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Inside Innovation: BIM and BEMS will help buildings meet 2050 climate objectives

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: BIM and BEMS will help buildings meet 2050 climate objectives

Significant advances in technology are allowing the construction and building management industries to each play an important role in reducing global carbon emissions.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is becoming more common throughout the construction industry for the purposes of collaborative planning, design and execution. However, global industry leaders are expanding its possibilities to include carbon reduction.

“The use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) to capture intelligence expands the traditional role of BIM to include modelling energy performance across an asset’s lifecycle to measure and track sustainability targets such as embodied carbon or energy efficiency,” write Rhys Tyler and David Philp of construction giant AECOM in BIM Today. “Achieving net zero carbon across portfolios is a strategic organizational priority for everyone in the built environment as we develop and retrofit assets.”

For example, AECOM has developed an open source tool in conjunction with the University of Leeds in the U.K. to help adopt principles of economy that eliminate waste and reuse resources. The company has also developed a toolkit that uses quantitative take-offs to count carbon inputs early in the design process.

Due to the gains in low-cost computing power over the past decade, reducing carbon before construction even begins is now more achievable than ever, Tyler and Philip say. Environmental Product Declarations and properties can be interconnected into data dictionaries. There they can be assessed for their embodied carbon and other environmental impacts and brought into the BIM environment.

Going forward, Tyler and Philip see the linking of BIM to GIS (Geographic Data Systems) data to provide benefits such as improved local sourcing of materials. Giving local suppliers the opportunity to bid against foreign competitors reduces the carbon associated with plant-to-site delivery.

Similarly, Skanska UK is developing a new carbon and cost estimating tool as part of their BIM processes currently being used in their project management of the United Kingdom’s High Speed 2 rail system (HS2). This replaces manual measurement of 3D drawings.

While carbon reduction needs to be addressed through design and construction, the other challenge is to reduce carbon emissions resulting from building operations. In fact, there is a call for governments everywhere to initiate standards that deal with building performance in terms of energy consumption, carbon emissions, climate resilience and quality of indoor environment.

Most carbon emissions from building operations stem from energy used to maintain thermal comfort and air quality for heating, cooling and ventilation, as well as lighting. This has resulted in advanced Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) that optimize HVAC systems and lighting controls to improve energy efficiency and sustainability in buildings without diminishing the indoor environment for occupants.

Interestingly, outside weather is one of the major factors influencing indoor conditions in both new and existing buildings and the resultant energy use.

“External temperature, wind, humidity, pressure and sunshine all impact thermal conditions, air quality, use of water and amount of natural light in a building,” writes The Meteorological Office, United Kingdom’s national weather service in BIM Today. “There’s a direct relationship between a building’s day-to-day operations, energy needs and the weather conditions.”

Coupled with Model-Predictive Control, BEMS can now foresee changes in the weather before they occur and strategize how a building will react through its heating, cooling, ventilation, water use and lighting. In addition, BEMS can even develop these predictive needs in conjunction with energy grid pricing information. Sophisticated software can also make intelligent decisions regarding when to switch to solar energy and which part of the building to shade with sunshades.

In the short term, BEMS and predictive weather controls can help building operators save money. However, the long term benefits are even more important, says the UK Met Office.

“The longer-term advantages of understanding energy use in the context of the future climate enable infrastructure to become more resilient and sustainable. Weather and climate information can help the sector meet the usage demands of today and prepare for changes in the future.”

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to

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