Workers use automation to manage the physical plant of a modern building.
Technical Summary

Building Automation Systems

Project Drawdown defines building automation systems as automated control systems that can regulate a building’s heating and cooling, lighting, appliances, and more to maximize energy efficiency and/or worker productivity. This solution would replace buildings with conventional pneumatic or electric control systems.

Because of their large share of energy consumption, residential and commercial buildings now account for one-third of global carbon dioxide emissions. An efficiency technology that has historically been common in large commercial buildings is a building automation system (BAS). Though many large commercial buildings in the US and EU have some form of building automation or management system, these systems are often not based on the most recent technologies.

Recent trends in building system integration and automation have caused increased interest around the future of BAS technologies, but this is an area that remains understudied. The benefits of these BAS for large commercial buildings and, increasingly, for small- and medium-size buildings are significant because they can reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings by up to 40 percent (IEA, 2013). The model presented examines the financial and emissions impact of high BAS adoption instead of conventional system use.


Total Addressable Market

The total addressable market for BAS was considered to be the total floor area of commercial building space worldwide broken out by Project Drawdown region; adoption was therefore defined as the total commercial floor area in each region that is managed by a BAS system. From available documentation. current adoption[1] was estimated to be over 75 percent in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), where mainly large buildings have adopted it and almost none in some developing regions. This was estimated using a variety of sources.[2]

Adoption Scenarios

Impacts of increased adoption of BAS from 2020 to 2050 were generated based on two growth scenarios. These were assessed in comparison with a Reference Scenario, in which the solution’s market share was fixed at the current levels.

  • Scenario 1: Logistic s-curves were calculated for each Project Drawdown region, with assumptions on their expected adoption in 2050. These assumptions were 100 percent adoption in OECD countries; current US adoption levels in China; half of current US and EU levels in Latin America and Eastern Europe, respectively; and 20 percent of current EU levels in the Middle East and Africa. These were summed to get the global adoption.
  • Scenario 2: Logistic s-curves were applied to each Project Drawdown region, with assumptions on the adoption in 2050: 100 percent adoption in the OECD, 80 percent adoption in China, 50 percent everywhere else. These were summed to get the global adoption.

Emissions Model

Emissions included in the results below are electricity consumption for cooling, heating, and nonthermal end uses as well as fuel use for heating. For this, global average commercial building energy consumption rates as well as efficiency rates for BAS were collected from a range of sources especially from the International Energy Agency (IEA).[3]  Emissions factors were obtained from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines.

Financial Model

First costs for BAS installation were estimated at US$22.74 per square meter[4], based on 20 data points. Cost data for the conventional pneumatic control was very limited, but first costs were estimated by identifying the technologies included under the “Conventional BAS” class C model according to standard EN 15232 and taking data from retailers on the cost of each technology. Operating costs included building heating and cooling energy (fuel and electricity) and other electricity use. Fuel and electricity prices were averaged over 2007–2018.


Project Drawdown’s BAS solution was integrated with others in the Buildings Sector by first prioritizing the solutions according to the point of impact on building energy usage. This meant that building envelope solutions such as insulation were first, building systems like BAS were second, and building applications such as heat pumps were last. Thus, the BAS energy saving potential was reduced to represent the prior energy savings of higher-priority solutions.


Project Drawdown’s Scenario 1 adoption of BAS avoids over 6.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In addition, implementing BAS across the commercial building stock requires only a marginal investment of US$225 billion more than the Reference Scenario, but saves more than US$1.8 trillion in operating costs over the technology lifetime. Scenario 2 shows 10.5 gigatons and US$3.1 trillion in operating cost avoided at a US$312 billion cost.


Based on both the financial and climate benefits of accelerated adoption of BAS across the commercial building sector, it seems that this solution can play a significant role in emissions mitigation while yielding savings for building owners. The high up-front costs of BAS and the complexity of building systems and the lack of standardization for control approaches have been barriers to the implementation of these systems beyond the large commercial buildings in the US and EU. But trends in automation and the growth of the Internet of Things, which connects many building devices, can accelerate adoption of BAS across the global commercial building stock by making smaller systems more cost-effective. This can improve the business case for smaller building owners as well as for those in developing countries.

Note: August 2021 corrections appear in boldface.

[1] Current adoption is defined as the amount of functional demand supplied by the solution in 2018. This study uses 2014 as the base year.

[2] The US EIA’s Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), BSRIA Consultancy, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

[3] OECD/IEA (2013) Transition to Sustainable Buildings, OECD/IEA, Paris, 978-92-64-20295-5

[4] All monetary values are presented in 2014 US$.