As buildings get smarter, the challenge of future-proofing their design becomes increasingly difficult. In a new whitepaper, ABB offers guidelines.
Australians spend roughly 90 per cent of their time indoors between home and work, so a lot of energy is required for the lighting, air conditioning and other systems that keep buildings comfortable, safe and fit for purpose. One estimate suggests the construction, operation and maintenance of buildings accounts for almost 25 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s no wonder that companies with net zero targets are investing in ‘smart buildings’ – structures that leverage integrated processes, intelligent engineering and innovative designs to control the internal environment and maximise energy efficiency. Sydney’s Barangaroo, Australia’s first urban precinct to be certified as carbon neutral, is an example of a network of smart buildings.
A new whitepaper from ABB, Smart Buildings are Smart Business, helps engineers and business leaders understand the business case for smart buildings and how to develop them. Importantly, it addresses how you can retrofit existing buildings.
“While it’s easier to plan for smart buildings during the design and construction phase, any building can be refurbished to add in smarter controls later on,” says Ian Richardson, Building Solutions Technical Specialist with ABB Australia.
“The upfront cost can be absorbed in the total cost of ownership in the long-term very easily. The use of smart lighting, automation, and on-site renewable energy are just some of the ways that buildings can deliver a return on investment.”
The ABB whitepaper offers four pillars for the development of smart buildings, which are summarised below.
1. Assume nothing
One type of solution won’t suit all projects, so think holistically rather than focusing on individual systems or features. Don’t just think about the building’s immediate use either, think of what it means for your project to be future-ready.
2. Work backwards
Buildings are ultimately made for people, so begin by understanding how people will actually use the building. Research what the building’s users will eventually need and get everyone aligned with the same vision.
At the heart of smart technology is an array of discrete switches, sensors and devices working together so that end-users perceive them as a single system. That same approach should be used for development. An integrated approach, where all stakeholders see the same data and are aligned on everything from problem solving to key milestones, is best.
4. Remain flexible
Buildings generally have life spans numbering in the decades, if not longer. Given the pace of technological change, this means you should develop a building that can absorb those changes, meet new demands and even change its core function. Using international standards, such as KNX protocols, helps to future-proof your building.
We’re at the beginning
With the increasing sophistication and adoption of machine learning and artificial intelligence, smart buildings will only get smarter. Even smaller buildings will one day ‘learn’ the different needs of different users and adjust its systems (energy, HVAC, lighting, etc) accordingly.
The hope is that sooner rather than later, buildings of all types will be energy positive and carbon neutral, drawing on renewable sources and supplying power back to the grid, or to charge EVs on site.
“The idea of power load management to handle EVs is a challenge for engineers that’s coming soon, but one answer might be just across the street,” says Richardson. “As more and more buildings become smart and have interoperable standards, we could form smart blocks or smart neighbourhoods, and potentially distribute and share the load across local buildings from local sources of energy.
“Buildings live for a long time. The technologies that are in use today would have seemed like science fiction 100 years ago. It’s fascinating to think about what buildings might be like, 50 to 100 years from now.”
If you’re developing a smart building – or creating a proposal or business case for the same – ABB’s ‘Smart Buildings are Smart Business’ whitepaper can help. For those who are interested in the future of energy management more generally, subscribe to the ABB’s newsletter for insightful articles and technical breakdowns on the latest innovations.