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The goal is to save 22 per cent energy, transforming apartment buildings into smart buildings

This year the issue of energy saving has taken on a new relevance among the wider public. Whereas in previous years one generally had the feeling that climate protection requirements were a tiresome duty that had to be performed, this year it is different: Triggered by Russiaʼs war in Ukraine and the associated supply and energy crisis, the issue has clearly gained traction.

The call is above all for solutions that can be installed quickly, while being effective and affordable. The wheel does not always have to be reinvented: smart thermostats, for example, constitute intuitively operable technology that has been in successful use in single-family homes for more than ten years, and provided requirements and processes for smart homes in the housing sector are taken into account, an apartment building can quickly become a smart building. In this interview Dr. Dirk Then, CEO of the noventic group, explains what opportunities that opens up for the climate protection and energy-saving targets in Germanyʼs building stock.

Dr. Dirk Then, CEO of the noventic group

Letʼs get straight down to it: sharp increases in energy and utility costs are the issue of the hour, with housing threatening to become expensive for all involved. How do you respond to this challenge?

Dr. Dirk Then: Like everyone else right now, in my private life Iʼm trying to further optimise my own consumption behaviour in order to save energy and costs. As CEO of the noventic group, I encounter the latest technologies in this field. Well before the current supply crisis, since 2021, we have been working on the development of quickly implementable, intelligent energy efficiency solutions specifically designed for widespread deployment in large rental buildings. Together with our new subsidiary tado°, we are working on the refinement of their smart home products for the housing industry. We are transforming a smart radiator thermostat into an intelligent but robust overall solution for use in apartment buildings, tailored to peopleʼs widely differing needs. The first step here is not so much about lowering the room temperature as about more intelligently controlling the energy used to arrive at the desired room temperature. The building sector’s climate protection goals, and the significant energy savings they entail, can only be achieved if consumers are involved and are won over by the technical solution. The step of sustainably involving people requires new spheres of interaction, for example through assistance functions or with the help of minor incentives via an app.

And how exactly does it work, what can the real estate industry look forward to here?

Then: Figuratively speaking, we are actually working on a Swiss army knife-style solution. We aim to devise a solution that both fits into existing housing industry processes and meets the widely varying requirements of different German tenant groups. The starting point is smart thermostats from tado°. In private households, we have shown that energy savings of up to 31 per cent are possible with the help of smart control. This works so well because the solution creates consumption transparency while simultaneously improving users’ living comfort, as well as offering concrete benefits. The key requirement here is easy and intuitive operability. This is how we are devising an energy-saving solution for apartment buildings that allows room for diverse, individual preferences and thus leverages economic potential for both residents and the real estate industry.

Do you have any specific examples of the concrete benefits you mentioned?

Then: For example, our technology warns tenants of the risk of mould growth and thus protects them from health hazards, while at the same time helping residential housing companies avoid expensive renovation work. This can come about because, aiming to cut their energy costs, more and more tenants end up causing their apartments to deteriorate. They do not heat them enough, which means the apartment cools down too much, increasing the risk of mould. Other examples include automatic open window detection and room- or use-specific heating schedules, which are preset during installation to suit the roomʼs use, and can also function without using an app.

Property managers and portfolio holders benefit from the solution, which forms the basis for professional data management, making life easier for them when dealing with changes of tenant and vacancy management.

You mentioned earlier that you want to refine the smart home solutions already in successful use on the market to transform them into smart building solutions. What does this involve?

Then: We are developing a solution for a set-up that is far more complex than a private single-family home. The particular technical challenges lie in the need for different networking of the devices and the need for complex integration of the process into the existing residential housing processes and cycles. We need a secure, low-energy, but stable wireless network, we need to dovetail the assembly, maintenance and service processes. For example, the thermostats’ battery lifetimes must match the real estate industry’s five or six-year maintenance cycles. A new issue for the housing industry is the provision of consumption information throughout the year. It is obvious how that ties in with the intelligent linkage of this with individual control of a tenantʼs own radiators, for example via an app.

But the people who use your products in everyday life are also very diverse, right?

Then: Thatʼs right. Whether or not they are controlled via an app, thermostats must be easy and intuitive to operate, and must build on the mechanics learned, as their users are clearly different from digitally clued up smart home customers. Also, the thermostats will have to be much more durable. The fact is, people are significantly more careful with a product they have bought themselves than with one that goes with the apartment and therefore belongs to the landlord.

What is your motivation for developing such a product, and what is your background in the field?

Then: noventic group companies are deeply rooted in the real estate industry. We are familiar with the consequences for the housing industry of the European EED and the German climate targets, as well as the challenges and necessities inevitably faced by professional property management operations. We want to make a contribution to the search for a solution to all the resulting challenges and the need for affordable housing.

We know from the consumption data that using smart thermostats enables us to achieve average energy savings of 22 per cent in the consumer sector. Why not in rented households as well? Our goal is to get close to this number in the apartment building sector. To achieve this, our specialists, the sensor manufacturer QUNDIS, the metering service provider KALO and the platform and software developer have joined forces with tado°. Together we aim to develop a smart, holistic solution that will usher in optimised control of central heating systems in apartment buildings.

What is the current status and what are the next steps?

Then: As part of various flagship projects we are currently installing smart thermostats in properties managed by innovative German residential housing companies, including municipal and cooperative housing companies, and also large property managers. Through these projects we aim to test the efficacy of our devices in the field, and their acceptance by tenant households. We will present the findings from this phase during the first half of 2023. We will then commence the rollout during the second half of the year.

To overview

Nelly Bubenheim

Head of CSR, noventic group

Since July 2022, Nelly Bubenheim has been responsible for sustainability in the Group. This includes both the further development of the Group-wide sustainability strategy and reporting on activities and measures in this field.

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