Today, the expression “like talking to a wall” sounds like a waste of time. But there’s a revolution happening in smart buildings that is transforming our relationship to these passive structures.
As a result, in the not too distant future, talking to buildings will be the smart thing to do.
That’s because the structures we have lived and worked in since the first shelters were constructed have been passive, silent, unhearing, and unseeing. Now, however, we are witnessing a new era of sensors, cloud-based technologies, digital planning, occupant-centric building automation and services, and the seamless connection of smart electrical infrastructure to the Internet of Things.
“With 90 percent of our lives spent indoors, user-centricity is becoming paramount to occupants’ comfort, productivity and happiness.”
This trend is transforming the 99 percent of buildings that are “dumb” into learning and adaptive environments, and even something approaching living organisms that intelligently interact, learn from, and adapt to the changing needs of occupants and environmental conditions. Space is one of the biggest cost factors for the real estate industry. At the same time, we know that a third of commercial real estate space today is unused or underutilized.
The ability to make dynamic adjustments to building functions to address changing requirements of light, weather, and occupancy is just the beginning. With artificial intelligence, advanced software, and the development of building digital twins, structures will increasingly be able to do things like self-diagnose issues and automatically communicate with the right teams, whether to address an acute need or to schedule preventive maintenance.
A big part of this package is the building digital twin. This fully digital representation of a physical building merges static and dynamic data from multiple sources into a three-dimensional virtual model. By providing a real-time understanding of how a building is performing, it helps operators make adjustments immediately to boost efficiency.
With data collected and analyzed across a building, even emergency situations can be handled differently. For example, if there is a fire, a building can send real-time information to fire fighters about the location of the fire, the places where people are gathered, and all relevant fire suppression and escape route data. In the longer term, by pulling data on building use and performance from these digital twins, architects and developers can gain insights to improve the design of future buildings.
The imperative to get smart
While smart buildings only account for a tiny share of the built environment today, this will change increasingly quickly, driven by the enormous economic imperatives. In the future, those involved in planning buildings will see to it that new building construction embeds sensors, software-driven controls, AI, and monitoring and maintenance solutions. For existing buildings, they will become smarter through retrofitting.
Huge cost savings can be achieved, firstly by taking steps to ensure lighting, heat, and cooling services are delivered only to those parts of the building that need them. After all, up to 50 percent of the energy that an average building consumes is wasted on unnecessary lighting and HVAC services.
Moreover, by enabling predictive, rather than scheduled or reactive, maintenance, buildings can help facility managers significantly reduce costs by replacing parts and making repairs before something goes wrong or a small problem gets bigger. Smart buildings can also help save time and increase field service productivity by pinpointing the location and nature of the service or repair required.
“Smart buildings will play a crucial role in addressing climate change, given that buildings account for approximately 40 percent of all the energy humans use.”
Smart buildings can help us reduce energy demand by understanding and minimizing energy consumption. Another exciting consideration is how each smart building interacts with the wider neighborhood and grid. Buildings with rooftop solar, for example, are in a position to communicate with smart grids to negotiate the sale of excess power to the grid or to participate in demand-side response schemes. Even more dramatically, buildings could play a role in grid storage by using building boilers to store excess grid energy as heat.
We are entering a time of enormous transformation in the field of building infrastructure and services. We see new opportunities for building owners, operators and tenants to reduce costs, improve the occupant experience, and combat climate change. With the rise of smart buildings, it’s clear that the gap between what buildings offer and what people need is shrinking.