The choice of technology and how it’s used are important factors in the sustainability of a building. The “Use and integration of building technology” criterion suggests some solutions.
We encounter technology in many places in a building – such as equipment and technical installations, i.e. in heating, ventilation, air conditioning or in lifts. Technology is used to monitor, regulate, automate and optimise the smooth functioning of systems and processes. It also promotes digital solutions and helps establish networks, for instance between smartphones and ovens, or between solar panels and power grids. Technical systems can be active or passive, so they can come into play in a defined situation or simply function discreetly in the background. However varied its use may be, all technology has something in common: architects and planners need to think about it and work out where it makes sense to use technology, whether it’s in, on or near a building. The DGNB believes that passive solutions should take precedence if they produce the same or a better result compared to other solutions.
So much can be achieved by ensuring a building is facing in the right direction, or putting shading elements in place, or avoiding excessively large windows. The name of the game here is passive cooling, which often makes it possible to avoid air conditioning units and the environmentally harmful refrigerants they normally contain. Another option is natural ventilation. This involves exchanging air by exploiting the natural differences between interior and exterior air pressure. The DGNB encourages developers to analyse the situation affecting a building before deciding on the supposedly ‘easier’ option of using active technology.
Long-lasting and durable
When planners do decide to use active technology, it should be durable and make use of renewable forms of energy. This reduces the risk of outages, cost inflation and becoming dependent on external factors. Technical systems are the bits of a building that are most likely to change rapidly. They should therefore be in a position to adapt as smoothly as possible to innovations and changing usage scenarios. At the same time, building technology has a substantial influence on how a building operates. This relates to a further advantage with passive solutions: the less technology you use, the less susceptible a building becomes to malfunctions.
Don’t use technology just for the sake of it
The criterion allows the DGNB to underscore how important it is to avoid using technology ‘just because you could use it’. Used wisely, technology can add important value for people. It can also help protect the environment and preserve resources, it can make it easier to use renewable energy and it can relieve the burden on the electricity grid. With the right smart control systems, buildings can adjust indoor temperatures or illumination to match individual preferences, the time of day and even the weather. This can save energy and enhance comfort for the users of a building. Effective technology can also help owners set up their own district energy schemes and leverage synergies. For example, something considered a waste product such as heat emitted by a building can be put to good use again – not only for the originator of excess thermal energy but also in nearby buildings. Such solutions can make a district more self-sufficient and independent, simultaneously promoting distributed energy supplies – a key element of the green energy revolution.
Supporting the green energy revolution and network integration
This DGNB criterion also provides incentives for supporting the transition to alternative energy sources – or the green energy revolution. Nowhere is it better to achieve this than in the built environment. The future belongs to renewable energy, but the sun and wind cannot be simply switched on and off at will. There are times when more electricity is generated than can be consumed. As a result, some electricity suppliers are already paying people to extract energy from networks to prevent them from breaking down. If more buildings are able to store their own electricity, network operators won’t have to worry so much about the system collapsing. The DGNB therefore awards circular economy bonuses for buildings that include substantial storage capacities.
Avoiding peaks and troughs in energy use is also of benefit to energy networks. Whether networks are for gas, electricity, sewage or travel – they’re designed to cope with peaks. With integrated energy and load management, buildings and districts make it possible to reduce the size of networks, so in future sites can get by with smaller pipes and fewer cables.
Quality across the board
A further point worth nothing is that technology use is not just important for this certification criteria, but also for the following DGNB criteria and factors: the building’s life cycle assessment, potable water demand and waste water volume, life cycle cost, flexibility and adaptability, thermal comfort, visual comfort, user control, safety and security, sound emissions, mobility infrastructure, systematic commissioning and FM-compliant planning. Carefully thought-through (building) technology thus contributes to positive scores for no less than 13 criteria. That’s more than one third!