August 2019

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We Need Carbon Neutral Buildings Where it Matters

 – The Retrofit Market

James McHale

James McHale,
Managing Director,

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Buildings are arguably the biggest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 40% of total energy consumption and 39% of all carbon dioxide emissions. While energy efficiency and smart building movements have reduced building energy consumption per square foot in recent years, the 3% annual increase in the sheer number of square feet more than off-sets the efficiency gains. The answer is relatively simple – more smart buildings.

Complete smart building solutions originally based their offering on reducing energy consumption. Cost-savings from energy efficiency provided the base return-on-investment, while health, productivity, maintenance, and so on, provided the added value. When smart building adoption did not match expectation, and the strategy changed. Today, energy-savings are still important but have fallen into the shadows somewhat as those human-centric value-added services took the spotlight.

The evolution of technology helped facilitate that shift, and while it is difficult to compare success, it still appears that smart building adoption is falling below the adoption expectations of many across the sector. To solve the smart building adoption puzzle, it could be wise to look at the smartest, most environmentally-friendly buildings, and the tenants they attract.

The Edge in Amsterdam is widely recognized as an intelligent building, and it produces more energy than it consumes via efficiency measures and solar power generation. British rating agency and global building standard, BREEAM, gave the building 98.4%, the highest ¬sustainability score ever awarded. It is home to major firms, including Deloitte, AKD, Henkel, Sandvik and Edelman.

“The Edge building in Amsterdam is a shining example of how technology innovations not only make for a smart building but also advance sustainability in real estate at the same time,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president, ULI Greenprint Center for Building Performance.

“Achieving a carbon-neutral status requires creative and inventive technical, and design strategies, to both increase energy efficiency to reduce the buildings overall energy usage, while offsetting the remaining usage with renewable energy.”

Completed at the end of 2014, The Edge was designed by PLP Architecture, but the technology behind the building was lead by OVG real estate, who also worked on the world’s first energy-neutral office building “Las Palmas” in Rotterdam in 2007. Last year, OVG rebranded as ‘Edge Technologies’ as those who defined their focus as “wellbeing, sustainability, design and technology” in buildings. The EDGE Olympic building, completed this year, houses company’s new Amsterdam offices and was the first building to be awarded the updated WELL V2 Platinum rating.

Retrofit Market

All EDGE buildings have sensors and lights integrated into pre-fabricated, modular smart ceiling panels that can provide granular information on air quality, temperature, noise levels, occupancy, among other things, through the EDGE cloud platform. Based on Microsoft Azure’s IoT and Digital Twins technology, the platform integrates several APIs into one platform, offering data about the building various systems and spaces, as well as a variety of performance and efficiency metrics.

When EDGE gets involved in a new building project, detailed and specific system guidelines are given to the architect and contractors long before the blueprints are even drawn. This reduces construction time, cost, compliance delays, and the chance of problems occurring. Speaking at ULI Europe’s Real Estate Forum in Copenhagen last month, Erik Ubels, chief technology officer at EDGE Technologies said, “this is not rocket science; this is just getting your act together.”

contemporary The vast majority of building stock, however, is dumb and already exists. An elite building every year or two to house some of the biggest companies in the world is not making any significant impact on carbon emissions or the speed of climate change. While it would be great if every new building was smart, any solution to quickly reducing carbon emissions must include technology that can be retrofitted into older buildings. If all buildings can become carbon neutral, then buildings can go from villain to hero in the environmental story.

A number of smart retrofit solutions have emerged for a variety of systems and applications including energy efficiency, but few that aspire to the energy standards of EDGE, until now. During his presentation, Ubels gave new information about EDGE’s retrofitted smart building technology. The firm is adding its platform and services to 20 existing buildings with the goal of making them “at least energy neutral.”

“We can now get any existing building in the world up to 85% to 90% of what we can do with a new building,” Ubels said. “The most important thing is to install upgradable sensors because they often have to be replaced and the hardware and software are improving,” he continued.

EDGE Technologies works at the “top” end of the spectrum, without the volume of buildings to reduce carbon emissions by much, but they can still change the world. Firms like these raise the bar and demonstrate what is possible with the latest design and technological approaches. Having set the standard for new smart buildings to aspire to, EDGE’s move into the retrofit market could bring the same encouragement to solutions serving the vast majority of the world’s buildings where every saved percentage of energy consumption really means something.


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