Key considerations for a new wave of smart buildings

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According to the UN Global Status Report 2017, buildings are the source of 36 per cent of energy use and nearly 40 per cent of carbon emissions in the world today. To tackle this problem, researchers have urged governments to accelerate the adoption of smart buildings with energy-efficient technology, and even progress the development of smart communities and cities. Enabling the next wave of smart buildings requires three components:

Artificial Intelligence

To make significant reductions in energy use and carbon emissions, buildings will need to reduce energy consumption beyond old and proven technologies like thermostats, refrigerators, light bulbs and insulation.

Providing customised experiences for tenants is one of the ways in which smart buildings are utilising artificial intelligence. Not only will customising building environments for each user provide a better overall experience, but with AI, tenant behaviour can be predicted to reduce energy used for lighting, water, heating and cooling. These technologies could be implemented in a number of buildings, such as offices, hospitals, schools and airports.

Demand Response & Flexibility

Demand response is becoming an essential tool in city resource plans, as the world becomes increasingly reliant on fluctuating energy sources and distributed energy. We already have the ability to change energy consumption when energy is high, with the support of micro-scale demand response – this incentivises lower electricity prices. Areas in both America and Europe are experimenting with demand response already, attempting to ensure the right economic incentives, as well as share kWh’s more efficiently.

Moving forward, these technological capabilities will operate within smart buildings to act as fuelling stations for electric vehicles and adjust their charging times in relation to pricing and grid capacity. This attitude could also be adopted towards food refrigeration, cooling data centres, pumping water and more. Most needs that rely on electricity can be interchanged at peak energy times, increasing grid optimisation whilst avoiding brownouts, and also saving consumers money.

Smart Communities

Already, researchers are looking beyond single-use smart technology; moving past individual smart buildings, the opportunities for entire smart infrastructures are huge. Already, smart cities are in development, which can be broken down into smart cities, and then again into individual smart buildings. For these large infrastructures to work, the communities and individual buildings within them need to work cooperatively, and so researchers are working to discover new ways for communities to collaborate, creating large-scale synergies among waste and energy solutions.

To achieve these results, new business models are required. Utility companies, for example, need to look beyond pushing kWh’s and sell energy as a service. Industrial heat and wastewater can be used as a major heat and electricity source for entire communities. One real-world example of this is Aurubis – Europe’s largest copper producer, based in Hamburg, which provides carbon-neutral heating for new parts of the city. Using this heat will save 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions p/year, or 160 million kWh’s annually.

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