• World Climate Foundation

Positive Energy: Why Smart Buildings Are the Key to Decarbonization

Oliver Iltisberger, President, Smart Buildings, ABB Electrification

Commercial buildings are on the frontline in the battle against climate change. Smart buildings and the facilities managers responsible for their operation therefore have a crucial role to play in global efforts to decarbonize the built environment in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.


According to the UN Environment Programme, buildings consume around 40 percent of global energy and produce a third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. National governments, particularly those in Europe, are uniting to address the issue. As part of its strategy to become a carbon-neutral economy with net-zero emissions by 2050, the EU plans to reduce GHG emissions by 20 percent, increase renewable energy by the same amount, and ensure that all new builds are nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEBs).


The climate clock is ticking and the recent IPCC report makes for grim reading. Given the enormity of the challenge posed by global warming and the carbon intensity of buildings today, we must focus our efforts on where we can make the biggest impact in the shortest time to support national policies and future-proof our commercial buildings.


What Is A Smart Building?

A smart building employs a range of interconnected technologies to optimize everything from water use, energy management, air conditioning, access, automation, lighting, remote monitoring and communication networks, while simultaneously creating a more amenable working environment.

The concept of smart buildings is nothing new, of course. As you no doubt know, architects and developers have installed separate systems to control lighting, heating and ventilation for decades.

Now, however, web-based platforms are taking smart buildings to the next level by allowing the facility systems to integrate seamlessly with each other, delivering a single, definite view of how efficiently and effectively a building operates. Armed with this invaluable data, managers can take steps to avoid waste and improve use – cutting emissions and making savings at the same time.


Now that we have defined what a smart building is, the next logical question is: how can we best utilize digital and automation technology to turn the vision of zero-emission buildings into reality?


Mission To Zero

Part of ABB Smart Buildings’ Mission to Zero strategy, our Lüdenscheid plant in Germany is a real-life example of how the energy transition can succeed sustainably through digital energy management.

ABB transformed the facility into the company’s first carbon-neutral production site by deploying energy-efficient technologies into one smart system, which is digitally networked and controllable.

Solar technology generates up to 100 percent of the factory’s requirements, enough to supply the equivalent of 340 private households. When used with the site’s cogeneration plant, Lüdenscheid can generate 14 percent more energy than needed; this surplus is sold back into the public grid, meaning the site is energy positive.


The flagship facility at ABB’s Busch-Jaeger subsidiary saves 744 tons of CO2 a year[i] and makes a long-term contribution to improving the environment for local people and the wider community.

In the next year, ABB aims to open ten more Mission to Zero sites around the world to encourage positive, transformational change within its own business operations and in society as a whole.  


Collaboration Is Key

Only by working together can we hope to meaningfully reduce CO2 emissions. By sharing learnings and best practices from Mission to Zero with its employees, customers, partners and suppliers, ABB is demonstrating the practical steps required to reduce energy usage and GHG emissions from new and existing buildings, and helping to incentivize investment in the smart buildings of the future.


Building facilities managers have a significant role to play in the energy transition. By keeping up to date with Energy Performance Certificates, legally required inspections such as those on HVAC systems, and having assets independently verified and accredited by a standards-setting body like BREEAM, they can proactively use their influence and expertise to reduce CO2 emissions and have a positive impact on business performance and strategy.


These fundamentals, combined with the implementation of digital and automation technologies, can help to establish the baseline energy usage and emissions, implement continuous improvement around performance and waste, and, as importantly, educate other stakeholders about how smart buildings can contribute to cleaner, safer working environments – and a smart, safe and sustainable future for us all.


Article published in FMUK


[i] *Current emissions savings