interoperabilitySmart buildingEnergy efficiencybuilding operating system

Smart Building interoperability: what is it and why does it matter

Buildings account for 40% of global energy consumption according to the International Energy agency. But wait, what is precisely a Smart Building, and how can it help?

July 16, 2020

Buildings account for 40% of global energy consumption according to the International Energy agency. Smart Buildings have become an essential component of today’s strive to manage and reduce electricity demand and global CO2 emissions. Smart building solutions provide means to release buildings’ untapped energy efficiency potential and reduce overall operating costs.


However, the numbers show that buildings still have a lot of effort to make in this area: 2019 marked an all-time high for building-related CO2 emissions, following an overall increase in energy use and increased demand for cooling appliances [1].


But wait, what is precisely a Smart Building, and how can it help?

A smart building is one that employs a range of technologies to create an efficient ecosystem, capable of automating building services (e.g., space management, soft services, building asset management services, etc.).


The overall benefits of such a system are easy to discern: easily automated systems that can be managed remotely, reduced total running costs for building owners, better environments for end-users and building occupants, amongst others, are just some of the advantages that Smart Buildings can unlock.


If it’s so great and easy, why aren’t all buildings smart yet?

It’s not that easy. Amongst the main market inhibitors, connectivity and integration of different technologies and vendor-specific solutions have proven to be… well, a pickle, over the past decade.


Indeed, today’s IoT solutions market is very fragmented, resulting in complex interworking of installed multi-vendor devices, appliances, and platforms, hindering massive market uptake. Furthermore, the lack of single technical or technological standard facilitating interoperability for these solutions has resulted in a plethora of devices, appliances, and platforms, each speaking its own language and only communicating with compatible devices within its ecosystem.


And this is where interoperability comes into play: interoperability can be defined as a systems or framework capacity to make things work together that otherwise couldn’t, such as different protocols, things from different manufacturers, things connected to different IoT platforms, legacy systems, etc.


So, we need interoperability to get to where we need to be?

Absolutely. As mentioned before, buildings alone are responsible for 40% of the global energy demand. This is not a fatality, but rather an opportunity to rethink our approach to building management: studies have found that building’s energy consumption can be reduced by as much as 40% by implementing an incremental approach to building efficiency. In this regard, the EU actively promotes and enacts new policies to stimulate the overall renovation of buildings (e.g. the EU Green Deal and Directive 844 on Energy Performance of Buildings), incentivize buildings to become efficient, eliminate split-incentive dilemmas and other market failures, and, finally, promote smart technologies and interoperability [2].


Interoperability allows us to take smart technologies to the next step. How? Let’s look at a couple of examples from real-world situations to understand how interoperability can enable and promote building efficiency:

  • A property manager responsible for multiple buildings wants to control parking lot lightings efficiently, e.g. based on well-defined schedules (e.g., turn off lights at 9:00 pm). However, the parking lots are managed by BMSs provided by different vendors. The facility manager cannot create a single, centralized schedule: he needs to connect to each building management console, a procedure that is both repetitive and time-consuming. Thanks to interoperability, a single unified interface allows him to interact with all buildings, regardless of BMS vendors, making it possible to apply wide-reaching energy efficiency policies.
  • A facility manager wishes to improve the overall energy performance of a building by tracking consumption data. However, since in most settings this information is aggregated at the building level, deriving actual implementable policies at the equipment’s level can be tricky. In most cases, a costly on-site diagnosis is needed to detect which devices are responsible for higher-than-average consumption. Sub-metering devices are capable of providing information at a more granular level, thus facilitating building automation and device monitoring and control. BMS providers can deploy such an infrastructure, but their implementation can result in a costly and intrusive deployment, possibly affecting day-to-day business activities. As more and more non-intrusive and cost-effective solutions become available on the market e.g. Sigfox, LoRA or NB-IoT, building owners may consider deploying LPWAN sub-meters but face complexity when it comes to installing and integrating new devices. Interoperability solutions can help solving this issue by overcoming limitations of installed BMSs and integrating virtually any new building device.


In both cases, interoperability helps lift market barriers by removing complex technical constraints. It also opens existing ecosystems to any new device, speaking any language at a lower cost. So, there is really no more need to choose between cost- and energy efficiency policies. Smart, right?


So, how do we get there?

InterConnect is working to provide a reference framework for achieving interoperability across systems. The resulting framework promotes the use of a common semantic model (SAREF), making it possible for things to communicate and exchange information amongst them easily. This reference framework will serve as a basis for the interoperable digital marketplace, through which all SAREF-ized services, compliant devices, platform enablers, and applications can exchange information and trigger generic or domain-specific services.


Moreover, InterConnect focuses on enabling tomorrow’s energy requirements by fully supporting the development of new business models based on innovative energy and non-energy services implemented through seven large-scale pilots across Europe. These pilot sites, located in France, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, and Greece will help demonstrate how complex and real digital market environments can interoperate to achieve substantial reductions in their operational and investment costs, ultimately benefitting energy end-users by ensuring comfortable, efficient, sustainable and healthier living environments.


We at Sensinov are happy to bring our expertise and know-how in Building automation and interoperability. Every day, Sensinov’s Building Operating System and platform helps facility managers make better-informed decisions and enforce cross-building policies, paving the way for automation and wider integration. By offering a solution for system integration and operation, regardless of vendor or the underlying communication technology, we can offer our clients the capacity to easily plug & play new equipment, networks, and services in a cost-efficient manner without disturbing the ongoing building management operations.


We know that centralized management of heterogenous buildings has proven to be messy in the past, that’s why our common objective is to offer end-users the capacity to monitor and control in real time their buildings, allowing for quicker reactions and optimized decisions across all buildings – without the costly and time-consuming procedures needed to retrofit buildings to a single technology/provider.


Ultimately, these steps will help the wider integration of buildings, giving rise to fully integrated cities. The building will stop existing on its own and start to interwork with its environment (energy grids, smart parking, Electrical Vehicle charging, waste management, etc.).


[1] International Energy Agency. (2020). Tracking Buildings 2020. Retrieved from

[2] Long-term renovation strategies – Energy European Commission. (2020). Retrieved 30 June 2020, from



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