Overview - Smart buildings and smart grids

1203 Last modified by the author on 06/04/2022 - 11:42
Overview - Smart buildings and smart grids

The concepts of smart buildings and smart grids have gained momentum in publications and news concerning energy efficiency, emission reduction goals and other climate change-related topics. This overview article sheds light on the relation between smart buildings and smart grids  and provides information as to how smartness  could be measured. The article showcases some innovative projects working to unlock the potential of smart buildings and smart grids towards decarbonisation.

Introduction : EU building sector overview

Buildings are where we spend most of our lives and consume most of the energy we use, responsible for around 40% of total energy consumption and 36% of total CO2 emissions in the European Union (EU). These figures highlight the relevance of the built environment in two key aspects of the EU Green Deal objectives; speeding up the transition towards the 2050 long-term strategy  55% reduction goal by 2030, and improving the well-being and health of citizens and future generations by renovating existing buildings to make them more comfortable, and healthier, as 75% of the EU building stock is energy inefficient. 


What is a smart building ?

The relationship between a building and its occupants combines technical systems interacting with human beings to provide services (e.g., space management, parking, the flow of people) and indoor conditions (such as, lighting, temperature, air quality). These interactions are often driven by control and automation systems, usually referred to as Building Management Systems. These systems control the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) and other technical systems (cameras, access control, fire systems, etc) and can allow for different levels of interaction between diverse users, such as technical users and occupants.

Over recent decades, these interactions were mostly taking place within the boundaries of a single building where building occupants have very limited interaction. This situation is rapidly changing due to the explosion of new technologies (renewable sources, storage systems, predictive control algorithms, etc), new and emerging needs of occupants (flexible space needs, air quality, energy control, etc) and complex energy interactions between buildings (grid flexibility services, demand side management, etc). This leads to a new generation of Bulding Management Systems and ICT tools, such as Internet of Things, energy monitoring platforms, and so on. These systems and technologies enable new capacities and interactions between buildings, their users, and with other buildings through energy grids. The combination of these new tools and interactions is what makes a building more or less ‘smart’. 

Accordingly to the EC:

Smartness of a building refers to the ability of a building or its systems to sense, interpret, communicate and actively respond in an efficient manner to changing conditions in relation to the operation of technical building systems or the external environment (including energy grids) and to demands from building occupants.

Thus, a smart building is a building which have some of the following main features:

Consume the least amount of energy to meet the comfort needs of occupants - energy efficiency first approach,

Generate energy on-site or nearby from renewable energy sources, or even try to have a positive balance (positive energy building that generate more energy than consumes), 

Make use of technologies that enable smart interactions with the energy grid (storage, electrical vehicle charge management, demand response system, etc) 

Empower users by letting them access energy consumption and generation data, giving them information and control over the implications of their behaviour on the energy consumed and the indoor air quality building performance.

Following the deployment of these technologies and systems, several benefits could be anticipated, as shown in Figure 3.



Smart Readiness Indicator: Making concepts easy to understand 

The smart buildings definitions and descriptions above are quite broad and can be difficult for non-technical audiences to understand. A simplified and reliable method to measure the smartness of a building is crucial so that building users can understand how smart their buildings are and make informed decisions about them. To address this challenge, the EU is developing the smart readiness indicator which provides highly visual and easy to understand information related to the smartness of buildings. 


SMART GRIDS, from isolated buildings to interconnected complex smart buildings

The ambitious objectives of the Green Deal require buildings to not only be smart to reduce their energy use and improve the wellbeing of occupants, but also to be able to interact with the energy grids through which buildings and other energy consumers are interconnected. To enable these interactions and unlock the potential of flexibility markets, electrical and thermal networks should also improve their levels of smartness. This will require increasing energy monitoring and control, improving their forecasting and predictive models for demand, renewable energy generation, and energy prices, and develop services and tools to manage the integration of higher shares of renewable energy, balancing, demand response services, etc. All this while guaranteeing the grid security and stability.

