Smart Buildings: What they are, Benefits and Future Prospects

Right from the time humans existed, one of her most basic needs has been to have a shelter. Early men found refuge in caves and other natural shelters-providing structures. As time progressed, humans began to apply their initiative to use materials like stones, animal hides, wood and leaves to put a roof over their heads. Fast forward to today, man has undoubtedly come a long way. Lofty buildings fill our landscape, whose height and magnificence would be inconceivable to even the brightest minds of the ancient civilization.

The primary reason for shelter is to provide protection against the harsh conditions of the external world. At least, this was the entirety of what it represented for the cavemen. As human ingenuity advanced over time, numerous devices were invented to make a building a more conducive place. From HVAC systems for temperature control to security systems. Over the years, these devices have been improved independently to improve their efficiency and to handle environmental pollution better.

With the improvement of living conditions, the world is experiencing a population explosion as never experienced before. This means that there are an ever-growing pressure and demand for resources. This century is also faced with the challenge of global warming. Therefore, more stringent procedures are being put in place to ensure that the impact of buildings on the environment is well understood.

It is no longer enough to build a space with electricity, comfort, and security. Homebuilders now realize that a more robust approach is required to integrate the different electrical components in a building. This approach will dramatically improve efficiency, cut energy costs, and minimize greenhouse emissions and that’s what smart buildings are all about.

What are the smart buildings?

A smart building is any structure through which basic building functionalities like the HVAC system, lighting, and safety systems are automated. Not only are they automated, but they are also seamlessly integrated to function in a way that will optimize energy usage.

The development of a smart building requires implementing intelligence to the building right from the design phase, even before construction commences. A smart building is hinged on the interoperability of the diverse subsystems in a building.

In addition, a smart building is connected to a smart power grid. This integration is implemented through Information technology that uses sensors, microchips, and actuators to collect data, analyze them and then, automatically implement the most optimal option.

To have a better understanding of how smart buildings work, we’ll consider how they function to influence the following under the subheadings below.

  1. Interoperability of Building systems
  2. Integrating People and Technology
  3. Connecting to the baseline
  4. A Holistic connection of systems for better decision making
  5. Smart Power Grid Integration
  6. Future Prospect

Interoperability of Building Systems

Today buildings are characterized by several sophisticated mechanical systems and complex electrical networks. These systems are there to enhance the comfortability of buildings and improve their security integrity. However, most of these systems function in isolation. This means that the data generated from systems aren’t shared with other devices. This is because of the intellectual property that guards against data sharing.

Smart buildings are based on the interoperability of various systems. Therefore, the connectivity between various devices in a building is required. Imagine a building in which the security system automatically switches off the light and cooling system when the occupants are not around.

For integration between building systems, different bodies need to cooperate by shifting from a competitive mindset to a more open-source interaction. While this step looks like a sure way to undermine profits, its benefits outweigh any perceived drawback in the long run. Several parties have had the courage to pioneer such collaboration. This collaborative effort has led to open standards like LonWorks and BACnet.

Through the platform, the devices of several manufacturers can feed off data from other systems to ensure higher working efficiency.

Integrating People and Technology

The crucial role of people in smart buildings cannot be overemphasized. The complex network of software and hardware wouldn’t mean a thing without people to take advantage of them.

Smart buildings also make efficient use of the human resource needed to run the building. The budget for facility management is usually tight. Therefore, cost-intensive programs for training staff are no longer becoming a viable option.

Smart buildings utilize technology to provide the tools through which innovation can be fostered by people. In the future, this interaction will enable facility managers to perform better at their job by providing improved comfortability, enhanced safety, cheap electricity, and greener buildings.

Connecting to the Baseline

Think of the internet – it’s a system of interconnected computer networks to form a “super network”. Smart buildings can be thought of in like fashion – the integration of various subsystems to form a “super system”. Here are some of the benefits of the so-called super system.

The optimization of an HVAC system: By analyzing loads dynamics on a real-time basis, the system can ensure that the HVAC system runs at an optimal level with minimum cost.

Occupant/Energy use Matching: By monitoring the number of people in a room, a smart building will run at an optimal temperature to match the requirement.

Proactive Equipment Maintenance: The sophisticated algorithms in smart buildings are able to anticipate when a fault in the system is underway. This way, preventive repairs can be carried out and will prevent the otherwise expensive breakdown costs that would have been needed.

Robust Power Consumption: Smart buildings utilize information from the electricity market. This data is used to alternate energy usage in such a way that it will run at a minimum cost at any point in time. By selling load reductions to the power grid, smart buildings can be a passive income stream generator.

This interconnection offers a platform through which a plethora of information can be utilized by several building subsystems. This openness of data will allow the proliferation of applications that will further enhance the efficiency of smart buildings just as how millions of applications have been developed on the internet platform.

A Holistic Connection of Systems for Better Decision Making

Major enterprises make use of building management systems that monitor and regulate the heating and cooling process of a building automatically to suit the necessary conditions. This helps in measuring the efficiency of the various systems thereby making it possible to compare how they are faring compared with the efficiency and emission targets. However, this data is usually beyond the reach of the company’s executive that can actually make the needed decisions.

Now, middlewares which are a translation software serves as a holistic platform collects data from all automated systems in a building irrespective of its make or protocol algorithm. The report is displayed on a web-based visual dashboard. It is then possible to easily monitor the various energy usage of several devices from a common platform. This way, malfunctioning subsystems can easily be pinpointed.

With this platform, executives have real-time access to the overall performance of the total system in an enterprise. This will help executives in making adequate decisions that are required to fit into their organization’s long-term target for sustainability and greenhouse emission.

Smart Power Grid Integration

For over a century, electricity has been constantly evolving. From a rigid electricity system to a more flexible smart grid power system. A smart power grid involves a network of operational and energy measures that enable the efficient distribution and usage of energy. Smart grids get energy data in real-time and can communicate with smart buildings on how to get the best of the power grid.

As an example, a smart grid can be programmed to anticipate short-term weather conditions and utilize this information. For instance, if it’s going to be very hot in the afternoons, the demand for electricity for cooling will rise. A smart grid can then communicate with smart buildings to reduce its load and get a cheaper payment rate. A smart building is designed to accept the proposal through an automated process that reduces its load.

However, human intervention is inevitable because the comfort level is subjective to occupants. With technology, building operators will be adequately equipped with the necessary information to make decisions seamlessly. This process is far better compared to facility managers trying to constantly monitor the smart grid to take advantage of such benefits.

Future Prospect

By now, we fully realize how smart buildings help to save energy and are environmentally friendly, however, that’s not all they’re limited to. Because they’re efficiency-driven, they allow equipment to run optimally thereby extending their lifespan. By being automated, they are able to contribute energy to the power grid by reducing their load momentarily. In short, they make optimal use of both human and capital resources.

Smart buildings are just in their infant stage, but their expansion in the last few years has been phenomenal in the last few decades. In the future, smart buildings will play a crucial role in shaping the planet. By 2060, global electricity demand will double.

Thanks to the advancement in renewable energy technology, we will be able to harness alternative energy sources without worrying about carbon emission. The future will be predominantly driven by electricity, from electric vehicles to smart buildings. The key lies in sustainability. Currently, buildings account for more than 40% of energy usage in the US. As smart buildings are efficiency-driven, they will help to cut energy wastage.