Smartness of buildings: a key enabler towards a climate-neutral EU
The European Green Deal, is a decisive step towards the ambitious target of achieving Europe’s climate neutrality by 2050.
From this perspective, European buildings constitute a key enabler because 40% of Europe’s energy consumption comes from buildings, and they generate 36% of GHG emissions in the EU.
With almost 75% of the building stock estimated to be energy inefficient, the building sector represents a tremendous potential for energy savings that still needs to be unlocked.
To that end, buildings need to transform from passive isolated elements to energy-efficient, while responding to the needs of occupants.
The 2018 revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is the central legislation related to reducing the energy consumption of buildings.
This promotes the use of ICT and smart technology in buildings to streamline the existing directions, including a zero-emission building stock target by 2050, the rollout of e-mobility infrastructure, the mobilisation of public and private financing for renovation activities, and the deployment of a Smart Readiness Indicator (SRI).
The Smart Readiness Indicator aims to evaluate the capability of buildings or building units to adapt their operation to the needs of occupants, while optimizing energy efficiency and overall performance, and to adapt their operation according to signals from the electricity grid.
The SRI will be a means to raise awareness and confidence in the benefits of automation and monitoring in buildings.
The implementation pathways to roll out the SRI are currently investigated through a study led by VITO that defines the smartness of a buildings as:.
‘[…] the ability of a building or its systems to sense, interpret, communicate and actively respond in an efficient manner to changing conditions in relation the operation of technical building systems or the external environment (including energy grids) and to demands from building occupants.’
Stijn Verbeke, principal investigator in the first study and coordinator of the consortium of the second technical support study commissioned by EC DG ENER, provides a very interesting interview in this topic in the last BUILD UP Expert Interview that can be found here.
The importance of smartness of buildings is well demonstrated by the number of EU funded projects currently tackling the last technical barriers to the deployment of smart buildings and developing additional solutions to push further the smart readiness of buildings and their interactions with the environment.
Some of these projects are presented below and they address various topics such as the optimization of energy consumption and (renewable) generation, the provision of flexibility services to the power network, improved wellbeing and new services to occupants, as well as new business opportunities and models.
However, the market uptake and wide-scale roll-out of these solutions are slow due to some impending challenges that remain to be addressed, such as the awareness-raising and acceptance level of building occupants, the interoperability issues between devices or systems, the optimization rules and priorities for building operation, or the issues related to the participation of buildings into energy markets.
Most of these challenges are common to smart building projects and would be most efficiently addressed by breaking silos, sharing information and bridging the gaps between innovation, markets and policy.
Some practical initiatives are therefore required to better connect the community of innovators in the smart building value chain, foster the exchange of experience, address some issues of common interest collectively, and formalize the outputs of such collective thinking into concrete proposals towards policymakers.
European Smart Buildings Innovation Community
One of the last projects launched in the topic is the H2020 SmartBuilt4EU project launched in October 2020. It aims to provide answers to previously identified gaps as well as to provide solutions for the current situation of the Smart Buildings sector in Europe.
The main objective of this project is to consolidate and support the Smart Building Innovation Community (SBIC), to allow the smart buildings technologies to reach their full potential and to remove the last barriers that slow down the improvement of the energy performance of buildings.
To consolidate the SBIC, a mapping of the key actors will be performed by identifying innovation leaders and replicators who can leverage innovations, share good practices, and identify issues that will have to be addressed collectively by the community.
EU-funded projects and their consortia are a key target of this mapping exercise. This will also cover other initiatives and actors to bring together stakeholders from the vast and fragmented ecosystem, and foster interactions at all levels.
Up-to-date information on the community will be consolidated and made available through a web portal.
This web portal will be opened in March 2021 (www.Smartbuilt4EU.eu) and will integrate and build on existing web resources (BUILD-UP, ECTP project database, Innovation Radar platform) allowing stakeholders to retrieve and share information, collaborate on topics of interest, gain from each other’s experience, build collectively on successful innovations and best practices, and address cross-cutting issues.
SmartBuilt4EU will build on the developments and findings provided by the SRI technical study, to define an approach to support the adoption and uptake of the SRI across Europe, which will allow the highlighting of the potential and to define the business case for Smart Buildings.
In particular, SmartBuilt4EU will work on developing:
- a list of co-benefit indicators associated to smart buildings, coupling with SRI and leveraging its value, and the related evaluation methodologies.
- a set of solution packages for smart buildings with a performance assessment in terms of SRI and co-benefits in different EU contexts for representative buildings.
- training material and workshops on the SRI and its practical testing, also targeting key policymakers towards the implementation at national and local levels.
The development of a Research, Innovation and Policy roadmap will support the European Commission and the Member States in gaining a better understanding of the status of the smart building innovation community needs.
The key priorities for EU support to research, innovation, and market uptake in the field of smart buildings will be identified and tailored to the perspective of potential applicants and target markets.
The Strategic Research & Innovation Agenda (SRIA) for smart buildings will specify how the identified R&I priorities can be implemented and fostered within a European research & innovation framework.
This is to give a view on where to put efforts in the EU research and innovation agenda, notably Horizon Europe and other EU initiatives.
The main outcomes of the SmartBuilt4EU project will broadly result from co-working activities, involving all the members of the SBIC that would like to share their expertise and bring their vision.
Within this framework, silo-breaking workflows will be set up and enabled to constitute working groups that will identify common topics of interest requiring further collective work and leading to the setup of resulting Task Forces.
