Adrian Barber looks at enhancing the function of Building Energy Management Systems by targeting the control of heating in student accommodation on a room-by-room basis with pin-point accuracy.

Providers of large-scale multi-occupancy dwellings have had a rude awakening over the last 12 months regarding their business model. By this I mean what they include in their rental contract. To attract tenants, big beds, TVs, high-speed Wi-Fi, etc. are all good add-ons, but many also include cost of heating rooms and water. This is where the stranglehold is tightening. With little supervision over the amount of energy being consumed in each room, providers are faced with rising energy bills beyond their control.

The cost-of-living crisis has already had a significant impact on one part of this sector – student accommodation. Last year’s National Student Accommodation Survey quoted 53% of students already struggling with the cost of rent while 79% are worried about rising bills. Around 60% of students have energy bills included in their rent. This represents a significant number of people that are using more expensive energy but are not directly responsible for paying the bills. Landlords will find it difficult to increase rents to cover this shortfall.

In our line of work, we witness a broad scope of heating ‘solutions’ in student rooms. Antiquated storage heaters, ‘wet’ radiators, electric panel heaters and air-conditioning units to name a few. We see a variety of ‘control’ methods which all include some variation on the theme of a thermostat, in most cases the domestic type we are all familiar with.

The issue with these is precisely that, we are all familiar with them. They may have built in programmers and timers and perhaps a rudimentary lock to keep children from fiddling with them, but this is very easy to circumnavigate. Once unlocked it can be set to maximum and is then forgotten about. In most cases the preferred method of temperature control is to open and close the window!

In some cases, a Building Management System (BMS) or Building Energy Management System (BEMS) has been installed to automate control. By focussing on energy management BEMS provide metering, sub-metering and monitoring functions which collate data from around a site. This gives Energy Managers detailed insight of a site’s usage which is invaluable in programming systems and equipment for optimum efficiency. BEMS will oversee and control the entire site, switch boilers, manage blocks of rooms and heat water efficiently. But BEMS are a blunt instrument when it comes to individual room control as they are unable to communicate directly with and control an individual room’s thermostat.

Using a traditional thermostat’s programming capability will help save energy – timed events for example will switch the heater on between 9am & 11am, then again between 5pm-9pm. This provides a modicum of control. But if we can pin-point energy use to a room-by-room level and stop waste with a system that controls consumption at individual points of use, in real time, then this is where all the small savings really begin to add up.

Rooms must be comfortable, but in these energy conscious times there is no sense in keeping them hot when nobody is in them or continuing to pump heat in if windows or doors are opened. These intricacies are not possible with BEMS, but with intelligent thermostats that detect absence and recognise sudden temperature drops Energy Managers can be confident that their energy budget is being used wisely.