Comment: MEP as sustainability champion of built environment

Software-led MEP design, engineering and maintenance that harnesses IoT & ML-based technologies, can help MEP professionals ensure user comfort, energy efficiency, and sustainability in buildings.

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Prabhu Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Facilio Inc.
Prabhu Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Facilio Inc.

The role of MEP in building sustainability

With the spiralling demand for more urban properties comes an increasing burden on our natural resources. As buildings get taller and cities bigger, the increase in energy and water usage is all too apparent. Where should the buildings focus lie to contribute to conservation efforts effectively? Indeed, in the construction phase. But even more crucial are sustainability efforts in the post construction building management stage, with the onus on MEP sector. MEP professionals manage the day-to-day operations of our inhabited structures, so that they can maintain our buildings in a smarter and eco-friendly manner, resulting in reduced wastage, timely conservation and more exceptional comfort for the end-user

Sustainability, a concept that has been gathering significant momentum in diverse fields, has now garnered critical attention in the world of construction and building management. This is hardly surprising considering that buildings account for over 40% of the world’s energy usage. Add to this the fact that for the first time in human history over half of the world’s population now lives in urban environments and it is clear that sustainable buildings need to become the vital cornerstones for securing long-term environmental, economic and social viability.

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In the UAE, the call for sustainability in buildings has been even more significant. UAE has been identified as among the highest electricity consumers per capita in the world. As per Emirates Green Building Council, 80% of the UAE’s electricity consumption lies with buildings, which makes the agenda more critical for the UAE’s energy conservation efforts in the built environment.

Sustainability starts at the core of the building's assets

The concept of sustainability starts from the very foundation of the building. Construction houses are increasingly being encouraged to adopt green building methodologies at the time of construction to build a robust and environmentally friendly structure. From the usage of passive heating and cooling, by way of adopting raw materials with ample thermal mass properties which automatically maintain adequate thermal comfort, to shading systems and door seals, engineers are focusing on newer and more innovative ways to a sustainable build environment.

However, the efforts to create a sustainable building do not end with its construction. For energy and water conservation efforts to yield any significant results, sustainability needs to get embedded into the core working of the building.  Conservation is an ongoing activity and is the responsibility of not just the inhabitants of the building but also critically of the MEP professionals who manage the various assets of the structure, be it HVAC which maintains the thermal comfort or the electrical grids which supply power to it or the plumbing components.

The ever-expanding role of MEP in fostering sustainability

Software-led building management can enable the MEP sector to become sustainability champions and reduce a building's carbon footprint.

MEP professionals play an integral role in maintaining the overall health of the building and its impact on the environment. They assist in maintaining the equilibrium between the goals of the construction houses, the inhabitants and the needs of the environment.

Consider an HVAC in a corridor running at 19 degrees Celsius vs the 24 degrees Celsius suggested by the electricity department; apart from being highly uncomfortable for the occupants, the drain on energy and financial resource can be excessive. An error like this could take days for someone to notice and act upon, by which time a significant blow has already been dealt. While traditionalists could argue on the automation and centralisation of HVACs as an enabler to avoid such mistakes, the truth is, keeping track of so many controls across a more extensive portfolio can be a daunting task. Similarly, lighting retrofits and water saving mechanisms could curtail wastage to a certain degree, but insightful information on all the data captured, can help optimise usage.

For a healthy and sustainable building, MEP professionals need to

• Effectively benchmark buildings by monitoring and measuring performance goals on both daily and ongoing basis
• Adjust to evolving occupant needs by modifying the HVAC, lighting, electrical, and other building automation control systems, as needed
• Repair, upgrade and maintain the building and prolong the service life of the materials used
• Prevent disruptive failures in the structure and its systems
• Create an environment that fosters productivity

Strategic requirements like those listed above aren’t easy to manage especially as the real estate portfolio gets bigger and more complex. Add to that, the overlapping dependency of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing components and the traditionally reactionary approach of the present building management systems and we have an ever-widening gap between the building and its environmental sustainability.

Smarter software-led technology equates to smarter conservation

Most MEP professionals usually resort to manual spreadsheet tracking for asset maintenance and rely on legacy systems which are not designed to meet the real-time operational and sustainability expectations needed to make significant progress in energy conservation. Operational inefficiencies resulting from such tracking have shown an increase in energy costs by 30%.

The answer lies in the current automation levels that exist in our buildings, in terms of HVAC systems, fire and security monitoring equipment and plumbing technologies. These are advanced, under-utilised and siloed technological marvels hard at work. The powerhouse of data available within these components can assist in optimising operations and accelerating sustainability efforts once analysed. Building interoperability is a great example of how existing data banks in building systems can power sustainability. Information sharing, across MEP components, to create a real-time, clear and coherent pattern of energy and data usage allows for active trend monitoring and consumption tracking, positioning MEPs in the driving seat to lead sustainability efforts effectively.

This level of interoperability and analysis is now within easy grasp. Software-led building systems enabled with IoT and machine learning technologies are now able to provide this very real-time perspective – be it the health of mechanical assets or showing excessive energy usage/anomalies instantly, or even devising strategies which save on OPEX and improve environmental friendliness. This suite of technology products is bridging the gap by bringing all MEP systems under one tracking umbrella and assisting in the efficient and intelligent management of day to day operations.


Get a jumpstart on energy and water conservation today

Energy conservation cannot be the sole responsibility of any one entity. It is the combined effort of all stakeholders, which will slow the clock on the depletion of our natural resources. While inhabitants can do their bit by conserving and reducing energy usage, it is the MEP industry that can lend an active hand in the conservation efforts by adopting similar practices for the entire built structure.

MEP professionals need not limit their options to mere maintenance or repair of the building structure. They need to widen their horizon to proactively ensure that all systems are working at peak efficiency by using smarter technologies, as well as eventually transcend into value players by offering value-engineering services that improve the sustainability quotient and the sustainability-related ROI of buildings.

About the Author
Prabhu Ramachandran is the founder and CEO of Facilio Inc. Facilio builds a unified suite of facilities and energy management software that harnesses IoT and Machine Learning to manage buildings efficiently and sustainably. Prabhu's career spans over 18 years of product, business and customer experience focussing on enterprise-scale software for IoT-based connected services, sustainable building solutions, and telecom network management. He believes that technology can be leveraged to drive environmentally responsible facilities that create a positive impact in the world.

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