By 2050, the world’s population is projected to be more than 9 billion, with roughly 70% of people residing in urban areas. With more people flocking to cities, there is an urgent demand for smarter, more sustainable cities.
A city’s infrastructure is comprised of a number of systems, including transportation (e.g. roads, bridges, public transportation, etc.), sewage, utility (e.g. gas, electricity, water treatment and delivery), and public and private buildings. Urbanization and proliferation of these systems are key to quality of life, but also create a significant toll on the sustainability, energy efficiency and capacity level of a city.
What many people don’t realize is how much buildings contribute to this strain. In the U.S. alone, buildings account for 70% of all energy use and 38% of all carbon emissions.
The urgency to create more sustainable buildings comes to the forefront as President Obama recently launched the Better Buildings Initiative. Obama says retrofitting federal buildings should reduce agencies’ energy bills and help the environment. This initiative means the federal government will enter into more than $2 billion in performance-based contracts for federal building energy efficiency by December 2013.
A parallel initiative by 60 private-sector companies, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments will also commit $2 billion to financing building renovations to increase energy efficiency.
Smarter buildings technologies can help the government work toward its initiative by making it possible to better “listen” to the abundance of information emitted from buildings. This includes thousands, if not millions, of data points produced each week from a proliferation of embedded technologies in data centers, water delivery systems, heating and air-conditioning, security devices, and office equipment. Analyzing this data and creating new applications to access it can squeeze out building inefficiencies to reduce cost, improve energy usage, and make them better places to live and work.
As the smarter buildings market continues to evolve, I predict we will start to see five top trends come to fruition:
We will see groups of buildings mimic living systems.
Smart cities are highly instrumented and connected systems of systems–water, power, transportation, and so forth. Similar to a living system in nature, they can be highly complex, especially when you think about the conglomeration of infrastructure over a city’s history.
As smarter neighborhoods evolve, buildings will be addressed collectively as they relate to the ecosystem or neighborhood they reside in. This will help address health-related or sustainability issues in a city, such as carbon emissions.
For example, rather than just looking at air quality in a building, we can think of the respiratory system of the neighborhood that a building “breathes” in–carbon emissions and other pollutants versus fresh air intake. This will drive measures like green roofs and corridors built to connect both horizontal and vertical surfaces, and blur the hard lines that are drawn between cities and the surrounding forests and farmlands.
A neighborhood is a microcosm of a city. If you want to make a city smarter, starting at the neighborhood level is the first step to building a more manageable ecosystem. For instance, work is being done now in Boston’s Back Bay and Roxbury neighborhoods to help the community become early adopters of smart grid technology. The systems are designed to electronically monitor, analyze and minimize power consumption in residential and commercial buildings–as well as in onsite solar and other clean generation systems. Successful neighborhood improvements can eventually be replicated and connected at a city level.
Occupants of smarter buildings will get new, unprecedented visibility.
What happens in your building every day? How much water and energy are you using? Today, most businesses and residents find this out by looking at last month’s utility bills.
Occupants of smarter buildings will get even more transparency into office/residential space, such as how much water and energy is being used at any given moment versus what other community members typically use. Advanced metering and monitoring enable more of a real-time view into actual usage. This transparency also allows facility managers to make adjustments and repairs before issues appear. This has the greatest impact at large facilities, campuses and cities where the potential for cost savings is enormous.
Analytics provides even deeper, X-ray vision into what is happening now. As buildings and cities continue to be instrumented, managers will rely more on analytics to flag outlying behavior and dynamically adjust for optimal settings based on changing dynamics of people, weather, air quality, heat, water and facility maintenance.
This type of work is already starting to happen at places such as Bryant University in Rhode Island. The university implemented a smarter buildings project to monitor, control and intelligently analyze energy use in its IT center as part of a larger consolidation project. Bryant was able to see a 15% reduction in energy consumption and a 42% reduction in cooling. The results generated were so substantial that the university decided to implement the same smarter buildings technologies in 50 more campus buildings.
New apps that connect people to the “Internet of things” will proliferate.
The “Internet of things” is the Internet representation of real-time data streaming from the sensors in the physical infrastructure around us, like GPS location, velocity, vibration, or heat and humidity. The Internet of things arms people with instantaneous information that enables smarter decision making.
We are seeing parking apps, such as Streetline, analyze this data to provide guidance to the best available parking spots. Cities can stream real-time updates on when your bus will arrive or when flu shots will be available for your neighborhood.
Through increasing levels of connectivity, people can also serve as sensors to provide important data and feedback that help build smarter buildings and cities.
For example, citizens can use smartphones to report potholes, graffiti, building or water issues by taking photos with GPS tags and uploading them to the city management where they can be prioritized and expedited.
Technology is an enabler, but people are the change agents that will help us realize smarter buildings, neighborhoods and cities.
Making energy choices will be as easy as ordering a frappuccino.
Today, most coffee cafés offer us free Wi-Fi. Tomorrow’s energy café will provide access to what Thomas Friedman has dubbed the “Energy Internet.” The Energy Internet is a low-carbon, community-wide distributed energy system. Rather than using one form of renewable energy, it incorporates a number of forms.
Just like customers who order the type of food and beverage they want based on cost and source (such as “organic” or “conventional”), we’ll be able to do the same with energy sources.
Organizations will be able to more dynamically choose the source of their energy at their desired price based on incentives, time of use, etc. If they have green targets to meet, they might decide to source 30% of their energy from more “organic” sources like solar and wind, even choosing to buy local versus global.
A company’s real-estate portfolio will transform the finance/real-estate team into a smarter buildings team.
In the next year, accounting changes will rock the real-estate world requiring all publicly traded companies to add billions in new assets to their balance sheets. As organizations begin to itemize all their real property assets, they’re also looking into new ways to reduce costs.
What they’re realizing is that by better “listening” to how their buildings are wasting energy they are finding new ways to not only cut energy, maintenance, and space costs, but to reduce their carbon footprint.
For example, the cost of energy use in New York municipal buildings totals more than $800 million each year and accounts for about 64% of the greenhouse gas emission produced by the city’s government operations. The City is committed to improving the energy efficiency of its 4,000 buildings and is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2017.
Smarter buildings will be able to use resources more intelligently, leading to reduced costs and greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately to smarter, more efficient cities. Better connected people will not only enable but demand this change. It’s time to embrace smarter buildings if we hope to build a more sustainable future.