Water Trends for 2024: Smart buildings and DHC networks

There are two trends that are set to play a key role in today’s race for energy efficiency and savings in 2024: smart buildings and district heating and cooling (DHC) networks. Smart buildings use advanced technology-based facilities and systems that can be holistically controlled and automated, increasing their energy efficiency, sustainability and safety.

DHC networks are infrastructures that supply thermal energy to multiple buildings at the same time. They work by harnessing energy from a variety of sources, such as industry and wastewater treatment plants. This is another of the trends that is set to take center stage in the coming year in the transition towards more sustainable energy and in reducing the emissions generated by cities.

Smart buildings

Smart buildings are set to shape the future of cities and the way we interact with technology. We use the term “smart building” to refer to an infrastructure that uses advanced technologies to control and optimize its operation and efficiency. These buildings are often designed to maximize the comfort and safety of occupants, as well as reducing running costs and environmental impact.

The smart building market is expected to grow at a rate of 10.5% over the next few years, reaching a total value of $108.9 billion by 2025. Over the next year, smart building solutions for safety, security and emergency management are expected to gain momentum, with the industrial building segment set to grow the most, as ensuring efficiency through optimum maintenance management, temperature control, safety and security become increasingly relevant.

There are several factors driving the growth of smart buildings, many of which are related to the digital transformation agenda that is being implemented in all industries and locations. Six technological developments have been pinpointed within this trend that are expected to shape the smart building market in 2024:

 1. Behavior prediction: the growth of the sector is directly linked to the development of IoT and artificial intelligence, enabling smarter use of building spaces. Solutions based on these technologies bring predictive controls to optimize building operation costs based on performance forecasts to reach the ideal operating point.  

2. Digital twins: this tool enables simulations to anticipate events thanks to the representation of a product, service or process that emulates the functioning of its physical twin. When the design process of a building begins, the digital twin comprehensively examines all the information generated from the building management system, data from heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting, fire prevention systems, security, as well as data related to the building’s assets and the people who interact with it, such as occupants, building staff and visitors. According to Gartner, 50% of industrial organizations are expected to use digital twins in 2024, boosting efficiency by 10%.

3. Increased focus on people: the consolidation and standardization of smart buildings does not only center on the pursuit of energy efficiency. It also prioritizes the safety and welfare of people. One of the main issues affecting built-up environments in the last two decades has been the so-called “Sick Building Syndrome”, a term that describes situations in which the occupants of a building experience health problems that disappear when they leave it, such as headaches, eye irritation and nausea. These problems are often due to poor indoor air quality and ineffective HVAC system management. These issues have been solved thanks to the advent of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) control panels, which not only cut down on unnecessary costs, but also ensure the protection of the system’s smart devices, thus ensuring a healthier, more comfortable environment for occupants. The focus in 2024 is also on giving people tools for them to make better decisions, thanks to the collection and analysis of real-time data provided by sensors and monitoring systems in buildings.

4. Energy efficiency: energy efficiency will continue to be one of the cornerstones of smart buildings. The aim is to implement efficient solutions to ensure user comfort in their daily lives whilst minimizing energy consumption to reduce energy bills and environmental impact. Some of the initiatives set to be implemented in 2024 are:

  • Regular preventive maintenance of air conditioning and heating systems to prevent any possible waste of energy and money.
  • Upgrades of energy-related systems, taking into account the useful life of the assets.
  • Implementation of renewable energies such as photovoltaic energy, using solar panels.
  • Digitalization of buildings to optimize energy management.
  • Implementation of district heating and cooling systems, which we will talk about below.

5. Full integration: it is vital to have a comprehensive management platform to automatically process and manage all the data collected from the different elements and sensors in a building, so that its overall status can be viewed and monitored from a centralized dashboard. These platforms combine data from different sources, such as sensors, databases and external information systems, and process both real-time information as well as past events.

Buildings need a brain to properly manage their subsystems. These platforms provide total control of the different parts of a building thanks to the integration of watering systems, air conditioning, lighting, waste management, influx of people, elevators, security, fire protection and car parks, among others, regardless of the supplier. As a result, they collect all the necessary information to be able to make smarter decisions while increasing the comfort, safety and productivity of the building’s occupants and the building itself.

6. Sustainability: this is a key concern for a wide range of sectors, including smart buildings. In 2024, IoT platforms will be deployed to monitor energy consumption patterns and to provide specific recommendations to cut energy use. The same approach can be leveraged to reduce water consumption, implement recycling initiatives and explore renewable energy options.

Water Trends for 2024: Smart buildings and DHC networks

District Heating & Cooling (DHC)

The DHC market is expected to reach $243.4 billion in 2024. According to Transparency Market Research, district heating is the dominant segment of the two, based on consumption data. Over 50% of final energy demand in the EU comes from heating and cooling consumption in buildings. Over the next few years, the growing deployment of heating and cooling networks in cities and municipalities (known as DHC) will promote energy efficiency and reduce user billing costs. DHC networks optimize the production of thermal energy (heating and cooling) and then distribute it to a neighborhood, area or group of buildings.

District heating and cooling networks play a crucial role in the sustainable energy transition and in lowering emissions in cities. This is achieved by harnessing renewable and waste energy sources in a circular model. These networks have local energy systems that exchange supply between multiple users and producers which, in turn, promotes energy efficiency by matching supply and demand in real time.

A DHC grid is an urban infrastructure that uses locally sourced renewable energy sources and waste energy. It harnesses energy resources that would otherwise be wasted, such as energy generated in industry, wastewater treatment, data centers, and even waste management. In addition, it can include heat pumps that recover waste energy and return it to buildings.

DHC networks have two variants that are compatible with each other:

  • District heating: these networks supply domestic hot water and heating to several buildings simultaneously, taking advantage of thermal surpluses that would otherwise be wasted. The energy used comes from renewable sources such as biomass, geothermal energy and solar thermal energy.
  • District cooling: this approach uses local resources to provide cooling and lowers the temperature of buildings through a network of pipes carrying chilled water. This reduces primary energy consumption, improving efficiency in both performance and operations.

The trend towards the implementation of DHC networks comes from the numerous advantages they bring, compared to individual air conditioning systems. They include:

  • Upgrades of older building infrastructures by incorporating state-of-the-art systems.
  • – Significant reductions of the installation footprint, occupying only 10% of the space required by conventional equipment, thus freeing up space for other uses.
  • Improvements in the aesthetic appearance of buildings, as DHC networks eliminate air conditioning equipment and chimneys from rooftops and facades.
  • Added value for cities as they encourage the construction of sustainable buildings with better energy ratings.
  • Reduction of noise generated by installations, as there is no boiler equipment.
  • Reduction of equipment operation and maintenance costs.
  • Energy supply is guaranteed, providing more reliable delivery thanks to process automation and constant monitoring by experts.

All these advantages make DHC networks a trend that will boost sustainability and energy efficiency in the coming year, making them an attractive model to deploy in cities and smart buildings.

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