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Retrofitting existing buildings offers significant opportunities to reduce global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Two-thirds of the existing buildings will still be standing in 2050, and since buildings account for up to 70% of a city’s carbon emissions, the opportunity to retrofit existing infrastructure is enormous.

The 2015 Paris Climate Accords aim to reduce global warming and boost resilience to climate change. Investors, employers, and employees are increasingly adopting environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) initiatives as critical evaluation criteria. According to IEA reports, buildings account for approximately 55% of global electricity demand and contribute up to one-third of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But looking on the brighter side, the Building Sector also has the greatest potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to other major carbon-emitting sectors. The Copenhagen international agreement gives decision-makers the opportunity to incorporate direct and indirect emissions from buildings into a global climate change strategy.

Organizations should start thinking about smart building technology today in order to deliver on the climate commitments, as well as to address other social and economic issues including evolving working practices and the continual demand for cost reduction. Smart building technology enables more efficient use of resources such as electricity, water, gas, and so on, thereby contributing to a more sustainable future.

A greenfield building has every opportunity to be a green one since it’s being created from the ground up. But when it comes to brownfield buildings, is retrofitting them into smart & green buildings with modern technologies worth it? Let’s explore.

What is retrofitting with respect to building infrastructure?

The process of adding new features or technologies to older buildings is known as retrofitting. Retrofitting existing commercial buildings often involves making changes to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy demand.

Why retrofit existing buildings?

Buildings are capital intensive and have a long lifespan; therefore, constructing a new one solely to meet sustainability goals is not a viable option. It may cause more harm than good because the expensive equipment already used is still years, if not decades, away from being outdated. Furthermore, while constructing new smart or green buildings can reduce GHG emissions and energy consumption, it will not have the desired impact. This is because a building’s carbon footprint grows year after year, and existing buildings are a major source of energy consumption and emissions. Hence, it’s better to retrofit the existing building with new technology.

Majority of GHG emissions caused by buildings are due to their various energy needs such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), water heating, lighting, etc. Hence, it’s critical to retrofit existing commercial buildings with smart controls to combat energy inefficiency. Governments and research organizations have identified retrofitting existing buildings as an important step to reduce GHG emissions and mitigate global warming. Therefore, retrofitting existing infrastructure with smart IoT technologies appears to be the obvious choice given its modularity, scalability, and short payback period. It’s easy, inexpensive, and does not necessitate significant changes to existing legacy equipment.

How IoT can help in retrofitting existing buildings.

Smart building technology is now one of the central features of all new buildings. However, most of the existing buildings were not designed with this technology in mind. While new equipment is increasingly being built with sensors and natively connected to the IoT, it’s far more practical for organizations to add sensors by retrofitting existing equipment rather than completely replacing the infrastructure. Almost any piece of equipment can be retrofitted with IoT technology to provide the same benefits as natively IoT-ready equipment at a fraction of the cost.

When it comes to making an old infrastructure smart, the main challenge is compatibility between existing legacy equipment and new technologies. But when it comes to IoT technology, every necessary piece of building equipment can be inter-connected irrespective of the equipment manufacturer and even their technological era. Smart IoT sensors, energy meters, actuators, etc. are retrofitted with existing equipment for data collection & controlling the equipment.

For instance, retrofitting an HVAC system with energy meters, IO cards, ambient environment sensors, etc. enables modulation of variable frequency drives (VFD) & chilled water valves, and scheduling & duty cycling of the AHUs on the low side. On the high side, it allows for chiller & secondary pump modulation based on leaving water temperature (LWT) and pressure sensors, respectively. Here, IoT enables smart monitoring along with automation of the HVAC system, eliminating unnecessary HVAC runtime to save energy while maintaining the optimum ambient environment for the occupants. Such HVAC control intervention results in up to 10% energy savings on annual electricity costs. Similarly, IoT technology can also be integrated with other building assets and equipment such as lighting, refrigeration, grid, UPS, and so on.

These integrations, when bundled together, form an IoT powered energy & asset management solution. Such a solution truly makes a building smart by remotely monitoring and controlling entire building systems via sensors, actuators, advanced communication protocols, AI/ML-based cloud computing, Web dashboards, and other IoT technologies. These smart building solutions can help in improving building’s asset performance while lowering operating costs and overall environmental impact.

Advantages of retrofitting via IoT: Turning buildings into green ones

1. Energy Efficiency

IoT-based smart building systems give the ability to understand not only where, when, and how energy is consumed in the building, but also where, when, and how energy is wasted, such as when equipment is operating when it is not needed or is not performing optimally due to subpar maintenance, inefficient settings, or a low power factor. IoT also makes smart automation possible. Without the need for human interaction, the system collects data from sensors and transmits control instructions to building equipment including lights, HVAC systems, specific machines, etc. And because of such smart monitoring & control, energy usage and costs are significantly reduced.

2. Indirect Carbon Emission Reduction

Better energy efficiency results in reduced energy consumption. Energy, which is produced by combusting fossil fuels, resulting in massive carbon emissions and the depletion of natural resources. Hence by optimizing energy consumption, wastage is eliminated and thus carbon emissions are indirectly reduced.

3. Remote Asset Management & Centralized Visibility

IoT technology is wireless and cloud-based, which means that data is collected wirelessly and processed in the cloud. Such processed data is then presented as actionable insights to building owners, facility managers, and maintenance teams on their laptops & smartphones via a web-based dashboard. And now, the building can be monitored and controlled remotely & is not constrained to a BMS room.

4. Occupant Comfort & Well Being

Indoor environmental factors such as air quality, temperature, humidity, lighting, and other factors all contribute to occupant comfort and well-being. An IoT based Building Management System can handle this entirely on its own. HVAC and lighting systems can be scheduled and automated to meet the needs of individual areas throughout the property. This ensures that occupant comfort is maintained at all times.

5. Enhanced Property & Asset ROI

IoT enables proactive asset and equipment maintenance, reducing the likelihood of complete failure in the first place. This type of IoT application is known as predictive maintenance.  It is based on parameters that track the actual condition of assets and equipment. It’s a very effective technique because it leads to a higher return on equipment investment and overall cost savings for the business.

According to the World Green Building Trends, Smart Market Reports, green buildings are 14% less costly to operate than traditional buildings and increase the asset value of buildings by more than 9%. And IoT plays a significant role in turning a building into a smart & green one. Let us help you in meeting your sustainability goals by retrofitting your building via IoT powered energy & asset management solution. Talk to our experts.

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