Tuesday 13 May 2014

Going green: cutting costs with smart buildings

By 2050, according to current forecasts, about 6,3 billion people, comprising nearly 70% of the world's population, will be living in cities. This great surge of urbanization and the rise of megacities, each with a population greater than 10 million, will occur mostly in developing countries and boost demand for smart buildings and housing. 

 By Peter Feuilherade

Smart buildings in Lusail City, Qatar

This article first appeared in the November 2013 issue of e-tech, published by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), Geneva.

Evolving concept

The concept of a smart (or intelligent) building has evolved over the last four decades and now generally refers to the integration of a range of systems that improve the lifestyles of a building’s occupants and the efficiency of its operations, especially its consumption of energy and other utilities. The automation of building operations, management and maintenance is integral to the concept.

In the words of the US-based Institute for Building Efficiency, "at the most fundamental level, smart buildings deliver useful building services that make occupants productive (e.g. illumination, thermal comfort, air quality, physical security, sanitation, and many more) at the lowest cost and environmental impact over the building lifecycle."

Smart buildings are often, but not exclusively, associated with the smart city, a term originally used to signify the roles of technology and innovation in urban development, but now increasingly linked with achieving sustainability.

Wide range of features

Achieving a smart building's aims, for economic and environmental reasons, involves the use of a wide range of features including adaptive lighting with occupancy sensing; smart meters that display overall use of electricity and help consumers to monitor and reduce their usage; sensors that gather and wirelessly communicate alerts or data about heat, light, movement and use of space; and the exchange of data between different systems. The cost of wireless sensors has dropped below USD 10 per unit and makes the installation of a smart building management system increasingly affordable.

With commercial buildings accounting for 40% of global energy consumption and contributing 20% of the carbon emissions, BEMS (building energy management systems) can help minimize energy use and cost. Smart buildings play a vital role in the effectiveness of Smart Grids, by helping to align energy generation with energy consumption. Buildings can receive requests to reduce demand when wholesale prices are high or when grid reliability is jeopardized. A smart building management system can also usually detect when an item of equipment is close to failure and alert staff to deal with the problem.

The main forces driving the smart building market are the ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, cut maintenance and operating costs and enhance the life of the building as well as improving the comfort and security of its occupants.

Asia and Middle East lead

Central courtyard and windtower at the Masdar Institute, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Although Europe and North America pioneered smart cities in the 1980s-90s, more smart buildings are now being built from scratch in the Middle East and even more so in Asia, with its soaring rates of urbanization.

Smart buildings can be found in smart city projects such as Masdar City in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Lusail City in Qatar, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, Songdo in South Korea and Fujisawa in Japan. In China, the government has planned more than 600 smart city projects during its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), with an emphasis on water and energy infrastructure, energy-efficient buildings and traffic management. Asia’s dynamic construction activity is expected to bolster its current share (25%) of the global market for building automation systems and controls, BEMS (20%) and intelligent lighting controls (17%).

The Middle East, despite enjoying low energy costs, is also a prolific source of progressive smart building design. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE allocated more than USD 63 billion to develop smart city projects between 2012 and 2017. The aim of the developers of the USD 22 billion project in Masdar City, 17 km from Abu Dhabi, is to create the world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste city, with the emphasis on energy efficiency.

Huge developing market

The US-based market research and consulting firm Navigant Research forecast in July 2013 that the worldwide market for BEMS, driven by technology advances as well as growing familiarity among customers with the benefits they bring, will grow from just under USD 1,8 billion in annual revenues in 2012 to nearly USD 5,6 billion in 2020, a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 15,3%. The market will be concentrated in North America and Europe, although the Asia-Pacific market is where growth is fastest.

Meanwhile, global revenues from wireless control systems for building automation will reach USD 294,8 million by 2020, when annual worldwide shipments of wireless nodes for building controls will total 36 million units. And global revenues from networked lighting control equipment within commercial buildings will grow from USD 1,7 billion in 2013 to USD 5,3 billion in 2020.

According to Navigant, the trillions of dollars that will be spent on urban infrastructure present "an immense opportunity for new transport management systems, Smart Grids, water monitoring systems, and energy efficient buildings".

The smart buildings market, along with other "smart" sectors such as energy, water and transport, is a major contributor to the worldwide growth of the overall smart cities market.

A forecast by the US company IDC Energy Insights estimates that global spending on smart building technologies alone will grow from USD 5,5 billion in 2012 to USD 18,1 billion in 2017 (a CAGR of 27,1%).

Global technology research firm ON World predicted in September 2013 that 100 million WSN (Wireless Sensor Network) devices would be installed in non-residential smart buildings globally by 2019, an 11-fold increase from 2011.

Energy and electricity are key

The IEC develops International Standards covering a broad range of systems, equipment and applications used in the construction and maintenance of smart buildings, encompassing lighting, automation, access control, energy systems, appliances, elevators and escalators, among others. The work of IEC TCs (Technical Committees) plays a vital role in helping to ensure safety as well as interoperability.

Some of the IEC TCs working in the smart buildings sector include TC 34: Lamps and related equipment for general, professional and emergency lighting; TC 59: Performance of household and similar electrical appliances; TC 82: Solar photovoltaic energy systems; TC 47: Semiconductor devices; and TC 72: Automatic electrical controls.

For Smart Grid applications, the IEC published a Smart Grid Standardization Roadmap in 2010 and has defined a range of Standards, among them Standards for substation control (IEC 61850), energy (IEC 61970) and distribution management (IEC 61968) and meter reading (IEC 62056). The CIM (Common Information Model) for Distribution and Energy Management provides a CIM necessary for exchanges of data between devices and networks, primarily in the transmission (IEC 61970) and distribution (IEC 61968) domains, and is a cornerstone of IEC Smart Grid standardization.

Integration and interoperability of smart building technologies

Smart building technologies such as wireless sensors are becoming increasingly interoperable. Several technologies are converging in building controls that will, for example, allow light sources to carry out a dual role as sensors and information nodes too in a distributed network, managing heat, air conditioning, and building security as well as office lighting. Cloud-based technology will have a growing impact on how intelligent buildings are run, linking them with power grids and multimodal transport systems.

There is a strong business case for strategic investments in smart building technologies which help to reduce facility operating costs over time. However, some property owners and investors still need persuading. In the view of Leo O'Loughlin, senior vice-president of Jones Lang LaSalle’s energy and sustainability services business, "not everyone is aware that the tremendous advantages of today’s affordable smart building management technologies easily justify the cost".

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