H Climate

Preventing energy waste in buildings: How insulation and IoT tech are weathering extreme climate events

Nov. 21, 2022
The key is keeping energy within the building.

By Andre Marino, senior vice president, digital buildings at Schneider Electric 

This summer, we witnessed extended periods of heat across the northern hemisphere. A massive heat wave brought sweltering temperatures to Europe, with the UK recording its highest temperature to date. The extreme heat drove a surge in demand for energy to cool and dehumidify buildings, putting a significant strain on the power grid at the same time. While these extreme climate events are not yet our norm, they are actively putting buildings to the test.   

 According to the US Department of Energy, heat dispersing from buildings to the urban environment increases by 20% during a heat wave, and most of this heat is produced by air conditioning. To prepare for events like heat waves and freezes, building and facility managers must prioritize building resiliency; 30% of energy used in buildings is wasted. With sustainable features, such as building insulation, along with IoT and smart technologies, buildings can be enabled to monitor, regulate and implement energy management, in both old and new buildings.  

As these extreme climate events will only continue, facility managers are tasked with taking the necessary actions to prevent buildings from further contributing to energy waste.  

 Keeping energy within the building  

 The Biden Administration recently invoked the Defense Production Act, calling on the insulation industry to increase production to reduce energy waste in buildings. Insulation has long been used to reduce energy consumption, keeping heat in on cold days and preventing cool air from escaping during the height of summer warmth. Properly insulated buildings reduce energy consumption, thereby reducing the demand for fossil fuels to produce power, which helps reduce strain on the power grid during times of extreme weather.   

 While renewable energy is also a tool in reducing strain on power grids, limits to these benefits do exist. California serves as a great example—in May the state produced enough renewable energy to meet 103% of consumer demand, but still needed fossil-fuel-generated energy for 10% of energy needs when the sun set. Insulation can reduce daytime energy needs and close this energy gap, potentially resolving energy discrepancies in just 24 hours.   

Looking to smart technologies   

 Beyond insulation, technology within buildings can make a significant impact on preventing energy waste. Facility managers may utilize a building management system (BMS) to monitor sensors and meters throughout buildings. In fact, the more meters a building has, the greater the opportunity to provide invaluable insights and find potential savings. Sensors have the ability to monitor everything from CO2, volatile organic compounds (VOC), humidity, temperature, noise, and light levels, each of which have an impact on not only human performance but also the amount of energy used throughout the lifecycle of the building.   

It is through these technologies and resulting data that managers can prioritize the areas with the most need and make adjustments, if necessary—even simply tracking equipment issues and allowing for preventative maintenance—all resulting in the ability to optimize the building energy. These insights fuel facility managers’ ability to identify trends and opportunities to reduce energy use and limit unscheduled maintenance, ultimately extending the life of assets.  

Turning energy waste into savings  

 According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, heating and cooling accounts for about 43% of all energy use in the US, only emphasizing the need for buildings to better manage their environments. Keeping energy within the building through insulation and utilizing IoT sensors to identify potential issues or opportunities for adjustments can ensure the sustained performance of buildings, whether they were built six months ago or 60 years ago.  

Access to these tools is more important than ever, as we continue to experience changes to our climate conditions. Facility managers will continue to be tasked with identifying the tools necessary to ensure energy waste is minimized.