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Siemens technology transformed WE Charity’s office in Toronto into an autonomous building that is expected to reduce energy and maintenance costs by 30 to 35 per cent.

State-of-the-art technology allows charity to monitor and control energy use easily and effectively

Jeff McLeod can sit down at a single computer and adjust the temperature and light in any of 40 microclimates across a 43,000-square-foot facility. He can livestream dozens of security cameras, or pull up archival footage, on his smartphone. A year ago, there was no way to efficiently deal with facility operation challenges without putting in a lot of legwork.

“This building is a jewel of innovation in the city of Toronto,” says the director of the WE Charity’s new Global Learning Centre, which is located in a totally redesigned former furniture store in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood. “We have the gold standard of building automation and surveillance systems.”

It wasn’t always that way. Before WE moved into the new centre in September 2017, the youth-empowerment organization was spread across nearby “lightly converted” buildings.

WE’s new headquarters isn’t just a showcase for the organization’s numerous projects engaging young people in global issues, such as homelessness, environmental sustainability and water security – it’s also a showcase for Siemens Canada’s state-of-the-art smart building technology.

“The WE organization really wanted to embrace the technology,” says Stéphane Chayer, vicepresident of building technologies for Siemens Canada. “As a result, the centre is one of the best seamless integrations.”

The building is so advanced, Mr. Chayer says it goes beyond the current definition of a “smart” building.

“This building is well positioned to become a truly autonomous one. Sensors, when combined with artificial intelligence, cloud computing and digital services, can make it possible to optimize maintenance and operation from a remote location and requires less intervention from people.’’

Mr. Chayer says he’s excited to see the building industry catch up with the advances long seen in the aerospace and automotive sectors. He predicts that a growing number of autonomous buildings will soon be able to anticipate and address issues around operation and comfort in real time. For example, increased friction on a valve or the air quality could be diagnosed and resolved based on artificial intelligence, thereby reducing operating and maintenance cost while increasing quality – allowing for more preventive maintenance that will reduce downtime and minimize any effect on the building’s occupants.

Siemens products such as Desigo, an open platform, cloud-based operating system, can improve energy efficiency by helping a building’s thousands of components, from light switches to heating vents, make real-time performance decisions based on a detailed, big picture. If a room senses that more people have entered, for instance, it will instruct the ventilation system to check carbon dioxide levels. If a window detects that a cloudy sky has finally broken, it will work with the lights and blinds to seamlessly keep the room’s brightness at a comfortable level.

Ideally, users won’t notice any of this happening. The chief financial officer, however, will.

“The increased performance over all when you reduce the cost of energy and maintenance, 30 to 35 per cent,” Mr. Chayer says. “That seems to be a big number, but it’s realistic because this is a fairly old industry that has not evolved for a long period of time.”

Beyond the welcome financial savings, Mr. McLeod says the WE Global Learning Centre’s state-of-the-art energy efficiency is a welcome reflection of his organization’s core values.

“It’s important that we’re conscientious about how we operate,” he says. “It’s not enough to be doing work that we think is important; while we’re here, we want to live it, as well. Because of who we are as an organization and what our values are, our staff have an emotional tie to walking the walk. The building allows us to do that.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.