Towards Decarbonization: Testing the Building Technologies of Tomorrow
26th August, 2021
SUSTIE is a new, high-tech testing facility for technologies designed to make buildings carbon neutral. Since opening the facility in October 2020, Mitsubishi Electric has used SUSTIE to conduct high-level research and development to meet the needs of tomorrow’s buildings, incorporating its vast portfolio of energy-efficient products as well as renewables and digital twin simulations — which include an AI component — to develop cutting-edge solutions.
The Global Demand for Decarbonization
Initiatives to protect the environment — as exemplified by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — are being implemented around the world at a faster pace and greater scale than at any moment in history. One aspect that the key players in these initiatives stress is carbon neutrality.
Reducing our carbon footprint has become a particularly hot topic in relation to building usage and construction, which account for 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. One facility that has been quick to incorporate green solutions and energy-saving measures to achieve decarbonization is Mitsubishi Electric’s SUSTIE test facility in Kamakura, Japan.
The facility is designed to test net Zero Energy Building (ZEB) technologies that offset a building’s primary energy consumption with energy-saving solutions and renewables by 100% or more. SUSTIE — its name an amalgamation of "sustainability" and "energy" — is one of Mitsubishi Electric’s flagship initiatives for helping the UN achieve its SDGs. It is a facility designed to test cutting-edge solutions that combine energy saving (through the use of high-efficiency, high-tech devices and systems) with energy generation (through solar and other renewables) to help buildings reduce their consumption of primary energy to a net zero or lower. In fact, SUSTIE itself has offset its primary energy consumption by 106%.
A Groundbreaking Green Building
SUSTIE can achieve such results thanks to the incorporation of a variety of electrical products boasting high levels of efficiency — one of the advantages of being operated by an electronics maker with a diverse portfolio. These products include industrial air conditioners with improved energy efficiency, an energy-saving ventilation system (Losnay) that helps reduce the burden on air conditioners, LED ceiling lighting that directs light even to the ceiling to provide more comfortable brightness levels, a direct-current system (D-SMiree) that prevents energy loss, and elevators that are equipped with high-efficiency motors and are powered by regenerative energy.
"Mitsubishi Electric is in a strong position due to its ability to provide all the equipment — HVAC, lighting, boilers, elevators — needed to design a ZEB," says Yosuke Kaneko, who researches and develops state-of-the-art technology at the company’s Information Technology R&D Center. "More than one piece of equipment goes into building a ZEB, so our ability to combine all the necessary pieces into a powerful, integrated system is our biggest advantage. We also provide robust building management technologies that incorporate Internet-of-Things and AI elements such as simulations and energy management."
In other words, highly efficient products and R&D technologies are not enough to optimize energy use — they need to be thoroughly integrated with one another. As a result of its well-integrated design, SUSTIE consumes just 37% of the energy that a standard building of its size does.
Kaneko says one reason for the increased interest in SUSTIE is its size — 6,000 m2, which is the largest for a ZEB-certified building in Japan. "Most ZEB-certified buildings are relatively small, at about 1,000 m2," he says. "SUSTIE has a size that is more likely to be adopted in the real world. Under ZEB standards, solar panels may be placed anywhere on the premises. However, with SUSTIE, we only had space on the roof and eaves. Having limited room for solar panels meant having a limited supply of renewables to power the facility, so we had to incorporate other energy-saving technologies into the design. The fact that we were able to successfully build a medium-sized ZEB-certified building in spite of these restrictions is, I think, one reason so many people are interested in it."
Medium-sized buildings are considered the most likely types of ZEB-certified buildings to appear on the market in the future, and SUSTIE is well positioned to accelerate the development and testing of energy-saving technologies for them.
The Future that SUSTIE Will Build
SUSTIE’S environmentally friendly design has not gone unnoticed — in fact, it has already received official recognition by third-party organization.
BELS, a Japanese green building rating system, has certified SUSTIE as a ZEB and has rated it as a five-star facility — the highest rating.
SUSTIE has also received the highest S grade from CASBEE, another Japanese green building rating, in its Wellness Office category. This rating signifies that the facility provides both a space that is thoroughly considerate of the environment and a comfortable working environment. The facility will soon be submitted for consideration to the WELL Building Standard, an international rating system based in the US that assesses a building’s ability to advance human health and well-being through its design, architecture, and operation.
Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Electric is developing a new concept, ZEB+, designed to both expand its carbon neutral efforts and take them to greater heights. Under ZEB+, ZEBs would be enhanced in ways that would allow them to produce added value throughout their life cycles in the form of greater productivity, comfort, usability, and business continuity. The company is already testing the technologies that would be involved in realizing this concept.
Data collected by SUSTIE and new controlled trials being conducted at the facility on a daily basis have helped Mitsubishi Electric accumulate a great amount of knowledge and sharpen its AI simulations. In the future, the facility will serve as a testing ground for experiments that will help the company identify and meet the needs of tomorrow’s buildings, such as solutions related to wellness, business continuity plans, and improved resilience.
The next generation of building technologies and solutions that are born here will help the world accelerate its efforts to achieve a sustainable society that provides both comfort and energy efficiency.
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