As smart technology continues to evolve and permeate the many aspects of society, foundations for smart buildings are beginning to take shape. According to a new report from Futuresource Consulting, the rise of smart buildings could reduce carbon emissions by 1.98 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide and deliver energy savings of around US$236 billion annually, once the technology takes hold.
“Automated buildings are nothing new,” says Simon Forrest, Principal Technology Analyst, Futuresource Consulting. “The first computer dedicated to monitoring building systems was installed in the mid-1970s. A lot has changed since then, but there’s still plenty of ground to cover. The development of smart buildings and smart home technology must progress beyond the simple control of utilities and services. Once you achieve a building that has the majority of its products and services interconnected, that’s when the underlying technology can be fully utilised, and automation gives way to systems with more intelligence.
“With smartness, buildings move from being ‘passive’ to ‘active’ with predictive analytics helping to anticipate needs ahead of time. Building automation systems can manage and arrange services for the benefit of the owner and the wider environment. What’s more, control interfaces can be designed to become less intrusive, with technology blending into the background. This will represent the first steps towards ambient intelligent spaces.”
Beyond automated buildings, the seeds of smart building control began to germinate from the mid-1990s, with laptops moving mainstream, the rise of the mobile phone and proliferation of the world wide web laying the foundations. From 2006, the introduction of smartphones and connected devices enabled the development of apps, services and cloud computing, while enhancements in broadband communications gave companies the opportunity to have employees work remotely. Since 2016, smart spaces have become a trend, with companies increasingly understanding the concept and investing in automated systems to improve utilisation, reduce operating costs and create healthier, more productive environments for employees.
“People spend more than 80 percent of their lives indoors,” says Forrest. “Today there is widespread acknowledgement that enhancements in working and living environments lead to improvements in health and welfare. If implemented effectively, these can translate into measurable productivity and efficiency gains across a company’s workforce. The industry widely agrees that between 30 percent and 50 percent of energy currently supplied to commercial buildings is wasted; this is the obvious problem currently being solved with smart building automation systems because the return on investment is immediately tangible. However, when you factor in the physiological benefits of smart buildings, that’s when the landscape really gets interesting.”
For smart buildings to succeed, installations need to be robust enough to operate for several years with limited maintenance. The underlying technologies are now at a stage of maturity where reliability has been proven and system stability exceeds the requirements for adoption. Although the common approach is to use wired infrastructure, wireless alternatives are now starting to proliferate, allowing older building stock to be retrofitted with smart technology. The next stage of advancement is to introduce machine learning and artificial intelligence, which hold the promise of efficiency gains through predictive analytics, predictive maintenance and proactive operation.
“Once scale is achieved, advanced services can be introduced,” says Forrest. “For example, an electricity supplier could dim lights by a small amount on a case-by-case basis. This would be imperceptible to users, but would offer a saving on energy bills, while simultaneously reducing electricity consumption across a region, perhaps negating the need for an additional power station to be brought online. Without smart buildings, smart cities and the resultant sustainable environmental initiatives cannot exist.”
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