17 Sep 2020

Our habits can have a significant impact on energy use in buildings

We have recently successfully completed a EU Horizon 2020 project MOBISTYLE – Motivating end-users behavioral change by combined ICT based tools and modular information services on energy use, indoor environment, health and lifestyle. The project began with an introductory meeting in the Netherlands in 2016. We tested and re-modelled the anthropo-technical research and development approach, with which we address contemporary challenges in interdisciplinary teams.

Among the key impacts of project activities is certainly the contribution to the paradigm shift on energy use in buildings. Technical or technological innovations are often at the forefront of the quest for solutions that can reduce energy consumption in buildings and significantly reduce CO2 emissions, while building occupants are rarely taken into account to the same extent. In the project consortium, comprised of ten organizations from six European countries, the partners followed the principles of people-centred development approach, which introduces methods and insights from the field of social sciences and humanities into the interdisciplinary research and development process. Buildings, namely, do not use energy, people do. The understanding of the importance of such new approaches in the field of energy efficiency and buildings is also changing at the systemic level, to which MOBISYTLE project has also contributed. The European Commission now uses concepts such as “Built4People” and People-centric Sustainable Built Environment in its plans for the period 2021-27.

What did we do in the MOBISTLE project?

Based on ethnographic research in the first phase of the project, we first prepared “10 Commandments for Developers”, which are summarized in the infographic below and described in more detail in this research report. The developers followed the recommendations in designing four different MOBISTYLE ICT solutions.

Next, we prepared a series of campaigns with which we attempted to make the building occupants more aware of the importance of the indoor environmental quality and related best practices. In the analysis, we showed that such campaigns, when adapted to the specific characteristics and purpose of buildings and their users, can significantly contribute to more energy-efficient use of buildings and support their overall care for health and a healthy indoor environment.

For example, the students, teaching and other staff at two demonstration case study locations – Faculty of Computer and Information Science (FRI), Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology (FKKT), and School of Economics and Business (EF) of University of Ljubljana, significantly reduced the use of elevators. The use of elevators as a measurable indicator was monitored mainly in the first phase with the aim of the initial testing of the effects of designed project actions.

In addition to the above-mentioned campaigns, which were targeting all users of case study buildings, additional project activities also took place in individual selected rooms (offices), in which we closely monitored the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and the users’ everyday practices. Namely, the test rooms’ occupants temporarily installed the MOBISTYLE application on their smartphones, connected to the sensors that we installed at the premises as part of the project. Through the app, they were able to receive notifications on the IEQ (CO2, volatile organic compounds, temperature, humidity) on their smart devices, as well as useful tips for action and its improvement. In addition, the wall sensors also had a built-in LED component, which, by changing the colour, informed room occupants in an unobtrusive but effective way about the quality of the indoor environment.

Based on data from the MOBISTYLE application and sensors, we found, among other things, that users at FRI and FKKT in most cases more often opened windows in those rooms that had no mechanical ventilation. Below, we summarise some of the results of the project in Slovenian demo buildings. We compare the initial situation (2/2018 – 1/2019) and the period when the measures were implemented (2/2019 – 1/2020). The full analysis can be found in the project report.

  • Cooling energy consumption decreased in metered buildings (EF 13%, FRI 25%, FKKT 0.5%), despite the fact that cooling needs increased by 21%.
  • Heat consumption decreased in all demonstration buildings (gas consumption of FRI-FKKT complex decreased by 7%, district heating on EF by 12.4% and at Faculty of Arts by 9.1%), while at the same time heating needs decreased by only 4.9%.
  • In the same period, heat consumption in other UL buildings fell by 4.8%, which is in line with the decrease in needs. From this we can conclude that the activities of promoting temperature training had certain measurable effects (we have previously written about temperature training here).
  • The use of elevators decreased in all measured buildings (FKKT large elevator -7.4%, FKKT small -13.2%, X -10.1%, FRI – 14.6% and two measured elevators on EF: – 32.6 and -4.3%).

MOBISTYLE achievements

In the project, we showed that ICT solutions had a greater impact on user behaviour associated with improving the indoor environmental quality than on behaviour associated with reducing energy consumption.

In the Danish and Polish demonstration cases, project partners also tested the usability of the MOBISTYLE game, which is also available on Google Play. In addition to the game for residents, the project also developed an application for offices, a dashboard, which we tested in Slovenia and Italy, and an expert tool for reviewing and analysing the measured data.

In the Danish case, for example, CO2 concentrations in dwellings where the used the MOBISTYLE game decreased significantly – by an average of 400 ppm (a decrease in 85% of rooms).

We responded to the epidemic that marked the final phase of the project with activities stemming from key project findings and knowledge related to safe use of buildings. MOBISTYLE participated in the online campaign called hero@home (Twitter, Instagram) and in cooperation with the BuildUp portal we prepared a high-profile webinar on safe use of building systems in the context of the epidemic and changing user behaviour in buildings. Together with UL FS LOSK we also translated REHVA guidelines “How to operate and use building ventilation and air conditioning systems to prevent the spread of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) in workplaces” into Slovenian, and conducted a training programme for University of Ljubljana staff. The updated version of the guidelines recommends, among other things, a more unobtrusive air quality communication via a colour traffic light, which is also one of the key recommendations of the MOBISTLYLE project.

Indoor air quality sensor with unobtrusive notification system, which we used in Slovenian demonstration cases. It was developed by the Slovenian company INAP.

The MOBISTYLE project provided a set of useful ICT tools, and one of the most important findings is that technological solutions are often not enough. A more effective activation of building users also requires a long-term and multi-channel strategy that is adapted to the individual context, be it an educational institution, a hotel, or residential buildings. The key findings of the MOBISTLE project were summarized in nine key recommendations, and the results were also presented in papers and a two-day webinar (1, 2).

And a concluding question: How to balance between healthy people – healthy buildings – healthy planet, without sacrificing human and environmental sustainability? These and related issues are tackled in the new Horizon 2020 project, in which we transfer the lessons learned from MOBISTYLE, including: Driving decarbonization of the EU building stock by enhancing a consumer centred and locally based circular renovation process (Drive 0) and Towards a new generation of user-centred Energy Performance Assessment and Certification; facilitated and empowered by the EPB Center (U-CERT).