced, walls and ceilings insulated, and the system technologies updated, at the same time. At the very least, a renovation schedule should be maintained. However, due to the investments required and the long amortization periods, this leads to a wait-and-see approach by investors. I think we would get farther if investments incurred short payback periods. Investments calculated in longer terms could be financed by those with short term savings. This type of strategy would leverage investment funds. Imagine, you have 500,000 euros and completely renovate an older apartment building, so that you save, for example, 80% of the energy used in this single structure. You would achieve more if you apply the most effective measures in 50 buildings to gain 25% reductions in energy consumption."

The EU commission draft proposes building automation and control systems as alternatives to inspections. Should we assume that changes to the EPBD place a greater priority on building automation solutions?

"Once the larger portion of the building technical systems are controlled by minimum requirements or labels, and the buildings (at least new constructions) are sealed and largely well insulated, then the largest potentials for efficiency are found in control technology and building automation. I think that the politicians have finally recognized this, thanks to the extended information campaign by our sector associations."

How much can automation and control systems contribute to increased efficiency in existing buildings?

"The European Standard EN 15232 provides an excellent example of the connection between building automation and energy efficiency. For example, a fully automated office building can see savings of 30% in heating and 13% in electrical energy in comparison to a reference building with standard equipment."

Does this mean that our building stock can only become sustainable by using automation?

"In every case, building automation, through monitoring functions, provides the information required to control buildings. If I don’t know what it is doing, I cannot control it."

The commission introduced a so-called ‘smartness indicator,’ which is supposed to serve as a measure of how well a building is able to interact with the power grid. Why is the integration of buildings into the electrical grid important?

"The ‘smartness indicator’ hasn’t been defined yet. When it is, it will surely take building automation and ICA technology into consideration. We assume that the ‘smartness indicator’ is not an independent label, but instead a reference to already existing energy certificates."

In Germany, companies currently have the choice to comply with the requirements of the European Energy Efficiency Directive through an energy audit or with an energy management system. However, these audits are often criticized as ineffective. Why?

"Because the audits are not linked to obligatory remedies. The audit merely provides the information about the current status. No one is forced to change anything in the future. I think, that in most cases it can be left to the investors as to how they use their resources."

However, they have apparently done too little. The number of renovations is supposed to be increased again in order to reach climate goals …

"Increasing the renovation rate is a noble goal. The question remains: what do the investors prioritize. In the case of non-residential buildings and professional investors, then the amortization periods for investments in energy efficiency are simply too long in comparison to the alternatives. Three things are required in the private sector: First, many older home owners lack financing, which is a challenge, since they are reducing their liquidity with a long-term payback. Next, the general conditions and the the jungle of subsidiaries in Germany is more suited, in my opinion, to generate a wait-and-see attitude than to promote renovations. Thirdly, the percentage of residents in Germany who own their own home is quite low in comparison to other European countries. This leads to a reduced demand for investments in energy efficiency. In any case, the audits offer indications about potential improvements. Currently, so-called energy efficiency networks are being established across the country. These are groups of business representatives who exchange information about energy efficiency measures (see text box). The VDMA advises three of these networks and is expanding several others. This is where the audit information is discussed and strategies are exchanged. Energy efficiency is ultimately not an end in itself, but also a good means for defining one’s corporate image."

The federal government is planning to renew the energy conservation laws in this legislative session. The Energy Conservation Act (EEG), the Energy Saving Ordinance (EnEV), and the Renewable Energies Heat Act (EEWärmeG) are to be combined. Why is this renewal necessary?

"Treating associated topics in different bodies of law has long been criticized be the VDMA and other associations. Building technology and technologies for renewable energies installed in buildings must be considered in concert. Therefore, we applaud the combination in the draft, which has already eliminated several contradictions. We are quite happy about that."

Which changes are predicted for operators of large properties and for planners?

"In addition to the EPBD and the Ecodesign Directive, we are also carefully examining the EU Energy Efficiency Directive. This was completed in its original version during the European economic crisis of 2009. At that time, it wasn’t possible to force countries to accept binding goals. The new version should allow the member states to set mandatory goals or to follow alternative paths. For Germany, we predict that we will remain on the old path and continue to build on requirements for energy efficiency investments. The efficiency goals were updated and increased by 3 percentage points. The specifics facing operators and planners remain vague. It is certain that the KfW development bank, which subsidizes programs for non-residential buildings, has established interesting incentives that have already advanced investments in building automation (www.kfw.de)."

eu.bac offers a system allowing building efficiency evaluations that span multiple manufacturers and skilled trades. How are the high demands from DIN EN 15232 reflected in the assessment system?

"The “eu.bac System” for evaluating the efficiency of building automation systems is currently being adapted to the new version of the standard. In general, the system translates the automation systems, which are distributed into 4 classes in the standard, into a scale from 0 to 100 points. This is carried out using a point system, which also provides information about potential improvements in the analysis. The “eu.bac System” offers a unique possibility to gain standardized information about building automation systems that are manufacturer neutral. All building operators are advised to have their systems analyzed in order to uncover weak points and find improvements."

What are the legal developments that you see affecting the energy efficiency of the building stock in the next few years?

"Building automation systems are explicitly specified in the current working plan for the Ecodesign Directive. However, this does not mean that there will be long-term regulation for building automation. It is certain, however, that a preliminary study will be written, the results of which should be available relatively soon. These results will be included in the legislative process in one way or another. The challenges are the interconnections of building automation with other trades, and the fact that parts of the instrumentation, control, and automation technologies are already treated in other regulations for heating and ventilation systems. This makes it difficult to define system boundaries."

And technological developments?

"Regarding new technologies, the “Internet of Things (IoT)” is the new buzzword. This trend will certainly lead to new developments in systems and upheavals on the markets. If all products can be reached via IP addresses, this still changes nothing about the expertise that is required on site in order to position the right products at the right locations, and to address them. The second major topic is “Building Information Modeling” or BIM for short. In the future, BIM will continue to develop from more or less pure 3D models through collision mitigation systems to simulation models for building operation. This increases transparency and increases intelligence in buildings to another level. It will be important for building automation manufacturers to develop the right business models for services in the buildings of the future."

Mr. Hug, thank you for the conversation.

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