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Big Data's Role In Eco-friendly Buildings

The William McIllvaney Academy
11 July 2018

The progress of technology means we can capture a brilliant scope of data to support eco-friendly buildings - by George Adams and Liam Rock of SPIE UK.

The quantity of data at our fingertips gives us the ability to establish more objective performance information for improved decisions. This has thrust the idea of 'big data' to the fore in the built environment space. Leveraging big data and using a variety of measurement and analytical tools can improve building performance. This has had an especially positive impact on several educational facilities, particularly in reducing building energy consumption.

Using databases and data analysis as a foundation, big data has become an innovative means of operating systems more effectively. This goes further than just efficiency – it is about having the ability to see the wider picture of an entire estate of building’s performance. This is achieved by remotely monitoring system performance and leveraging the value that can be generated by linking several data sets together.

When it comes to educational facilities, there is much data that can be gathered, as long as it is structured in a manageable way to gain valuable insights into how the buildings are operating. But it needs experts involved to audit, set technical reviews and apply behavioural change in a collaborative approach to decreasing energy waste, while not affecting the comfort of the occupants of the building.


Performance & maintenance

An effective building performance strategy must involve the assessment of the building capability and its technical systems. This enables the experts to be sure that the building has efficiently met the required performance targets. This goes hand in hand with the training and skills of the onsite maintenance team, which must be of a sufficient level to respond to the experts analysis to operate and maintain the systems.


Control - or lack of it

The challenge with education facilities is that how control systems work is not always easy to understand, as well as how to maximise the use of control parameters, while preserving the comfort conditions for the inhabitants. Furthermore, control system maintenance is a task often sub-contracted under the maintenance contractor’s duty, which results in a lack of ownership. A symptom of this can result in control sensors being out of calibration and even obsolete, as these basics can be unnoticed from the planned preventative maintenance (PPM) scheduling. Consequently, there is a danger of inefficient systems, energy waste and potentially disruption.


Usage behaviour

Educational facilities can be complex from an operational point of view. Supplementary energy consumption can even surge outside of the main school hours, for example during extra-curricular functions, weekends and evenings. The targets for the facilities need to be structured accordingly. A significant part of the big data picture in relation to energy use can be the behaviour of the occupants – specifically when taking into account the occupancy levels, the usage of areas and the management of doors, windows and lights. It is critical to make staff conscious of these features and put into practice an energy communications plan.



As part of the management of energy in schools it is crucial to incorporate engineering and controls expertise into energy and building management systems (BMS) monitoring/management activities. An easy way to improve energy performance is by utilising a remote monitoring and management capability that operates on a number of facilities. 

We can now help site teams at educational facilities to make use of system performance data. Within each controller a comprehensive set of logs can be introduced including boiler flow and return, calorifier and space temperatures. Elements such as valve position and pump activity can also be documented.


Data crunching

Understandably, large volumes of data are generated and for these to be meaningful they must be processed, analysed and acted upon. Data mining tools can process and turn this big data into valuable information. The advantages to the operational capability are unbounded. Issues can be identified rapidly and teams can be sure that they are operating the facilities at a level of efficiency that is well inside their required targets.

By intelligently using data generated by buildings such as educational facilities, we now have the potential to dramatically reduce the level of carbon emissions associated with energy consumption. By integrating between systems, maintenance, energy use and expert diagnoses, performance excellence can be achieved.

Picture: The William McIllvaney Academy where Spie collects big data to reduce energy costs.


Article written by George Adams and Liam Rock, SPIE UK | Published 11 July 2018


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