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Developing a ‘Stand-By Mode’ for Buildings in the COVID-Era

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Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

As COVID-19 cases rose and lockdown measures came into effect around the world, commercial building occupancy dropped dramatically, from 100% to almost zero in the space of a week in many places. Many might expect near-zero occupancy to mean near-zero energy consumption, but new data reveals that this is not the case. In fact, many offices, shopping malls, and entertainment complexes are consuming 80% or more of their usual full-occupancy energy levels, highlighting huge cost implications for businesses, building owners, and the environment.


In the UK, energy performance consultants Carbon Intelligence revealed that energy use across a sample of 300 office, hotels, and retail buildings dropped on average by just 16% in the last week of March, when the government mandated that people socially distance, avoid travel, and work from home. Despite the UK’s strict social distancing measures preventing all non-essential staff from entering these buildings, the worst 10% of buildings still used approximately 97% of their typical energy demand.


“Unfortunately the vast majority of buildings are not managed well. That has become really obvious during the lockdown. The average building – despite being empty – is still using over 80% of the energy it consumes when it is full. Which is mad,” Cian Duggan, founder of Carbon Intelligence, said in an interview with i. “If you’re not achieving savings in the region of 50%, then you’re leaving money on the table and you’re contributing unnecessarily to the climate change problem.”


In the US, commercial centers like New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area have seen the greatest declines in overall energy consumption, with the Energy Information Administration forecasting a potential 4.7% annual decline in 2020. The organization’s Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) this August predicts carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to decrease by 11.5% (588 million metric tons) in 2020, a record decline due to restrictions on business and travel activity and slowing economic growth related to COVID-19 and its various mitigation efforts.


This is great news for the environment and our efforts to combat climate change but it doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been better with a little more help from our “smart” buildings. According to Hatch Data, which monitors 400 million square feet of commercial real estate for more than 250 clients, office building energy consumption fell steadily through March and into April, but it did not fall off a cliff. “It was a bit surprising, looking at the data, that these reductions weren’t larger,” Ben Mendelson, the firm’s CCO and co-founder, said in an interview last week, “at least at first glance.”


Read the full news here.