What does it take to turn an entire office building carbon neutral? We spoke with Damien Dhellemmes, Singapore Country President of Schneider Electric on how they transformed a 25-year old industrial building into their state-of-the-art headquarters, monitored by 3,000 networked smart sensors and housing more than 1,400 employees in comfort while reducing carbon emissions by 1,650 tonnes per annum.
“You can be more efficient while making your environment more comfortable and safer.”
- Damien Dhellemmes, Singapore Country President of Schneider Electric
There’s been a lot of changes to building infrastructure in the last few years, but Singaporeans still seem to have a very micro view of IoT as being part of their smart home, for Schneider Electric your view is on a macro view of an entire building – can you speak about that?
When you think about a city you, it’s made out of billions (of dollars), whether infrastructure or airport, water network, commercial buildings, residential buildings, etc. What we’ve seen in buildings in general, when it comes to IoT, is really the opening of new ways to make buildings more efficient, more sustainable but also more comfortable.
With Schneider Electric’s new Singapore headquarters building, what was the intention of renovating an existing 25-year old building as opposed to constructing a brand new building to your exact requirements?
We wanted to show that you can take an existing industrial building, one that’s 25 years old, and with our technology and products remake it into one of the most energy efficient and sustainable buildings in Singapore. So nowadays thanks to technology you can give existing buildings a second life, and not only that but make it into a role-model when it comes to energy efficiency and sustainability.
Were there any issues from the Building Control Authority (BCA) with converting this building?
One of the great advantages of Singapore is the close links between government agencies with the enterprise and business world. With our new headquarters, we worked very closely with the BCA and we were the first office building to qualify for a BCA Green Mark Platinum Award at the end of 2017.
This building is actually connected to the BCA portal, so whatever energy we consume every day and our energy data is all visible and transparent to the people in the BCA.
You mentioned energy sustainability at comfort levels.
The right comfort level to be efficient is around 23 to 24 degrees Celsius. Take the room we are in right now for this interview. As you conduct this interview with me we are creating more heat than if the room was empty. Our smart sensors detect this rise in temperature and will increase the air conditioner airflow and lower the temperature. If there’s less people in the room, it reduces the airflow while increasing air temperature. Switching an air conditioner on and off is actually not sustainable, as without the air conditioner running the room temperature might be 28 degrees Celsius or more, which will make it very uncomfortable for the first people to come and require more energy to bring the temperature down to a comfortable level.
When you look at the comfort level in a building environment it is not just about temperature, there’s also the lightning level, the air quality (whether there are particles polluting the air or high CO2 levels). The sound level – is your office environment noisy or quiet? We track all this and for example lighting – during daytime for the desk located next to a window we might automatically adjust the interior lighting level and blinds depending on the natural light our sensors are detecting. On the other hand, during the evening the lights will start to brighten in the darker areas of the office so it remains comfortable wherever you sit. With sound levels we can also track the noise level in some areas over time and adjust to that.
What are your sustainability goals for your new headquarters?
By the middle of next year this building will be carbon neutral in a sustainable and economical way. Our first step is to reduce energy consumption and become as efficient as possible. Next for the energy we consume we will purchase it from renewable sources – with the liberalisation of Singapore’s energy market there are now more electricity providers who use sustainable methods of electrical generation such as solar power.
Most Singaporeans live in apartments and high-rise buildings. Your systems seem to be quite suitable for this application, is there any move towards that?
Yes you’re quite right. Now to be frank when it comes to smart building systems, we see such investments first in commercial buildings, then the bigger real-estate developers, MNCs and their own offices, but we are also seeing more traction and interest for smart home environments. If you think about HDB housing there’s been a lot of discussion at to what does a smart HDB mean and definitely in the long run there will be opportunities in this field of applications as well.
Would your smart building system generate accurate data for predictive maintenance and is there any AI involved?
Another concept with smart technology is to help you move from a preventive maintenance schedule to a predictive maintenance. For example, in preventive maintenance mode I might spend an hour a day checking to see if all the lights of my building are working, while in predictive maintenance model, which is based, for example, on how many hours I use a specific equipment, I will know when maintenance is needed, and all the areas in your building where you have irregular traffic, where you have different levels of occupation would be taken into account.
The way the AI algorithm is generated is via gathering data points, which can be graphed to curves. Where the AI comes in is that it compares your graph to thousands of similar buildings and installations worldwide so that we will know in advance where the curve is headed. That’s how we know how what an average office building consumes in electricity over a year and that aids us in improving our own efficiency.
Do you have any smart home devices yourself?
Yes, for my own home, I actually have a small Schneider Electric device called a PowerTag which is a wireless energy sensor that monitors energy consumption in real time. You can put it on your own circuit breaker and it will start to help you monitor your power consumption and alert you when something is wrong. A common example is your fish pond or aquarium – if the pump goes down what’s going to happen to your tropical fish? Or your fridge. If your fridge stops working and you’re not around your food will spoil. So this small device will allow you to monitor your critical loads at home as well as monitor your overall energy consumption.