Big Data and building renovation: out of sight, out of mind
If we use Big Data for almost everything, why not use it for energy efficiency? Right now, we have no real idea of what is going on in Europe´s building stock. Information is key to change things, also in energy efficiency in buildings.
Can we use Big Data to improve energy inefficiency?
We are in the era of Big Data. Everything can be measured, and those measurements collected and used in a variety of ways, especially for improvement. Put simply, these measurements, this data, allow us to change what doesn't work or make it more efficient. We have data on vehicles and their emissions, statistics on soccer players for the transfer market, information on diseases that guides treatment... In other words, we have data on almost everything. So, what about buildings and energy efficiency? How can we improve that?
It’s a Europe-wide issue. Understanding the current energy issues of the entire continent is essential to tackling them. With data, we can attack on all fronts: analyse consumption, generate national proposals for improvement and, above all, track the evolution and solution of those factors that are inefficient. In addition, builders, architects and all actors in the sector could be aware of the current state of European housing in order to collaborate in the environmental rehabilitation plans of their respective countries. What is more, although support from homeowners and residents is essential, it is more important to engage with the industry as a key player capable of influencing significant change for the better.
The change has begun. The collation of a few different databases has started, regarding buildings and housing developments that are already energy-efficient, such as the Exceed project. Databases such as these allow calculation of the energy consumption of the new energy-efficient technologies being applied. We also have the European Union Observatory which provides tools for monitoring the energy performance of buildings throughout Europe. What’s more, it also evaluates improvements implemented with a goal of energy efficiency and measures the impact they have had on actual energy consumption. However, this is not, by any means sufficient.
The means are available, the technology too. Internet usage is expected to generate 1.7MB of information per second in 2020, this should help in collating information on the state of buildings and their energy efficiency (or lack of). We must be strict and demanding with the different governments. After all, change cannot be left to multiple promotional campaigns or awareness programs that cost millions of euros and yet do not impact the habits of end users. We need a REAL change that can impact the habits of citizens. Data can help analysing the barriers for improvement.
Private companies are already aware of the need for data to evaluate the situation. We just need governments and central EU support in the form of mandatory policies for change. However, a penalty without consequences is not a penalty. It is simply a warning. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the European Union to insist so its member states provide the information to undertake the necessary reforms in the next 10 years.
A coordinated approach like this in Europe would also generate a multitude of essential jobs in the sector, requiring the collaboration of qualified professionals - architects, builders, manufacturers - who can help renovate the housing stock. Remember, the energy consumption of buildings represents almost 40% of European energy needs.
Many European buildings now have the tools to quantify and measure energy consumption (smart meters, or management systems such as BMS, among others). Hopefully if we are able to get realistic data, and through analysis, identify changes and improvements, European Union can achieve its energy efficiency objectives across all member states. In the end, data can be leveraged to optimize energy consumption, besides encouraging innovation by generating new services, and finally creating new employment and a redistribution of resources for the common good.
So, in the future, how will we know if continental and national policies are giving results? It is very easy: data, data and more data.
Let us take advantage of the possibilities that technology offers. Let's get to work to end energy in-efficiency, which is less about how much energy we have, but mostly about how it is managed and monitored.
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