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Behaviour rises up the ranks of efficiency trends

Human nature and behaviour patterns are increasingly coming to the fore in managing energy efficiency for commercial buildings in particular. Now Johnson Controls has released a report showing it’s a rising trend.

Johnson Controls has released a global survey of energy efficiency activities that show that behavioural programs were the most common activity in the past 12 months.

More than 1900 respondents in 20 countries were surveyed, with 59 per cent planning on increasing their investment in energy-efficiency activities.

While the report didn’t cover Australia, results for the US showed that behavioural programs were the most common activity in the past 12 months. 

In Japan, the past 12 months saw behaviour change programs the second most popular activity, and it is the number one activity planned for the immediate future, with 59 per cent of respondents planning to invest in them. Globally, 55 per cent of respondents are planning such investment in the next 12 months.

Chief executive of Buildings Alive, Craig Roussac, told The Fifth Estate that while for many building owners and operators the “obvious thing” to do to improve performance might seem to be changing things in the building such as technology or systems, this is not necessarily the best solution.

Contemplating “what’s possible with what already exists” is perhaps a better starting point.

Something he noticed in one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ’s earlier reports is that while it was noted buildings offer one of the biggest opportunities for emissions reductions, the thinking was all around technology upgrades and equipment upgrades.

“It excluded non-technological factors from the assessment.”

In his own experience working for Investa post-GFC, when budgets were extremely tight, he found addressing the “human factor” in operational energy use as “every bit as significant” as upgrade factors in terms of delivering energy savings.

The whole approach he takes with working to improve a building is about providing building managers with an idea of what is going on and a means of receiving feedback on building operation. This then motivates them to “experiment with cause and effect” and learn from that process.

It is, however, not as clear-cut and simple a business case as solar has become, even though changing how buildings are operated can deliver major wins.

He is cautious about regarding data as a silver bullet, as simply gathering data about building energy use and systems and then presenting it to someone for analysis increases the recipient’s workload – and everyone is already extremely busy.

Data fans may not have thought about the “fundamental shift in approach” that utilisation and analysis of data involves.

He says that “instead of spending more money and adding technology and exposing people to more stuff” he aims to simplify things.

Most buildings have already for meters on energy that take readings at 15 minute intervals so bills can be calculated – so it’s worth exploring whether that existing data stream can be used for other things, Roussac says. For example, utilising data science to create a machine-based understanding of the performance of the building and then evaluating it.

It’s about seeing how the people are doing in terms of building operation, as opposed to what a machine thinks about the performance.

Ultimately, while there is a “whole lot of interest in putting more stuff into buildings”, you need ask, “what is the purpose of the building” and “what is the job of the people running the building”?.

The whole aim is to simplify delivering on the purpose of the building through providing clear, timely, information about performance so the building managers can spend less time dealing with issues, and be more informed of the consequences, including positive ones, of their efforts.

Roussac says that whether it is building performance or occupant behaviour, the key to getting good results is to “follow the path of least resistance” and make the desired action the “easy thing to do”.

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