Smarter Buildings = A More Intelligent Future
Updated: Feb 16, 2022
What is a smart building?
The concept of "smart building" is that buildings can be embedded with sensors, computers, and communications equipment to collect information about the operation, maintenance, and energy use. This data can then be analyzed with computer software and used for a variety of purposes:
Improve efficiency by automatically identifying problems or potential problems before they occur.
Provide better security by monitoring the comings and goings of people inside the building or on campus, or even in nearby areas such as parking lots.
The heralded rise of “Smart Cities” was expected to bring data-centric solutions to urban challenges. To put it simply, a smart building is any structure that uses automated processes to control the building’s operations. This means that things, such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, and security, are connected and controlled automatically by a central system. The role of the building has shifted significantly in modern times. It is no longer the case they simply provide shelter, but rather they are shaping the intelligent future of our cities.
Instead of thinking of a smart building as bricks and mortar, think of it as a dynamic, “living” organism that houses more “living” organisms. Buildings have evolved from basic, unintelligent shelters to technologically-advanced structures, and thus should be viewed by organizations in a new light. When buildings are thought of in this way, it becomes easier to understand how smart building technology goes beyond light dimmers and thermostats; it extends into every part of the building plan, from modeling to move-in. It has never been more crucial to make cities smarter, more efficient, and sustainable for their residents.
Smart Cities have the potential to generate $20 trillion in economic benefits by 2026. Companies are being incentivized to fund Smart City projects through green stimulus packages and strategies that help reduce their financial risk whilst also providing potential for ancillary income.
The accelerated development of new technologies including 5G, AI, cloud, and edge computing is helping to drive the evolution of Smart Cities. We are in the early stages of an edge computing revolution and it is critical to support the exponential increase in the number of connected devices, and vast growth in data collected. Approximately $20 billion of opportunities across hardware, software, and services could be deployed at the edge by 2023, with a significant upside to those numbers in the long term.
Investment in reliable technology and high-speed connectivity is central to Smart City build-out.
The expedited shift to work from home in 2020 is driving the need for reliable and secure high-speed connectivity. As vital infrastructures become connected, cities must be aware of vulnerabilities to adversaries.
Modeling Smart Buildings
There is a lot that goes into the creation of smart buildings and it all typically begins with building information modeling (BIM) and building energy modeling (BEM). While traditional building modeling was done with simple 2D sketches, BIM has allowed engineers to map out the functionality of a structure as well as the 3D design. BEM is an extension of BIM that accounts for how energy is used in a building.
During the BIM/BEM process, all elements are taken into consideration. It is important to note that not all “smart” functionality is high-tech; in fact, some of it is simply common sense. For instance, minimizing thermal bridges is one of the best ways to ensure that a building stays at a moderate temperature without any major fluctuations throughout the day. People have been taking care of this problem for ages by creating thick stone, brick, or concrete walls—but since most buildings today are comprised of thinner and lighter materials, this has to be engineered more precisely. So buildings are modeled with the proper type of flooring, dual- or triple-pane windows, and adequately-insulated walls so it is harder for the heat to pass through.
Building occupants should also be taken into account during this process. Occupants create heat, use plug loads, and need light, so they impact the performance and design of the building in many ways. Unfortunately, humans often do not cooperate with baseline assumptions that are used during the modeling process, which is where monitoring comes into play.
Improved energy sourcing, management, and deployment
With cities consuming over two-thirds of the world’s energy, there is immense pressure to transition to lower-carbon energy systems. Analysts believe investment in smart technology can speed the transition, whilst bringing economic growth and competition. They expect to see significant investment in smart grids, next-generation energy transmission, and distribution networks that can automatically monitor energy flows and adjust to changes in supply and demand accordingly.
Other systems driving the adoption of low-carbon energy will include smart meters, which allow utility companies to introduce price differentiation, microgrids for local sources of energy, and cooperation between companies and governments to maximize the benefits from smart systems.
Smart water and waste management
Access to clean water and the ability to treat wastewater are growing concerns for cities, along with how to better manage waste. Water losses and flooding are also an increasing threat, with the impacts of climate change and rapid urbanization. Urban planners are being forced into upgrading aging drainage systems. That need is bringing smart solutions to the fore, including leakage and pollution detection and predictive maintenance planning.
On the waste side, analysts expect investment in just-in-time waste collection, which uses sensors to optimize the collections.
The traditional waste management model of the bin to landfill is being overtaken by circular waste management, which emphasizes decreasing waste at the source through improved use of packaging, strategic collection methods, and distributed waste-to-energy solutions.
Monitoring Building Performance
Once employees or residents occupy a building, a number of assumptions used in the modeling phase can be proven incorrect based on the way individuals use the space. One of the best things an organization can do when creating its building is to ensure that every part of the building that has been “made smart” is monitored with sensors. Often these sensors can be inexpensive and even wireless.
This could be anything from motion sensors, to lighting, outlets, HVAC (which is typically the biggest load on a building and a very important element of smart buildings), and more. If the organization had this technology embedded in their power strips, for example, they would get alerted to what kind of loads the power strips were handling. This would allow them to fix any issues within the building so that it would remain cost-efficient.
Sustainable, resilient cities bring benefits to residents and investors
The volume of stakeholders in cities has served as a barrier to progress. But thanks to new business models and pressure to meet sustainability commitments, these public infrastructure projects should attract private investment. Analysts have also taken a wider view of what has typically been considered ‘smart’, shifting attention away from consumer-facing smart technologies and prioritizing changes to urban infrastructure. With this approach, cities would not be just smart – but sustainable and resilient for the people living in them, adding to their investment potential.
Wise Up To Smart Building Solutions
Smart building technology does not just allow for trendy or unique features to be implemented; it also helps the building become a better place to live or work in. Environmental consciousness and the hope for a better tomorrow are driving this development of smart buildings and cities. There is a lot happening now in different areas, but we have the same common direction: an efficient, low-emission world, with building automation being one of the elements of this movement. The operational, financial, and environmental benefits of these intelligent buildings are clear and investment in building smarter is needed to ensure a sustainable future.