Smart Buildings – Making Use of Technology to Reduce Consumption

The idea of smart buildings is not new – in 1986 Rank Zerox developed a smart building which won many accolades.

Things have progressed significantly since then in line with the acceleration and development of new technology generally.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is advancing a new breed of smart buildings that are better aligned with the priorities of property owners and managers. IoT enables operational systems that deliver more accurate and useful information for improving operations and providing the best experiences for tenants.

However, if we do not use the information generated in an appropriate and resourceful way, this is of no benefit to anyone. We need to design and build buildings that really are “SMART” and meet the need of all stakeholders. We should use the information generated more wisely to achieve the expected benefits of occupant comfort, the use of energy, water, and building resources more efficiently and therefore improve facility staff productivity.

What is smart?

The term Smart can be overused. We have smart cities, smart construction, smart contracts, smart controllers, smart devices, smart grids, smart homes, smart meters to name but a few used in the built environment. Cities are becoming smarter, and smart cities and smart grids need smart and intelligent buildings.

What is a smart building?

Often the term “smart” is overused. What does it actually mean to be a “Smart Building” or “Intelligent Building”? “Smart” is used to describe advanced actuators, sensors and related devices. A “Smart Device” is operated by a microprocessor and communicates with external systems via some form of data network. An “Intelligent System” is used to describe a combination of  “Smart Devices and Systems”, with software coordinating the “Smart Items.” “Intelligence” implies the ability to automatically adjust operating parameters interactively between “Smart Items” to optimise building functionality or performance. It is about connection and devices. A study by Cisco, although carried out in 2011, shows the exponential increase in connected devices towards 2020.

More and more building systems are becoming connected. There is too much information on each of these to include all of the detail of each here, but below is an example of those systems that can have the ability to communicate:-

  • Building Management Systems – BMS have traditionally been the nerve system and central point of data collection from a buildings plant and equipment. These can vary in scope and functionality, from a simple system just monitoring basic plant such as boilers, through to a complex system which incorporates all elements of building services.
  • Metering – Including main fiscal meters, sub meters on plant and equipment and meters for billing purposes. These would cover electricity (consumed and produced), gas and other fuels, and water.
  • Fans – Supply and extract, air handling units, and associated sub systems. Terminal units including VAV units, fan coil units and associated controls.
  • Pumps – heating, chilled water, hot water services and cold water booster.
  • Boiler Plant – Internal controls and data collection, burners, flue gas analysis, combustion controls.
  • Chillers – Internal controls and data collection.
  • Cooling Towers – water quality control and monitoring, water consumption and fan controls.
  • Pipework systems – Leak detection and water quality monitoring.
  • Electrical systems – Lighting, UPS, Power Generation and inverter controls.
  • Protection systems – Fire and security, access control and CCTV.
  • Vertical transport – Lifts and escalators.
  • Wearables, sensors, mobile related applications.
  • Facilities management tools such as meeting room booking, car park control, stock control, etc.

It essential that the control and communication strategy is considered and incorporated at the design stage of a new or refurbished property. Building Information Modelling (BIM), is becoming an increasingly important tool, not only for design, but also to optimise the operation. Smart equipment can assist with providing data for predictive maintenance and failures, improving reliability and reducing breakdowns. It can also provide “big data” and other data which is essential to manage energy consumption and carbon reduction.

Energy efficient building and smart buildings go hand in hand, as the graphic below demonstrates.

connection between smart building and green building

Most of us spend over 90% of our time indoors. This has a profound impact on our health, happiness, productivity and wellbeing. Increasingly systems and equipment are able to connect to the internet, and to communicate with other systems, whether that is within the building, or externally. When this is linked to wearables, and smart phone type technology, then occupant individual needs can be more easily accommodated, optimising health and wellbeing of occupants, and in turn improving productivity.

Smart buildings can also be very energy efficient, provided the systems installed are designed and operated correctly, and the users understand how they are meant to work. They can also have a big impact on the national energy strategy, by using demand response strategies that reduce consumption on the national grid at peak times.

Technology has progressed to a stage where not only is it becoming more affordable, with shorter return on investments obtainable, but it can be “self learning”, which means systems are able to automatically adjust to suit the occupant requirements without human intervention. This does have its own drawbacks, but with experience in an age when suitable qualified and experienced engineers and operators are becoming an endangered species, there are more benefits than drawbacks.

One example of this, is the research being undertaken by arbnco with Strathclyde University on utilising data collected on producing energy performance certificates, to influence and adjust conditions within a building to satisfy the occupants. Linked to sensors in the building, optimal conditions can be maintained, through adjusting systems and equipment automatically, with the aim of enabling occupant satisfaction and improved productivity.

There are a number of buildings recently completed, that would not have been thought feasible even 5 years ago. For example, a building in Amsterdam known as The Edge, incorporates a number of smart technologies, including environmental control using smart phones, and lighting that is fed from the ethernet and which is fully addressable.

More and more innovative solutions are being proposed, not just for new buildings, but for use in existing buildings. One interesting development, is using lighting as a means of streaming data. Known as LiFi, it is much faster and more secure than conventional Wi-Fi, and although there are drawbacks, potentially it could help in making smart buildings even smarter. Another example is the use of the lighting control with LEDs to mimic the circadian rhythm that natural daylight brings, enhancing health and wellbeing.

However, although smart buildings can provide many benefits, in my view, care should be taken when incorporating smart technologies. It is important that thought should be given at the feasibility and design stage as to the operational requirements to ensure that the data and information being provided can be managed. Thought should also be given to any automated processes flexible and compatible and systems of open protocol type to allow change in the future, and to take account of the varying range of building operators qualification and experience.

What next?

Visit the arbn well page, our software solution focusing on enhancing the health and wellbeing of people.