Charging Up The Next Generation Of Smart Buildings

Charging Up The Next Generation Of Smart Buildings

Giuseppe Sgrò, Energy Storage and Emerging Technologies Executive at Eaton, explores the potential for facilities managers to transform buildings into energy hubs by letting EVs plug in on site

The electricity market is changing; it is moving away from a centralised supply when electricity flows from grid to user (usually via a building) towards a bi-directional relationship where power moves both ways.

A couple of forces are driving this change. Firstly, as technology improves, it can optimise the grid to become bi-directional, and therefore use and share power more efficiently, moving us away from the current restrictive model. Secondly, the increase in renewable sources of energy has led to greater variability in power generation (not just power usage) as wind, sun and waves wax and wane day to day.

So with electricity being generated from many more variable sources, and with more applications needing power as the world electrifies, buildings are well positioned to play a crucial middleman role. Facilities managers have an opportunity to think beyond traditional energy management and consider the potential to both reduce energy costs and generate additional revenue through their buildings. This involves a change in mind-set to think of ‘building as a grid’ – building infrastructure connected to the grid but able to generate, store and consume power in a more flexible way.

EVs hold the key

One such technology is electric vehicles (EVs) and the charging and electricity storage infrastructure that supports them.

The UK government’s ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution specifically calls out the importance of shifting to zero emission vehicles. This strategic direction combined with tax and regulatory levers will increase buyer demand – leading to increasing numbers of EVs on the roads.

While drivers will see EVs as a way to get from A to B, those taking a holistic view of the grid need to recognise that EVs are batteries on wheels that endlessly move power around our towns, cities and countryside. Drivers will want to charge their vehicle whenever it is stationary. Key plug-in points are likely to be peoples’ homes, their workplaces as well as public carparks and supermarkets.

Introducing EV charging infrastructure and power storage facilities in your building is an easy way to participate in this more dynamic grid, and also represents a major opportunity for facilities managers to take their energy management to the next level.

Why offer charge points?

Local councils plan to install an average of just 35 on-street electric car chargers each between now and 2025. It’s nowhere near enough. As a result, facilities managers who rethink energy management on a broader scale to include transforming a portion of parking real-estate into a sustainable, smart charging hub could quickly generate a major perk for users, while simultaneously contributing to mobility decarbonisation.

It’s not just about user perks or green credentials though. Buildings have complex power needs; having EVs plug into this environment on a regular basis will allow the buildings to cope better with these demands. By balancing a range of locally generated and stored energy sources – from charging stations to heating and cooling and other appliances – building owners and facilities managers can reduce their energy costs through maximizing self-consumption of onsite renewable sources and reduce peak demand charges.

Investing in behind-the-meter assets such as bi-directional EV charging stations and on site static battery systems will generate returns. Not only will their sites be more attractive to their customers and users, they can also generate new revenue streams by asking people to pay to charge their car, and by offering capacity back to the grid during low-usage times on site.

Buildings have a key role to play in the dynamic energy grid that’s already evolving in the UK. Now is the time for facilities manager to reimagine energy management. Those buildings without ways to share and manage power more flexibly will restrict their future business model, revenue streams and attractiveness to users.

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Charging Up The Next Generation Of Smart Buildings