Public bodies including councils are under pressure to cut costs and improve the services they provide. One way some are looking to do this is by harnessing the latest technology to make their buildings ‘smart’.
The costs of converting buildings could be a problem, but leaders in the field are talking about using the savings produced by reduced energy costs to enable the upgrade of existing assets. A report by Siemens Financial Services outlines how ‘smart buildings as a service’ could make this happen.
A smart building, according to Smart Start for Smart Buildings, is one that uses advanced technology to achieve a range of benefits. Until recently, it explains, functions such as fire protection, climate control, ventilation, lighting and video surveillance had to be controlled separately. Now, the latest technology means they can be integrated into a single platform.
The new generation of buildings, the report explains, could save around 15% to 25% on energy costs, and with non-domestic buildings estimated to be responsible for between 10% and 15% of carbon emissions, reducing their energy consumption could help make urban environments healthier and more attractive.
Further, because of the ‘intelligent infrastructure’ enabled by digitalisation, they could also improve the security and comfort of their users and reduce the cost of equipment installation, operations and service.
Data from smart building systems, according to their advocates, gives a facility’s infrastructure a ‘brain and a voice’ that can think for itself and maintain a balance between competing interests such as reducing energy use and keeping occupants comfortable.
Air-quality monitors, traffic tracking and other smart technologies mounted on the building allow it to measure, record and report building system efficiency.
But understanding the benefits of smart buildings is one thing, according to Siemens. Finding an affordable way to convert existing buildings in these times of tight finances, is another.
With budgets under pressure, it may be assumed that investment in smart building conversion is unachievable. However, Siemens say, there is a way of allowing organisations to capitalise on the benefits of smart buildings at low or zero cost.
This can be achieved, says Siemens, by ‘smart buildings as a service’. This means the solutions provider agrees a contract with the owner to convert the building over a predetermined period, after which the owner benefits from continuing reduced energy consumption along with the other added benefits.
The building owner does not have to put capital at risk and has conserved their own funds for strategically important development activities – whether in commercial growth or improved public services.
Like other areas in which the ‘servitisation’ model is well established – in other areas of facilities management or in IT, for example – ‘smart buildings as a service’ frees the owner from making upfront investment while reaping the benefits of the latest cutting-edge technology.
The ultimate vision is that with advanced interactive technology buildings will be able to adapt to the needs of their users in real time. This could mean, for example, that a meeting room would automatically provide the resources needed for participants when they arrive including audio-visual aids and internet connections.
The building itself would do the thinking and preparation instead of fallible humans, basing its decisions on what has learned from past behaviours.
The industry is optimistic about the future of smart building techniques, with sales of the technology predicted to grow by about 30% a year. But it doesn’t stop with individual buildings: the talk is of ‘smart cities’ in which entire systems – energy, water, transport, communications – can be linked up through the ‘internet of things’ to make huge savings and massively increase convenience for residents.
In the meantime some relatively simple solutions described in the Siemens report could offer a way of converting buildings to smart technology in an affordable way.
This feature first appeared in Local Government News magazine. Sign up here for your own free copy.