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Traditional techniques such as adding insulation or window caulk can make buildings more energy efficient, but those strategies go only so far in reducing energy bills. Smart building systems linked to the smart grid offer a more comprehensive way to reduce consumption.

One company that has invested heavily in smart buildings is Schneider Electric, a 174-year-old French conglomerate that makes software and hardware for energy-efficient buildings. To test its own products, the company built a new headquarters campus near La Défense, the Parisian business district. Known as “Le Hive,” the collection of interconnected buildings is a test bed for advanced sensor, measurement, analysis, and control technologies that promise to reduce the electricity bill for Schneider while proving to potential customers how powerful the technologies are.

Le Hive opened at the end of 2008, and it now holds more than 1,700 employees. There are no special energy-efficiency tricks embedded in the design of the building—it is typical of most new construction in Europe. The company wanted to use building systems to reduce energy consumption and not depend on expensive construction techniques that most building owners couldn’t afford.

Schneider’s goals for its headquarters were straightforward. The average electricity consumption of an office building in Paris is 400 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year. The European Union has directed that all buildings reduce consumption to 50 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year by 2030. Le Hive was meant to demonstrate that the path toward that goal can be quick and relatively painless. The company has reduced its headquarters’ energy consumption from more than 300 kilowatt-hours per square meter to 65.

The Schneider system, dubbed EcoStruxure, started by collecting and analyzing data on the building’s energy consumption patterns. Then a series of software and hardware components were installed, all of which can be controlled from a single interface such as a laptop or smart phone. In other words, the heating system, the air-conditioning system, the lighting management system, the security system, the fire control system, the surveillance system, the IT system, and the ventilation system (all of which used to be discrete systems with separate controls and dedicated technicians and managers) are all integrated into a single comprehensive building management system with a single point of control.

Next, RFID cards were distributed to every employee. Each card alerts a sensor system to where the employee is and adjusts the lighting and HVAC systems accordingly. A worker leaves his office for lunch, for instance, and the lights and air-conditioner in that office turn off immediately. He returns and the comfort settings he has requested kick right in. Other sensors turn the artificial lighting up or down in accordance with the available sunlight. Similarly, an automated window shading system adjusts itself in calibration with the cooling, heating, and lighting needs. If the blinds are open and sunlight is streaming in, then the lighting system dims by just the right amount to maintain a consistent environment.

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Credit: Schneider Electric

Tagged: Business, energy, Business Impact, Corporate Energy Strategy, smart buildings

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