Author: Hugo Fernandes
After thousands of years of existence and so many achievements, humanity has lately been dealing with the concern of reconquering its natural habitat. We are constantly alerted to the approach of a point of no return, with themes such as sustainability, energy transition and optimization of resources being part of the daily news. It is up to everyone to adopt measures that promote improvements in this sense and technology will certainly be a great ally for this reconquest, with the implementation of systems that help the most diverse organisations to obtain better results for the planet and its inhabitants.
The emission of pollutant gases, principally carbon dioxide (CO2), is undoubtedly the biggest challenge, and is emitted in the production of much of the energy we need: in transport, buildings and industry. It is estimated that in Europe buildings consume around 40% of energy, leading to the emission of 36% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union. In Portugal, this consumption drops slightly to close to 30%, but it is still too high, and there have been numerous calls and incentives for decarbonisation and energy transition with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. These arise not only to emphasise the use of energy from renewable sources, but also for the implementation of technological measures aimed essentially at increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and the decarbonisation of industry, reducing its ecological footprint and thus promoting a more sustainable economy and society.
Centralised Technical Management Systems (BMS) have evolved into the current SACE - Building Automation and Control Systems, with the integration of more and more systems that make up buildings, such as lighting, HVAC and air quality, security, energy, EV charging management, etc.; with the collection and processing of data; and with the implementation of advanced routines aimed at integrated and more efficient operation of the building as a whole, etc.; with the collection and processing of data; and with the implementation of advanced routines aimed at the integrated and more efficient operation of the building as a whole, being essential for obtaining energy certifications such as LEED or BREAM.
In the case of lighting, with the integration of communication protocols (e.g. DALI) that allow the adjustment of various parameters, SACEs can easily react to the presence of users, taking into account the time of day, the influence of daylight and outdoor lighting conditions, automatically adjusting the luminous flux and colour temperature to match the type of indoor lighting to outdoor conditions and the occupation/use of the building, interfering as little as possible with the circadian cycle and aiming for greater user comfort. With regard to air conditioning, today we have several types of buildings that adapt the temperature of the different spaces according to the most diverse variables, such as external weather conditions, presence detection, operating hours, indoor air quality, etc., resulting in the best performance associated with greater occupant comfort, but also in energy savings that are highly valued these days if we take into account the cost of energy.
Taking into account the global pandemic experienced since 2020, those responsible for the design of intelligent buildings are giving increasing importance to solutions aimed at human well-being, with the monitoring of various indicators of the state of the air inside buildings, since it is estimated that the inhabitants of developed countries spend between 80 and 90% of their time indoors, between home, workplace, commercial spaces, services and leisure places. As monitoring air temperature and humidity in these spaces is no longer sufficient, there is now a need to record other parameters such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which essentially affects the level of concentration and the individual's decision-making power; volatile organic compounds (VOC) present in materials that make up a building such as paints, glues, carpets, which can cause headaches, irritation of the respiratory tract and vomiting; and also the concentration of particles PM2. 5 and PM10 particles, which may lodge in the lung cavity over the years and eventually trigger serious respiratory diseases. Awareness of these facts is more than enough to implement air monitoring and control solutions, which in the short-medium term may be mandatory by law in commercial, services, leisure and work areas.
In order to reach carbon neutrality, the building design will tend towards the so-called nZEB (Nearly Zero Energy Building) i.e. intelligent buildings with near zero energy needs, in which the implemented SACE will have to possess the capacity of detailed and real time monitoring of all energy consumption of the building, performing the best energy consumption management. In this context, it is estimated that awareness of the energy expenditure involved in the use of a building will cause small changes in the way we use it, and this alone will allow savings of around 20% of the energy consumed, and is therefore one of the first measures to be adopted in order to increase energy efficiency.
In summary, the constant challenges for the promotion of well-being and the inevitable need for decarbonisation in order to achieve carbon neutrality goals will increasingly involve concern and focus on the health and comfort of building occupants without neglecting their operation, achieving an energy balance that will only be possible with the implementation of intelligent, advanced and integrated systems at the level of SACE, making them evolve with the growing need for their own implementation.