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OVERVIEW | Next generation buildings: IoT and smart energy efficiency

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In general terms, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the allocation of unique identifiers (such as IP addresses) to physical objects. Those identifiers enable objects to connect to a network allowing the transfer of data to and from those entities. These objects can potentially be anything: people, animals, vehicles, plants, appliances, building components, etc., and they are often described as smart objects, for example, a smart meter, a smart phone, a smart home, etc.

 

Connected IoT devices (or smart objects) can participate in a new kind of digital ecosystem, in which they can be managed intelligently to save energy within a building or even within a city. For instance, within an electricity grid, connected devices can be controlled to match the variable loads generated by renewables. IoT devices can be integrated within all forms of devices that consume energy, such as lamps, switches, televisions, or power outlets. IoT devices can be used for communicating with utility supply companies to effectively balance energy usage and power generation. Users are also able to remotely control IoT devices and to centrally manage them with the help of a cloud-based interface.

 

In addition, and in order to facilitate stakeholder engagement and the exchange of best practices, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has embarked on a cross-agency initiative (Modernising Energy Efficiency through Digitalisation) to explore the potential impacts of digitalisation on energy efficiency and the implications for policy makers. Within this initiative a series of webinars tackling digitalisation and energy efficiency have been organised, among which one is devoted to the role for connected devices in intelligent energy efficiency.

 

IoT Policy

The IoT market is ready to grow exponentially due to the increasing use of IoT in a number of sectors. However, it still lacks a common set of technologies and standards for ease of use and compatibility. This is addressed in the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy, which is aimed at opening up digital opportunities for people and businesses and enhance Europe's position as a world leader in the digital economy. Here a great deal of attention has been given to IoT considering its capacity to create smart environments. Therefore, the European Commission is actively cooperating with industry, organisations and academic institutions in order to trigger the potential of IoT technology across EU Member States and beyond. A set of supporting policy actions have been adopted by the European Commission to accelerate the take-up of IoT in Europe for the benefit of European citizens and businesses. As such, the European Commission is working closely towards:

 

  • The establishment of a competitive European IoT market and the creation of new business models, through the Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation, which is the largest European IoT Association.
  • The adoption of the Digital Single Market Strategy, to foster interoperability (which is defined as the capability of various systems to share data) for IoT to reach its potential. In this context, the European Commission is promoting an interoperable IoT numbering space for a universal object identification that transcends geographical limits, and by doing so, avoiding obstacles linked to the capacity to handle a large diversity of and very large volumes of connected devices. (To read more about this see the 2016 review of the EU's telecoms rules)
  • The publication of the working document Advancing the Internet of Things in Europe which specifies the European Union's IoT vision, which is based on three pillars: (1) a thriving IoT ecosystem, (2) a human-centred IoT approach, and (3) a single market for IoT.
  • The creation of the initiative European data economy, which proposes policy and legal solutions concerning the free flow of data across national borders in the EU, and liability issues in complex IoT environments. On this subject the European Commission published a staff working document on liability for emerging digital technologies to provide a first mapping of liability challenges that occur in the context of emerging digital technologies, including IoT.

Importantly, the IoT European Large-Scale Pilots Programme includes a consortia collaborating to foster the deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions in Europe through the integration of advanced IoT technologies across the value chain, as well as the demonstration of multiple IoT applications at scale and as close as possible to operational conditions.

 

Smart buildings

Digitalisation provides people with increased possibilities to conceive, design, implement, monitor and assess a wide range of human activities. IoT represents another step as it opens the way to new services that are more user-centric and more focused on improving the user environment, with the ability to interact with more and more elements of this environment in an ever-simpler way. The potential of IoT in buildings lies in the improvement of the building user experience and in the optimisation of the building operation in the case of complex buildings. From an energy point of view, IoT has a significant potential to accelerate the transition from a centralised energy system to a decentralised network, where buildings are both producers and consumers and can even decide when they act as one or the other.

 

In the field of buildings, the Internet of Things (IoT) has first materialised through controls, e.g. sensors for room temperature sensing, electrical power measuring, and actuators for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). Their use has become standard, and involves a wide range of stakeholders, including designers, integrators, operators, and users [1].

 

In complex buildings, some of those controls can be automated, e.g. via programmable logic controllers (PLC) to execute building automation. Optimising building controls can increase comfort in the building and save energy, either automatically or by providing feedback on building occupant behaviour. IoT plays an important role in saving energy as energy in buildings becomes more complex, for example when a building has a significant energy consumption due to electric vehicles, electricity generation capacity through photovoltaic panels on the roof, heating capacity through a heat pump, or storage capacity through a hot water tank or batteries.  IoT contributes significantly to improve the combined efficiency of complex buildings by optimising them.

 

IoT focuses on Things, allowing better operation of appliances, including the remote control, energy use metering, diagnosing, performance monitoring, etc. When buildings are connected to the energy grid and ready to interact with it, building appliances can be used to balance the grid, which is in need for more balancing due to the influx of variable renewable electricity. Such balancing is called demand response.

