Article – Energy Saving Simulations Fail To Account For Human Behaviour In Smart Buildings

Energy Saving Simulations Fail To
Account For Human Behaviour In Smart Buildings

By studying a building in
the real world researchers could tie in human behaviour patterns rather
than simply looking at the technology in its ideal circumstances.
James McHale

James McHale,

Managing Director,


recent study suggests that smart buildings do not necessarily reduce
energy consumption. The surprising results calls into question one of
the main selling points of smart technology adoption in buildings,
highlighting human habits as the main obstruction to efficiency.

Previous studies on the topic generally use simulations in order to
assess a buildings energy efficiency, but this study measured data from
a real-world LEED-certified building located in Missouri. The study,
led by Dr. Jianli Pan, Assistant Professor of computer science at the
University of Missouri-St. Louis, strategically chose the building as
representative of a wide variety of smart buildings around the world.

By studying a building in the real world researchers
could tie in human behaviour patterns rather than simply looking at the
technology in its ideal circumstances. The comprehensive study
monitored overall electrical consumption as well as heating and cooling
in relation to environmental data in the building for every hour of
everyday for a whole year. The results might have been surprising and
disappointing for anyone involved in smart buildings.

For example, the study found that there was small or no variation
within the heating and cooling system despite significant environmental
change in Missouri’s four distinct seasons. In addition, the study
found only a 15% difference in consumption when the building was at
full capacity, during office hours, against when it was empty, at
evenings and weekends. Both these key statistics suggest the building
was not reacting to changing conditions, as it should. The building was
not being very smart.

“We strategically chose to track this building in Missouri because it
represents a common smart-building model in a four-season environment”,
said Pan. “And we found that a lot more energy is wasted than people
realise because of the fixed, centralised control of heating and
cooling, which doesn’t mirror actual human comings and goings”.

So, even in a LEED-certified building, empty spaces are being heated or
cooled regardless of occupancy simply because building managers fall
into old habits. If a smart building is dependant on human input then
is it actually smart?

Beyond highlighting the failures of the “smart” building in question,
and how representative it is of all smart buildings, the study also put
forward ideas on how to rectify the issues discovered. In essence, Dr.
Pan and his team suggested a fully automated energy control system
thereby minimising the impact of human behaviour and maximising energy

CatNet Systems

Their suggested solution is an IoT framework made up of five design
components; location service application for smartphone, distributed
monitoring and control, multisource energy-saving policies and
strategies, modelling on location patterns and cloud storage computing.
Integrating these five elements through the framework would allow
buildings to streamline consumption based on actual usage, without the
need for and limitations of human intervention.

“This framework essentially enables users to control and implement
their own energy policies in real time, allowing their energy
consumption to be proportional to their actual usage”, Pan said.

Through the framework, energy saving depends heavily on the number of
electric appliances that can be controlled independently, as well as
the type of building it is applied to. The more appliances that can be
controlled independently the higher the potential energy savings. The
study showed that residential buildings, with more independently
controlled appliances, could reduce energy consumption by 60%, while
the more centralised nature of commercial buildings led to slightly
less reduction at 55%.

The framework does depend on building occupants enabling a
location-based application on their smartphone, but most smartphone
users already accept such functions on social media and mapping
applications. The current study has only been conducted using one
person across two buildings, looking forward the researchers would like
to test the framework with many users across multiple buildings

“It is now an accepted fact the Internet of Things in Buildings (BIoT)
will eventually form the structure of making buildings fully automated
and optimised without the need for human intervention”, explains our
recent report on Building Performance Software, which will no doubt
play a leading role in assessing and maintaining the success of such

“To do this all of the data from these software packages will need to
be transferred to IoT Data Services. This will be both a threat and
opportunity and require the software suppliers to re-evaluate and adapt
their business models”, continues our report.

Overall, the study has highlighted that fact that it is not enough to
install smart technologies, then sit back and assume your building is
reducing energy consumption smartly. Simulations can only go so far in
telling us how much energy can be saved by new technologies, as long as
there is a human factor real world studies are essential to optimise
systems to account for less-than-ideal human energy saving behaviour.


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