Cities consume three quarters of the world’s energy, with buildings alone using 41% of it. By 2050, an estimated six billion people worldwide will live in cities. This poses many serious issues around providing safe and adequate buildings that are also sustainable. Cities also have an obligation to expand responsibly as per the Sustainable Development Goals. They can play a huge part in decreasing global energy consumption by incorporating new technology and becoming ‘smart cities’. 

Insight from Swedish smart building research company, Memoori, states that investment in smart buildings is growing: “2018 has proved to be a record year for investment in the global smart buildings sector, with over $2.4bn invested in startups, showing increased confidence by investors in the sector and indicating the positive response companies are receiving for their products and services in the market.”

There are numerous ways that cities can play their part in reducing unnecessary energy consumption. Examples include using the Internet of Things (IoT) for energy-efficient heating systems, virtual power plants, hot water and cooling systems, as well as energy storage technology. 

In Vorarlberg, West Austria, Bosch and its partners are developing a virtual power plant. It is part of the  “Smart City Rheintal” (SCRh), and aims to ‘coordinate energy balance and offer new energy services based on existing infrastructure.’ SCRh aims to achieve CO2-free energy autonomy by 2050. 

Smart, energy-efficient buildings use energy management systems with IoT devices to create a centralised heating system. Heating, air conditioning, lighting and even fire-safety systems can be linked to a management app. By analysing consumption habits, efficiencies can be made as well as eradicating wasted energy. Research indicates that commercial buildings can waste up to 30% of their energy, so significant savings can be made through better use of energy. Whilst it is a fairly significant undertaking to measure, analyse and understand energy patterns in old buildings, energy management systems will be a matter of course for new buildings shooting up. 

One of the best examples of a current smart building is the headquarters of Masdar City, UAE, which is designed to generate more energy than it uses. The building is covered by the largest integrated solar photovoltaic panel surface, as well as the largest solar refrigeration and dehumidification system ever built – which is also designed to consume 70% less water than a conventional similar-sized structure. The central square, to be surrounded by a 5-star hotel, conference centre and shopping centre, is being developed to be an ‘oasis of the future’. Its quirky innovations include giant sunflowers with photovoltaic technologies. During the day, umbrella-like facilities that absorb heat and sunlight are at play, whilst providing shade for underlying areas. Then during the night, heat is released from the sunflower’s buds. Having broken ground in 2008, Masdar city is now a thriving community and provides a living demonstration of the potential of clean energy deployment and integration into sustainable architecture. 

The capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, has a population of 15 million people. In a bid to transform the city into a smart city through the use of technology, analysis revealed that the city had a problem with light pollution. The government tackled this by creating a public-private partnership with Philips Lighting. It aimed to deliver a ‘smart, scalable lighting system to enhance the safety and sustainability of Buenos Aires and reduce light pollution’. This was achieved by using a sophisticated central light management system called ‘City touch’. The government installed 91,000 streetlights and 51,000 energy-efficient LED luminaires. Philips Lighting also provided a 360-degree view of the city’s light data. This enabled the government to build upon its existing infrastructure and apply new applications incrementally, when needed. The complete installation upgraded 70% of the lighting in Buenos Aires, significantly reduced annual CO2 emissions and saved 50% in operational costs.

Start-ups such as California-based smart window company, View, are also making their mark in the smart building sector. Its smart window technology reduces glare and heat, and improves the energy efficiency of buildings by up to 20%. The company has generated significant investment since its inception and has already installed ‘Dynamic Glass’ in 50+ million square feet of buildings.

Smart buildings provide a strong platform to transform cities. With the right idea and financial backing, social entrepreneurs can also input in to the future foundation of cities.  

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