Distribution System Operators (DSOs) are the organisations responsible for guaranteeing the security and stability of the grid and should play a key role in the flexibility of the demand response services, providing demand response and flexibility signals to the buildings and managing energy flows with advanced metering and forecasting tools.

DSO and building control and management systems should be connected to each other, so that information is exchanged, and effective services are provided and benefits to the smart grid are generated. These systems and the exchange of information need to connect buildings with the DSO, to unlock new business opportunities for new energy market actors, as the aggregators who manage the energy consumption, generation, and storage for several buildings simultaneously. It thus allows for the provision, in a more efficient way, of an aggregated flexibility and improved demand response capabilities by the DSO, making the most of the economies of scale.


European projects

These new paradigms around smart buildings and smart grids will not fulfil their greatest potential unless innovation tools and services are also developed. Therefore, the EU main innovation programmes have included these topics within their calls.

Smart buildings:

The European Construction, built environment and energy efficient building Technology Platform ECTP, one of the European Technology Platforms (ETPs), is a construction sector industry-led platform with an large and updated smart buildings innovation projects database. Some of these H2020 EU funded relevant ones are:

BuiltHub is a Horizon 2020 funded project with the objective of developing a roadmap to continuously enhance the data needed to decide on building-related policy and business for involved stakeholders through a community and its data hub.

The X-tendo Toolbox Project aims to provide a toolbox to help public authorities implementing next-generation building´s energy performance assessment and certification. These new EPC methodologies include the SRI indicator as part of the building performance assessment.

Excess brings together 21 partners from 8 countries to showcase how nearly-zero energy buildings can be transformed into positive energy buildings. For instance, Excess has developed a predictive control (MPC) to optimize the controls of the various components such as generation, storage and demand in buildings.

REScoopVPP, whose main aimis to set-up a community-driven virtual power plant that can actually provide flexibility services to the grid and contributes to a 100% share of renewable energy sources into the grid. The tools developed are oriented to renewable energy cooperatives and citizen energy communities, so they can organise themselves as aggregators and retailers of renewable energy, enabling them to lower their energy consumption and to use primarily renewable energy whenever available.

Smart grids:

Bridge is one of the main initiatives related to smart grid innovation. This is a European Commission initiative that unites research and innovation projects in the areas of smart grids, energy storage, islands and digitalization, to help create a clear overview of cross-cutting issues. Relevant projects include:

The Renaissance H2020 Project aims to deliver a community-driven scalable and replicable approach, to implement new business models and technologies supporting clean production and shared distribution of energy in local communities.

The combination of novel micro-grid design and management tools with existing energy generation and storage technologies, will allow the identification of business cases and subsequent operational solutions which maximise value capturing and energy delivery for end-users.

FlexiGrid will create an enabling architecture for small and medium Distribution System Operators (DSOs) to unlock flexibility resources. Through a cross sectoral integration and optimizing of resources, especially those existing in the coupling between different energy vectors, as well as demand response using charging schemes of electric vehicles (EVs) or storage, DSOs will be able to meet the forthcoming capacity shortage with flexibility and updating old systems with smart technology.

The ambition of the BRIGHT Project is to realize a multi-timescale demand response strategy that works from a day-ahead scheduling up to real-time adaptive control and allows individual assets to simultaneously provide power balancing service, grid congestion management, and economic benefits to participating stakeholders.


The EU Building sector will face a radical change of paradigm, moving from isolated poor user-oriented buildings towards interconnected smart buildings which allows for active user interaction, integration of new systems and technologies (renewable sources, storage, EV charging management, demand response and flexibility) and smart grids having an active role.

These required changes are not only technologically driven but also require users’ engagement and training to ensure the behavioural changes needed are made. The EU is fully committed to this challenge, promoting the innovation and regulatory changes to make it possible. In line with this is the proposal for a recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, in the framework of the Fit for 55% Package, which scales up the ambition to create a zero emissions building sector and introduces the smart buildings and smart grid concepts.

This article was posted on BuildUp website

Photo by Nerses Khachatryan on Unsplash

Share :
Author of the page
Build Up