An interview with Professor Joe Clarke, Energy Systems Research Unit - University of Strathclyde

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Q1 Can you first explain a little bit about the HIT2GAP project? 

The project comprises an international consortium of commercial and academic partners and is funded by the European Commision under its Horizon 2020 programme.  The aim is to prototype a software platform for the collation and storage of disparate data types relating to the facilities management of large estates.  Examples include data from building energy management systems, weather stations, local energy generation plant and indoor environment conditions monitoring devices.  The novelty of the system, named BEMServer, derives from the availability of connected applications that deliver value-added information that supports the facilities management process.  These applications support activities such as energy management, energy demand forecasting, energy action planning, energy systems optimisation, and remedial action identification in response to occupant complaints,

Q2 In context of the project, would you please describe ESRU's main areas of research?

ESRU is a longstanding research group concerned with improving the performance of energy systems at various scale – from individual devices for heat and power delivery, to community energy schemes that seek to intelligently match hybrid energy sources to demands that vary in a complex manner. A central activity is the encapsulation of research outcomes within simulation tools that are made available at no cost under an open source licence agreement. Within the HIT2GAP project, group’s role is to connect an indoor environmental assessment procedure to BEMServer based on the ESP-r building simulation programme.

Q3 The HIT2GAP project is very ambitious in trying to reduce the energy gap between predicted and actual energy use in buildings: what do you consider to be the main challenges in delivering a project like this?

The BEMServer deliverable aims to assist the facilities management process in large estates by providing a central overview of estate performance data collected from disparate sources and giving access to powerful analytical capability that was not hitherto available at the operational stage. Given the complementary skills of the consortium members, there is no insurmountable challenge from a technical perspective. The essential challenges relate, firstly, to establishing reliable and secure data collection protocols given the rapidly evolving Internet of things market sector and, secondly, the need for facility managers to adopt the nonconventional work practices implied by the new analysis tools being offered. Further, since BEMServer is a first-of-its-kind prototype, it may be expected that iterative refinements will be required before it is fully functional and robust. This will require new commercial partnerships in future to ensure that the system’s potential is incrementally realised over a reasonable time frame.

Q4 From past experience on EU projects over the last 20 years what would you consider to be the most positive outcome we can expect from HIT2GAP?

Assuming that BEMServer and its associated applications remain openly available, it is likely that partial commercial gains will be realised through uptake by facility management support companies seeking to extend their business offering in a manner that is digitally enabled. It is also likely that downstream research projects will benefit by adopting prior research outcomes propel them to a higher technology readiness level.

Q5 What is ESRU's specific role in the HIT2GAP project?

ESRU configured its ESP-r system to deliver indoor air quality assessments in response to issues such as occupant complaint or inappropriate utility bills. This entailed developing procedures for the creation of high resolution models of existing buildings, automating performance assessments for thermal comfort, visual comfort and indoor air quality, and connecting BEMServer to an independent cloud server to undertake non-trivial simulation and return tailored outcomes to users. The group also deployed its low cost, wireless solution for indoor environmental conditions monitoring to provide an additional data source to BEMServer, and developed a new application to provide model calibration services to all BEMServer applications based on monitored data. A final role was to support the trial deployment of these capabilities within two of the project’s four pilot study estates.

Q6 Do you believe that we can really influence/deliver behaviour change through projects like this?  If so, what do you think we can influence and what is more difficult?

Behavioural change has two possible targets here. One is to change the work practises of facility management professionals in a manner that improves building operation overall; the other is to change the behaviour of building occupants in manner that reduces energy use. In the former case, this will only happen where the costs and benefits of the data-centred approach are obvious and this, in turn, will only happen with continued application and commitment to implement necessary refinement in response to the inevitable problems exposed through use. In the latter case, there is the potential to harness the new information available from BEMServer to inform occupants in a timely manner about the consequences of their actions and thereby enable intra-organisation collaboration in sustainability matters.

Q7 What do you think will be HIT2GAP's main contribution in 5 years?

A demonstration of what is possible in relation to the automated performance tracking and analysis of large estates plus know-how in relation to the connection of performance assessment applications in a manner that helps bridge the gap between design intent and the operational reality.