(Ronald Tilleman)

A technology expert speaking at ULI Europe’s Real Estate Forum in Copenhagen in June described the evolving best practices for using sensors to enhance building management and tenant satisfaction.

Erik Ubels, chief technology officer at EDGE Technologies, discussed the ground-breaking the Edge project in Amsterdam. The company, based in Reston, Virginia, has expanded to the United Kingdom and other European countries.

Formerly known as OVG Real Estate, the company rebranded itself in 2018 as EDGE Technologies, taking the name of its proprietary cloud-based platform developed to concentrate the many systems necessary for operating a smart building.

A building occupant might interact with 21 different technologies in a building, each with its own app. The EDGE platform, based on Microsoft Azure’s IoT (internet of things) and Digital Twins technology, integrates several application programming interfaces (APIs) into one platform, offering key metrics as well as detailed data about the building such as lighting, air quality, occupancy, movement, parking, energy efficiency, and supply levels.

“This is not rocket science; this is just getting your act together,” said Ubels.

With the thousands of sensors and internet-of-things devices in a smart building, connection and compliance are complicated and expensive. When EDGE works on a new building that will use its cloud platform, it gives the architect and contractors specific system guidelines before the blueprints are even drawn, making it cheaper and faster to construct the building and producing a better result.

EDGE buildings are equipped with sensors and lights integrated in pre-fabricated, modular smart ceiling panels that can provide granular information on air quality, temperature, noise levels. and occupancy. Measuring many of the qualities specified by the International WELL Building Institute can help building managers estimate productivity and take steps to improve working conditions when necessary.

Additionally, the BREEAM certification is a great way to measure the ability of a high-performance building. BREEAM buildings aim to enhance the well-being of occupants as well as protect natural resources and increase overall value of properties.

Millions of existing buildings lack such integrated sensors to gather this kind of detailed information. But EDGE is adding its technology to 20 existing buildings, aiming to make them at least energy neutral.

“We can now get any existing building in the world up to 85 to 90 percent of what we can do with a new building,” Ubels said.

The most important thing is to install upgradable sensors because they often have to be replaced and the hardware and software are improving, he said.

It is also important to connect the building to the smart city so an energy-generating structure can supply surplus energy to the surrounding neighborhood. EDGE is working on two buildings for Swedish energy company Vattenfall, one in Hamburg, that will generate energy and only buy power when needed.

EDGE Technologies creates buildings for people, driven by human well-being, Ubels said. And it also makes those buildings sustainable, whether or not the client asked for it. Buildings remain one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gases globally, producing 39 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. While energy use in the building sector has declined on a square foot basis in recent years, global square footage is rising by 3 percent per year, offsetting those improvements.

EDGE Technologies’ flagship project in Amsterdam, the Edge, is one of the most sustainable and connected buildings in the world, Ubels said. Designed by PLP Architecture and completed in 2015, the Edge won a ULI Global Award for Excellence the next year.

EDGE’s new headquarters in Amsterdam, Edge Olympic, in April became the first building in the Netherlands to receive a Platinum certification from the International WELL Building Institute. In addition to its many projects across Europe and the United States, where it recently completed the new Unilever headquarters in Edgewood Cliffs, New Jersey, EDGE just announced its entry into the U.K. market. The company purchased a £50 million (US$63 million) commercial space on London’s South Bank for an office development expected to be completed in five years, per planning approval.

By integrating building systems and collecting data on real-world use, EDGE is able to create case scenarios, design personas, and analyze how they interact with physical spaces and digital worlds. Said Ubels, “With the data, we can make better buildings.”

“The Edge building in Amsterdam is a shining example of how technology innovations not only make for a smart building, but also advance sustainability in real estate at the same time,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president, ULI Greenprint Center for Building Performance. “Achieving a carbon-neutral status requires creative and inventive technical and design strategies to both increase energy efficiency to reduce the buildings overall energy usage, while offsetting the remaining usage with renewable energy. ULI’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance sees the opportunity in leveraging these innovations to reduce carbon and thus build value in portfolios across the globe.”