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Transforming the Energy Consumption Model for Buildings

By Phil Spring | EMEA Energy & Resources Leader, IBM Consulting
December 14, 2022

As countries aim to reduce emissions through net-zero climate goals and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, renewable energy growth is accelerating. According to the International Energy Agency...

As countries aim to reduce emissions through net-zero climate goals and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, renewable energy growth is accelerating. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), by 2026, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar will account for much of our electricity production. Given the unpredictability of weather, these supplies can be highly variable and intermittent. 

When weather impacts the output of wind turbines and solar farms, fossil fuels usually become the necessary back-up source for powering local communities and achieving the full transition to net zero emissions may seem impossible. The good news is that cities already have a rich, flexible alternative to using back-up power sources – buildings. IBM Consulting’s Flex Platform service uses technology to balance buildings’ consumption of electricity with the production of green energy and turns existing buildings into part of the solution by utilizing flexible energy demand. This reduction in energy consumption can help municipalities begin to reduce their carbon footprint and set themselves up for greener success by adopting a flexible approach to their power consumption.

Greater flexibility in energy consumption

The Flex Platform, created by IBM in partnership with Andel Energi, Denmark’s largest energy company, is designed to work with fluctuating energy sources. The platform interfaces with existing buildings management platforms, enabling large buildings to partially cut their energy use for as long or as short as they want based on electricity available via renewable energy production and electric plants. 

Companies such as the European supermarket chain Salling Group are already taking advantage of the Flex Platform to help balance their electricity consumption in relation to the supply of green power in the grid. 

As an organization committed to high quality local service to their many customers, Salling Group is keen to play their part in helping accelerate the growth in renewable energy for their customers locally, advance their own decarbonization efforts, and contribute to the national net-zero commitment. The Group is working to provide greater flexibility in energy consumption for 500+ of their Netto supermarket stores in Denmark. By leveraging the Flex Platform, Netto stores can now balance their consumption by integrating their electrical systems for ventilation, cooling and heating into one building management system. 

The Flex Platform uses IoT sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and the cloud to integrate energy aggregators and their customers with the energy ecosystem for real-time, intelligent grid optimization. When the grid needs balancing due to fluctuating renewables or demand peaks, the platform’s AI analyzes when connected consumer assets, such as HVAC systems, water pumps and data centers, can run at reduced capacity with little impact on their performance. As a result, the platform temporarily reduces their energy draw, providing flexibility to the grid rather than relying on reserve power plants.

Investing in sustainability leads to business benefits

A recent IBM study of 3,000 global CEOs found that over 80% of surveyed CEOs believe that their company’s sustainability investments will produce improved business results in the next five years and nearly half of surveyed CEOs (45%) think that sustainability will accelerate business growth.

Salling Group’s Netto stores are a great example of the complexity of commercial buildings. Supermarkets have electrical systems such as ventilation, cooling and heat pumps integrated into one building management system. By connecting to the Flex Platform, Salling Group is able to determine at the beginning of implementation where, when, how much and for how long the electricity consumption in the stores can be turned up and down. This is all controlled using AI and ensures that neither the customers nor goods are impacted. 

Electrical systems like HVAC generally account for 25% of the building’s total energy consumption, and approximately 30% of this consumption is considered to be flexible. As buildings retain heat or cold, a Netto supermarket has the ability to stop or start the HVAC systems as the wind blows – without affecting functionality or being a nuisance to the users of the buildings. 

To date, Salling Group has experienced success by switching off the participating Netto stores for 15 minutes at a time up to four times day. This process is demonstrating significant potential in energy savings, and Salling Group is now working to implement this process across all Danish Netto stores.

Unlocking the power of partnerships for greater, responsible success

IBM’s Flex Platform works as an open ecosystem with several other suppliers. The platform can adapt buildings' total electricity consumption to the fluctuating production from renewable energy sources. This is done by regulating energy use in buildings.

Like the Salling Group, major organizations across Denmark are making strides on their clean energy transition and are turning to the Flex Platform to help achieve their goals, including ATP, the country’s largest pension and processing company, who is testing the solution with a view to implementation, and DOT Nordic, the first manufacturer to test the platform.

According to the United Nations, in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, emissions need to be reduced by almost half by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. To achieve this, we must work together to help solve the global energy crisis. By leveraging technology to regulate energy consumption, we can help companies – and even cities – better prepare for the changing environment and get ahead of government regulations.  

Learn more about how IBM is helping companies leverage data for more sustainable operations by visiting

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