Energy Manager

As temperatures climb, commercial spaces must balance comfort, safety, and energy

We must be prepared with a range of cooling options BEFORE a heat wave hits

June 2, 2023  By Scott Hamilton and Arthur Alter

June 2, 2023 – The high temperatures of summer are right around the corner and commercial buildings must prepare for the potential of unprecedented heat waves.

Some experts are concerned that Canada, like the rest of the world, is headed for “hellishly hot summers”. With many employees now back in corporate spaces, what can we do to prepare for very hot summers?

Previously, the obvious answer was to turn up the air-conditioning in the building. While sometimes a necessary action, this binary way of thinking won’t serve us in the long run as temperatures rise.

In fact, thoughtful use of A/C systems requires us to be prepared with a range of cooling options before a heat wave hits. If building managers aren’t thoughtful, there simply may not be enough electricity for cooling when you need it. Air-conditioners and electric fans account for about a fifth of the total electrical use in buildings, and 10% of all global electricity consumption.


As local power grids struggle to prevent blackouts with current demand, building managers can support them with strategies for reducing energy use during the most extreme heat.

Establish your baseline

This raises the question: how can property, building, facility, operations and energy managers—anyone responsible for energy efficiency and cost—balance occupancy comfort against HVAC costs and responsible energy use?

The electricity used by HVAC systems for cooling has been called out as one of the most critical energy use issues of our time, but facilities managers can play a major role in lowering demand on local power grids.

The best place to start is with data collection to establish a baseline for your building’s energy usage. New solutions offer predictive modelling technology, capable of analyzing massive amounts of historical and current data.

Predictive modelling technology comprises a comprehensive network of IoT sensors, wireless thermostats, humidity and CO2 demand readers, smart solar film, and other points that will give a deep view of a building’s internal climate.

By simply understanding how much you use—and where and when you use it—you can reduce energy use by 20% to 30% through awareness alone.

For example, one study investigated the energy awareness among students living in rented accommodation, and whether increasing their energy awareness showed any conspicuous change in energy consumption (gas and electricity). In the end, the researchers concluded:

Results from the trial provide conclusive evidence that increasing energy awareness has a big reducing effect on energy consumption. The trial suggests that from within the student population, 20% savings from gas and electricity can be easily attained by directly targeting students.”

Facilities managers with access to real-time data showing energy allocation throughout their buildings are in a stronger position to swiftly respond to changing conditions (e.g. rolling blackouts) and keep their buildings efficient, comfortable and safe.

Now it’s time to analyze

Once your energy data analysis establishes baselines, you can start to identify temperature patterns and trends for future scenarios.

IoT sensors throughout an HVAC system that monitor and continuously compile data throughout a structure (and beyond) will provide thousands of data points: real-time internal conditions, outside air temperatures, equipment performance, energy surges, building occupancy levels, ventilation changes, humidity and other factors.

When tied to software with machine learning algorithms to analyze this data, predictive modelling automates energy distribution as needed to meet goals, detects early deviations, and guides preventative maintenance routines.

Informed energy decisions can be made when your facility’s data is combined with information from the outside world (such as aggregate information from local utility providers and weather forecasts), then truly powerful energy decisions can be made.

Perhaps your research leads you to conclude that an investment in automatic switchovers to generators or alternate energy sources during peak periods will lead to a healthy ROI.

The guesswork and manual process of monitoring are completely eliminated when predictive modelling tools are employed to detect changes and identify problems before they arise, while built-in automation technology makes the HVAC system respond accordingly.

Combined, these two functions—predictive modelling and automation—can even prevent expensive equipment breakdowns as they proactively address equipment life cycles to help you identify needed upgrades before those high summer temperatures hit.

New construction and existing buildings can both benefit from responsive technology that knows when to dim lights, activate sunshades, or adjust humidity levels to improve occupant comfort and safety when extreme heat occurs.

These simple processes can also be automated and, ideally, should work in tandem with the building’s HVAC system to bring down energy use during the hot summer months without the need for manual intervention.

More pieces to the puzzle

The importance of energy awareness cannot be overstated, as it is such a powerful tool for lowering energy consumption. Being transparent about energy use helps all stakeholders better understand how their actions impact costs.

The next step is to explore predictive modelling and system automation so that facility operators can focus on fine-tuning systems and addressing critical issues that arise.

As temperatures climb, smart energy use is going to become an increasingly important mandate for facilities across Canada. Adopting a new way of thinking about HVAC use can help our portfolios save electricity and costs, but also protect our communities from blackouts during peak cooling days.

Scott Hamilton is executive vice-president, Sales–Distech Controls at Acuity Brands, and Arthur Alter is vice-president, Business Development, at Acuity Brands.

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