Giving owners the keys to sustainability

Whatever your opinion of climate change, no one can deny that the weather is becoming more extreme and our built environment must adapt to manage the energy performance of buildings. This is where proptech comes in. Many software tools have been launched with the aim of helping property managers and tenants address energy efficiency and meet sustainable building goals.

You may roll your eyes at being sold yet another technological product, but probably already have a smart meter, solar panel perhaps or even a timer. These products are fairly standard now, but proptech is becoming more sophisticated as innovators seek new ways to encourage us to live more sustainably.

Smart buildings require both human connectivity and tech to analyse the performance of a building

However, are these products enough to minimise the environmental impact of poorly performing buildings and where does our responsibility as consumers lie in the midst of all this technology?

One such technology currently taking off is property manager software, which is central to improving the energy performance of buildings. A pioneer is Scotland-based arbnco that has a database platform which analyses, tracks and benchmarks building energy consumption data to enable organisations to identify energy savings and to aid retro-fitting.

Its dataset determines building type and usage, occupancy rates and equipment to provide an evaluation of energy consumption. So will technology such as this make the role of the property manager obsolete? Dr Mahnameh Taheri, manager of energy products at arbnco, thinks not. Instead, she believes that the technology will instead empower property managers to make sustainably informed decisions.

Creating sustainable buildings for the future

“Our internet of things solutions eliminate the need for manual collection and analysis of the building data, saving building managers time and makes building management simpler and significantly greener,” she says. “Arbn insight [smart monitoring tool] is designed to be used over a period of time as part of a continuous improvement process for managing energy consumption.”

The company’s technology examines data analysis of energy consumption and makes comparisons. After gathering the data, the platform uses machine-learning to predict future energy consumption based on predicted climates and the building’s location. This is useful when it comes to improving the building’s energy performance.

Dr Taheri says: “Comparing your building with its peers, you could see that, for instance, your heating-related energy consumption is within an acceptable range for your building usage type and size, in your climate zone, but your lighting energy consumption exceeds the standard. Then the platform provides you with a list of lighting recommendation options that you should consider.” These comparisons are made on a weekly, monthly and annual basis, and puts climate-aware occupiers in the picture when it comes to achieving sustainability.

Measuring the environmental impact of buildings

German proptech company Sensorberg is also weighing in on the energy performance of buildings, but focused on the consumer side of the market. It has implemented its technology in a residential project in Berlin, which deploys a digital infrastructure system for the benefit of 110 inhabitants and is designed to manage energy efficiency for homes.

Residents use their integrated system to control lighting, underfloor heating or blinds. It can also detect if a window is open and can regulate the heating accordingly. The system tracks energy consumption and, via a smartphone, monitors electricity, water and heating consumption, which can be specifically regulated.

Karoline Pantera, marketing manager at Sensorberg, says: “If the sensor data shows an increase in CO2 level, our platform could give a steering command to the air circulation system to blow more fresh air in.”

In the basements, the Berlin residents also have access to digitally rentable storage areas. They can use their app to book extra services, such as the use of communal washing machines and dryers. This suggests humans will still need to be consulted for any sharing element of a scheme and people remain at the heart of future sustainability goals. Concern that proptech will encourage consumers to avoid their responsibilities as climate-aware individuals may be valid, but the emerging theme is one of collaboration.

A collaborative approach

The environmental impact of buildings is now incorporated in global political and economic decision-making. So will proptech products, which promise to improve energy efficiency become compulsory if, at any time in the future, a government here or abroad decides households will be fined for excessive consumption of energy in the way that some companies are? Sharon Darcy, director at Sustainability First, says that the idea is “complex and much will depend on carbon taxes”.

But if regulation is up for debate, will the energy efficiency of buildings in 30 to 40 years’ time be dependent on proptech to deliver eco-friendly homes? And will humans and proptech innovators need to continue to work together to improve the energy performance of buildings?

Freddie Pritchard-Smith, chief executive of We Are Savvy, a London-based, landlord-focused firm that gathers data to analyse heat maps, among other innovations, says: “We believe that a smart building requires both human connectivity and technology to successfully analyse the performance of a building. While the data we capture is important, it is also key to engage within the community, within that building, and discover first-hand how it is being used and if or how this can be improved.”

Proptech may be a vital tool in the battle against global warming, but to win the war humans must occupy the frontline.