Thanks to the organisation of several workshops, each Task Force will produce White Papers consolidating the collective work and findings, that will feed the Research, Innovation and Policy roadmap for smart buildings: we strongly recommend the reader to register to the SBIC and also notify their interest in participating to the Task Forces by filling this online form here.
Subjects of the 4 Task Forces identified (each one being subdivided into 3 focus topics)
SmartBuilt4EU has already identified an important number of European projects to be included in the SBIC and which beneficiaries should play a role in SmartBuilt4EU’s co-working activities.
The list is numerous, hence among the current projects we describe the following four:
The SMARTER TOGETHER project’s overarching vision is to find the right balance between smart technologies and organizational/governance dimensions in order to deliver smart and inclusive solutions and to improve citizen’s quality of life.
It is a joint project that aims to improve citizen’s quality of life and transforming cities.
The project is focusing on finding the right balance between ICT technologies, citizen engagement and institutional governance to deliver smart and inclusive solutions.
Among its results, the SMARTER TOGETHER project contributed to accelerate significantly the implementation of solutions related to eco-refurbishment and renewable energy systems in the Lyon-Confluence area: out of 70,000 m2 of eco-refurbished buildings.
Almost 50,000 m2 are done within SMARTER TOGETHER; the total photovoltaic production of the neighbourhood is doubled thanks to SMARTER TOGETHER (from an existing 1 MWp to more than 2 MWp).
A new district heating system has been deployed to supply heat to buildings connected with a number of smart substations beyond the initial objective (21 smart substations compared to 10 planned); and data sharing agreements connect all these low-energy projects to the Lyon Métropole data platform.
It is the first time that so many energy data providers agree to share with Lyon Métropole such dynamic data that will be used for a detailed monitoring of the actual energy performance of the Lyon-Confluence area.
The TABEDE project aims to allow all buildings to integrate energy grid demand response schemes through a low-cost extender for building management systems (BMS) or as a standalone system, which is independent of communication standards and integrates innovative flexibility algorithms.
The name of this solution is the BMS-E which stands for Building Management Systems-Extender.
To fully realize the European Demand Response (DR) potential, buildings must enter DR schemes and describe all available flexibilities, including heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) and thermal inertia, to the DR aggregator.
The TABEDE system was installed by Cardiff University in a pilot case located in Cardiff, UK. Tŷ Smart is a recently-built prototype smart house, representative of contemporary new houses built in the UK.
Two people occupy the house, which enables realistic representation and investigation of user behaviour and interaction in demand response.
Preliminary results on this pilot, show confidence in increasing the consumption of self-produced energy and reducing the consumption of energy purchased from the network.
In fact, the system determines the ideal time to use household appliances and adjust heating systems on the basis of electricity price signals and the availability of renewable energy supplies.
The recently started PHOENIX project aims at changing the role of buildings from unorganised energy consumers to active agents orchestrating and optimising their energy consumption, production and storage, with the goal of increasing energy performance, maximising occupants’ benefit, and facilitating grid operation.
Theis aim is to investigate a new line of technology that will enable the exploration of difficult-to-access environments exploiting a risky, highly-novel approach called Phoenix.
Phoenix will explore inaccessible environments with physical agents that are extremely limited in size and resources, and can operate without direct control over software and hardware.
Phoenix is a radically new, high risk/high reward project. It also holds the promise to shed light on emergent properties of self-organization, local adaptation and division of labour in autonomous systems.
The objective of the Phoenix is to develop a method to explore unknown and inaccessible environments.
This involves three issues: development of a co-evolutionary framework; design of versatile agent technology and; techniques to formalize different kinds of expert knowledge, even uncertain knowledge to influence the design of agents and the evolutionary algorithm which influences their evolution and “rebirth” in the Phoenix system.
Achieving these objectives will soon shed light on emergent properties of self-organization, local adaptation and division of labour in autonomous systems.
Finally, the domOS project will take a closer look at the smart building sector by researching two branches.
The first is the technology and secure connection of smart devices and smart appliances so that building owners can enforce privacy rules.
The second branch addresses the development of smart services that increase the efficiency of space heating.
For instance, the project will study how buildings can become active nodes of an electricity grid or district heating grid.
The project's proposals will be tested on five demonstration sites.
To their approach, improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings can and should be achieved through deep renovation.
Smart technologies can increase the efficiency and the flexibility of buildings in a shorter term and with much less investments.
The smart building sector is addressed through two axes: in the first axis, technology, guidelines for an open, secure, multi-service Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem for smart buildings are defined: in-building gateways, which connect to local smart devices and smart appliance of any type, IoT platforms and applications operated by different parties can be integrated seamlessly.
The second axis deals with the development of smart services, which increase energy efficiency of space heating (heat pumps, district heating, gas boilers) thanks to innovative control algorithms, making use of smart sensors and smart heating appliances.
Withthis approach the project soon expects that buildings become active nodes of an electricity grid or a District Heating grid.
In order to improve the smartness of the EU building stock, it is key is to bridge the gaps between innovation, markets and policy by sharing information and knowledge developed by EU-funded projects, connecting the involved stakeholders and highlighting the benefits that can be achieved with smart technologies.
This will promote innovation within the EU, attracting more companies, SMEs and start-ups to take part to the energy transition and will ultimately facilitate the digital transformation of the energy and construction sector in Europe.