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Managing costs with smart energy

Andre Alleyne

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Smart energy: it is one of the buzzwords in the lexicon of the business world today. What is it and do we need any of it?
Well, the term smart energy does not refer to some new type of energy but rather to how we manage and utilize energy. The term is used predominantly in the context of electrical energy since this is what powers the vast majority of business and commerce in the modern world.
There is also some association of the term with the actual source of the energy, from such sources as wind or solar.
However, the primary connotation is that the energy is used in an intelligent manner. That is, no more than is necessary; that it is used only when needed and that both use and timing can be managed to affect the conservation of energy.
The concept of smart energy is finding favour in several areas as a model for managing energy costs.
One area is in the operation of office buildings. Studies estimate that as much as 40 per cent of worldwide electrical energy consumption can be attributed to buildings.
Commercial office-type buildings account for much of this figure. Building systems such as information technology hardware and networks, access control and security systems, escalators and elevators and lighting all require electrical energy.
In addition, buildings’ heating or cooling requirements can also have a significant electrical demand.
A smart energy approach to building management seeks to optimize the use of energy in all relevant areas in the building.
For example, escalators in older buildings often run continuously whether or not people use them. In a smart building development, escalators may be controlled by motion or proximity sensors, which start the escalator on people’s presence. Similarly, other building systems can be controlled using on-demand technologies.
In the tropics, the need to air-condition office buildings is a fact of life and this aspect of running buildings in our region requires considerable amounts of energy. Nevertheless, the design of air-conditioning systems for office buildings has long focused on occupant comfort as the main design criteria.
There is also a need to optimize the air-conditioning of buildings. For example, a building at 7 or 8 a.m., depending on its location, the time of year and some other factors, may not need to be cooled to the typical 22 degrees Celsius. The ability to manage the profile of the buildings’ cooling system can provide savings perhaps for several hours each day, several months a year.
We must therefore ask, how much energy will this conserve and how much energy cost will this save? As we build more and larger commercial buildings in Barbados, I believe that optimizing their energy consumption should be a requirement of the planning approval process.
Much of the enabling technology behind the smart energy concept is computer-based systems that are data-driven.
In the example of the office building, for instance, these systems would know via software whether it was January or July in Barbados and from access control systems, just how many people were in the building, and hence determine the appropriate and optimal cooling profile from both occupant and energy perspectives.
The term smart energy is thus simply a new take on the old objectives of optimization, efficiency and conservation.
Nevertheless, it is well worth looking at where and how we can cultivate this concept in our society for better use and management of energy.