 

Smart buildings policy

As part of the Clean Energy package, intended to create the conditions for the European Union to take the lead of a clean energy transition, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive was revised to include a Smart Readiness Indicator (SRI) for buildings.

 

The SRI will allow for the smart readiness of buildings to be assessed and displayed, i.e. their capability to optimise their energy performance in reaction to signals from the grid or based on the needs of the occupants. Similar to Energy Performance Certificates, the SRI will raise awareness on the value behind building automation and electronic monitoring of technical building systems and should give confidence to occupants about the actual savings of those new enhanced functionalities. 

 

Member States are encouraged to use of the scheme for rating the smart readiness of buildings. To guide the implementation of the SRI, the Commission is developing a definition and calculation methodology as well as the technical modalities to implement assessments in buildings, all planned for publication in 2020.

 

EU support to smart buildings using IoT

IoT in buildings can optimise energy management, e.g. maximise self-consumption of local energy production from renewables and allow interoperability between devices and systems. TABEDE aims to allow all buildings to integrate energy grid demand response schemes through a low-cost extender for building management systems also able to act as a standalone system, and able to integrate with nearly all systems thanks to its broad interoperability.

 

IoT in buildings can also provide new building services to building occupants, e.g. better information on energy prices and recommendations on how to save on their energy bill. It is worth mentioning the project RESPOND here, which aims to implement a cooperative energy demand management solution so that residential energy users can better match energy supply with demand.

 

IoT in buildings can also enable interaction with the energy grid, e.g. cost savings thanks to demand response and setup of energy communities. It is appropriate to mention the SIM4BLOCKS and DRIMPAC projects here. The SIM4BLOCKS project focuses on the development of innovative demand response services for residential and commercial applications. This project combines decentralised energy management technology at the blocks-of-buildings-scale to enable demand response. The DRIMPAC project is instead focusing on a unified demand response interoperability framework, enabling market participation of active energy consumers. The main objective here is to develop a comprehensive solution to empower consumers to become active participants in the energy market. This way DRIMPAC aims to bridge the gap of communication between the grid/market and buildings.

 

At the same time, it is worth underlining that most of today's IoT systems are mainly focused on sensors, whereas other aspects, such as distributed data analytics, actuation, security by design, and adaptive behaviour will become the key features in the future. Novel interfaces combined with artificial intelligence and flexible self-organising platforms are the most promising areas. In line with this, the European Commission has set up concrete IoT research and innovation objectives in the ongoing Horizon 2020 programme. These projects develop and validate innovative platform technologies and foster technology adoption while simultaneously creating a new vibrant IoT ecosystem.

 

Among these actions, we find the IoT-EPI, which is a European Initiative for IoT platform development. The IoT-European Platforms Initiative (IoT-EPI) was formed to build a vibrant and sustainable IoT-ecosystem in Europe, maximising the opportunities for platform development, interoperability and information sharing. This initiative is addressing the new EU-funded H2020 programs about IoT platform development. At the core of IoT-EPI are the seven research and innovation projects: Inter-IoT, BIG IoT, AGILE, symbIoTe, TagItSmart!, VICINITY and bIoTope. These projects develop innovative platform technologies and foster technology adoption through community and business building.

 

The VICINITY project aims at providing owners of connected IoT infrastructures with decentralised interoperability. The concept of decentralism is expressed by the fact that the platform includes neither central operator roles nor central databases to store sensitive data about users. Instead of that, it connects different smart objects into a social network called a virtual neighbourhood where infrastructure owners keep their shared devices and data under control thanks to a web-based operator console called VICINITY Neighbourhood Manager (VNM).

 

The Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) was initiated by the European Commission in 2015, with the aim to strengthen the dialogue and interaction among Internet of Things (IoT) players in Europe, and to contribute to the creation of a dynamic European IoT ecosystem to speed up the take up of IoT. Other objectives of the Alliance include fostering experimentation, replication, and deployment of IoT and supporting the convergence and interoperability of IoT standards, gathering evidence on market obstacles for IoT deployment, and mapping and bridging global, EU, and member states' IoT innovation activities.

 

Importantly, the introduction of IoT and digital ecosystems raises ethical and human rights implications of Smart Information Systems. The SHERPA project is analysing how big data analytics impact ethics and human rights. In dialogue with stakeholders, the project is developing novel ways to understand and address these challenges to find desirable and sustainable solutions that can benefit both innovators and society.

 

The question as to whether society is ready to manage the risks and benefits of IoT in smart buildings remains open. The IoT Security Foundation addresses the emergence of cyber security in buildings and cities.

 

In conclusion, the pursuit of energy efficiency in buildings and cities is steering the attention towards new digital technologies and IoT to enable greater control, optimisation and analytics that can apply at the building scale as well as at the neighbourhood scale. IoT has the potential to increase energy efficiency through a combination of technologies that perform three essential tasks: (1) gathering data, (2) analysing data, and (3) changing the physical environment based on data analysis. In this context, control devices play a major role in the reduction and control of energy demand from buildings. However, there is still scope for improvement the market of IoT and the European Commission supports initiatives and research projects to consolidate this important part of digitalisation of the built environment.