The Anatomy of a Decarbonized Building

In the race towards a carbon neutral society, the buildings in which we live and work have a pivotal role to play. Yet, I’m often asked what a carbon neutral building actually looks like.

So where does an organization start on such a journey? And what technologies are potentially involved?

Achieving Carbon Neutrality

Digital technologies and energy management solutions that sense, monitor, control and optimize the built environment while it interacts with individuals are at the core of decarbonizing buildings. And they play an important role in reducing energy consumption, increasing energy efficiency and the adoption of renewables.

There are five key steps to achieving carbon neutral buildings: –

  1. The first step is to deploy digital solutions and energy management such as monitoring, control and optimization, which is at the core of decarbonizing buildings
  2. Next is to increase energy efficiency by utilizing building management systems and installing new, highly efficient motors and drives for example
  3. Expanding electrification is also important. For example, heat-pumps and having an electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure
  4. The installation of distributed renewable energy solutions should also feature in a low-carbon strategy – from photovoltaic technology and wind turbines, through to battery energy storage systems and thermal energy storage
  5. The final step is to procure renewable energy from the grid and offset any remaining emissions.

The Technology Blueprint

It is important to point out here that achieving carbon neutrality in a new building is easier to achieve ‘by design’ than in older building stock that requires retrofitting. In the absence of a ‘one size fits all’ blueprint, our customers understand that their projects are unique, and feature a combination of existing systems and equipment built over time. This is why open source technology and the interoperability between systems is so important. In order to meet Net Zero building targets, we must be able to retrofit a large percentage of existing buildings. And solutions need to be easy to install, with impact and return on investment clearly defined.

Whilst not all technology blueprints for a smart, carbon neutral site are exactly the same, a typical customer smart building will use interconnected technologies to improve comfort and performance across energy management, water use, air conditioning, access, automation, lighting, remote monitoring, and communication networks.

Thanks to ABB’s solution areas within the ABB Ability Building Ecosystem, for example, building operators and facility managers can have digital control of all these elements, and smart buildings will capture the transformative opportunities to become more environmentally friendly – from substantially contributing towards carbon reduction targets through efficiency gains in heating and cooling equipment and in the building itself.

The ABB digital solutions enable constant surveillance and optimum control of energy production, consumption and storage. Largely autonomous, this learning system calculates the optimum energy flow based on predictive data and compensates for deviations in real time. In a carbon neutral site, these technologies are combined for a holistic approach that can be easily scaled according to the requirements of the building.

The digitalization of buildings through connected technologies and building automation also has a key role to play in helping to manage grid resilience and reliability as well as reducing energy costs and increasing energy efficiency. Moreover, it is an important step towards the energy transition. It enables the building to provide value-adding services towards the modern energy grid and thus supports the shift from “consumer” to “prosumer” – facilitating concepts such as virtual power plants and maximizing the value of distributed energy resources (e.g. photovoltaic, batteries) on a broader scale.

Within that context, our carbon reduction programs strongly leverage the ABB Ability™ Energy and Asset Manager*, for monitoring, optimizing and maintenance prediction using big data and artificial intelligence.

In short, the typical solution scope for a carbon neutral building project includes distributed energy resources – such as on-site photo voltaic technology, EV-chargers, energy storage, motors & drives, power supply & protection – as well as digital solutions for energy management including monitoring, control and multi-purpose optimization. Also, building automation & heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) controls such as digital integration platforms, building automation & control, HVAC control & optimization, space management and wellness & productivity. 

Lessons Learned

The experiences with our early Mission to ZeroTM sites in China, Finland, Germany and The Netherlands taught us many things. Not least, how to leverage products and solution sets from across our entire organization and combine them with third party technology via our partner ecosystem.

These products and solutions include:   

  • Building control and automation through ABB Ability™ Building Ecosystem, incl. HVAC, Lighting, and Shading control and automation via ABB i-bus® KNX and ABB Cylon® BACnet® solutions
  • Metering, Monitoring, and optimization of electrical power and energy flows through the ABB Ability™ Energy and Asset Manager platform 
  • Power distribution with ABB System pro E power or MNS® 3.0 low voltage switchgear including Emax 2 air circuit breakers or NEO Gear low-voltage switchgear solutions 
  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure (EVCI) for fast (DC) and slow (AC) charging applications
  • Highly efficient and smart electrical motors and variable speed drives
  • Battery energy storage systems (BESS) for maximizing photo voltaic self-consumption and peak-shaving
  • Photovoltaic systems for local green energy generation (provided by partners).

Smart Buildings in Action

Perhaps the most powerful way to explain the anatomy of a decarbonized building, is to show you the real-world stories.

We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved in Lüdenscheid, Germany for example. The 7,300 square meters solar power plant delivered approximately 1,190 MWh of climate-neutral solar power in its first year alone. This is enough to meet the annual requirements of 360 private households. Incredibly on sunny days it powers 100 percent of the factory’s power requirements and has reduced annual CO₂ emissions by 744 tonnes.

The solutions are here to power the decarbonization of the built environment. More and more digital technologies are coming together and demonstrating new possibilities in the generation, use and production of energy for work, transportation and domestically. Carbon neutral buildings are already a reality today – among new builds and existing real estate too.

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About the author

Thorsten Mueller

Thorsten received his PhD in physics from University of Duisburg-Essen. He began his professional career at the Bosch Group in the corporate sector research and advance engineering, where he developed inno-vative sensor system for new applications. He then held various management positions within the Bosch Group for around 11 years, including strategy, M&A, R&D and operations. In his last role at Bosch as CEO of Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions he was responsible for strategic connectivity projects for the entire group and successfully implemented new Internet of Things (IoT) business models. This was followed by his position as Group SVP Innovation & Innoventures at Osram, where he led the transformation from a lightbulb towards a high-tech company before he took over the leadership of the global building automation business at ABB in October 2019.
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