Smart City

Smart City Sentinel

The Future of Buildings is Smart

By Erik Linask

Smart buildings use technology to improve the efficiency, comfort, and security of their occupants.  They leverage IoT sensors, controls, and automation to collect data about the building's environment and operations and use that data to optimize building performance in areas such as energy consumption, lighting, HVAC, security, and access control.

Smart buildings help reduce energy costs, improve occupant comfort, and increase security.  They can also help to improve worker productivity, educational development of students, and generally positively influence activities.  Additionally, smart buildings can reduce the environmental impact of buildings by reducing energy consumption and improving air quality.

Many of these technologies are similar to the smart lighting and thermostats that people install in their homes for convenience and energy efficiency, so it’s not surprising that the use of IoT to better manage larger buildings is also growing.  In fact, according to Grand View Research, the smart building market is on a rapid growth trajectory, projected to reach $570 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 26.8%.

What makes them smart?  They are designed to be a responsive and adaptive based on any number of sensor-captured conditions, and to create comfortable, secure, and productive environments, while optimizing energy use and environmental impact.

The key to smart buildings is the range of IoT sensors and devices that can be deployed to monitor a broad range of environmental, occupancy, and security-related conditions.  These sensors and devices collect the data that enables control of various building systems and can include everything from smart thermostats and lighting systems to advanced security systems and other environmental sensors like humidity or water level.

They also often incorporate advanced security systems, including access control systems, video surveillance, and alarm systems, as well as systems for fire safety, air quality monitoring, and other safety features.

The value of these various IoT-driven systems is their ability to be interconnected to maximize the data they collect to optimize building conditions at all times, including managing energy consumption and identifying trends that influence comfort, safety, and costs.  That interconnectivity includes communications systems, which can be set to alert appropriate building management, office, or security personnel based on various events. 

For instance, security teams can be dispatched if unauthorized access is detected, or IT managers can be alerted when the temperature in a server room exceed a predefined threshold.  Perhaps the simplest example is the use of smart lighting, which can be turned off when rooms are empty and, conversely, turned on when people enter a space.  This can help reduce energy costs by up to 30%.  The same sensors can control heating and cooling in buildings to better manage energy costs and comfort.  On a building-wide scale, access control systems can also be connected to lighting and environmental systems.  When everyone has left a building, for instance, lighting can be turned off and heating/cooling can be reduced.  More advanced systems can even identify if an individual has left his office at an unusual time and send a message asking if the temperature can be turned down for the day.  Likewise, when people enter a facility, the systems can be activated.  They can even be controlled on an office by office or business by business basis for multitenant buildings, to accommodate varying schedules at different businesses.

The benefit of smart buildings seems self-explanatory, but there are a range of factors driving implementation of the technologies.

Sustainability initiatives – As the world grapples with the effects of climate change, governments, businesses, and individuals are increasingly focused on sustainability.  Smart buildings can significantly reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, making them an attractive solution for meeting sustainability goals.

Government regulations and incentives – Many governments are introducing regulations to promote energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This includes building codes that require the integration of smart technologies.  At the same time, some governments are offering incentives to encourage the development of smart buildings and retro-fitting of existing buildings with smart solutions.

Cost savings – This is almost always a factor when it comes to new technology.  The operational efficiency of smart buildings can lead to significant cost savings over time.  This includes savings on energy costs, as well as potential savings on maintenance and repair costs thanks to predictive maintenance capabilities.

Technological advancements – The rapid evolution of IoT, AI, ML, and analytics is making smart buildings more viable, allowing for greater automation, better energy management, and the collection of valuable data that can be used to further optimize building operations.  The greater the benefits, the more enticing smart buildings become.

Comfort and convenience – Smart buildings offer improved comfort and convenience for occupants, thanks to systems that automatically adjust lighting, temperature, and other environmental factors.  This can make smart buildings particularly attractive for commercial properties, where tenant comfort can directly impact rental and retention rates.

Improved security – Smart security systems, which can include everything from access control to video surveillance to fire detection, offer enhanced security for building occupants and assets.  This can be a significant selling point for smart buildings.

Data and insights – We live in a data-centric world and the data generated by smart buildings can be a valuable resource.  It can provide insights into building usage patterns, help to predict and address maintenance issues before they become major problems, and inform decision-making around building management and operations.

Health and safety – The COVID-19 pandemic created a new focus on the importance of health and safety factors in indoor environments.  Smart building technologies are ideally suited for monitoring and improving indoor air quality, controlling occupancy levels, and even assisting with traffic management and contact tracing efforts.

These drivers are expected to continue to stimulate the growth of the smart building market in the coming years.  But, it’s not entirely that simple – there are factors inhibiting adoption of smart building solutions, too.

They come with a relatively high up-front cost, especially when retrofitting existing buildings, which can be a barrier to adoption, though long-term value analysis can outweigh initial capital expenses. 

There’s also the cyber security issue.  With cyber attacks becoming increasingly common and more sophisticated, adding IoT networks and devices creates a new attack surface that must be protected.  The good news is cyber security companies are actively enhancing their security solutions to help control risks in IoT environments, including managing data privacy, since there’s a lot of data collected, some of which could be leveraged by bad actors.

Complexity is also a concern.  Adding a full array of smart technologies means not only having to design, install, and configure the systems, but also maintain them on an ongoing basis.  Integrating new technologies into existing buildings adds another layer of complexity.  But, that’s where IoT specialists and MSPs can help – they are experts and handling exactly these kinds of scenarios.

Lack of awareness and understanding is also a factor.  Simply put, building managers and developers don’t know what they don’t know, and have to be educated on the value of smart systems and their long-term benefits.

These challenges can all be overcome, though, through some combination of technological expertise, planning, and education and, frankly, the benefits outweigh them, which is why the projections for the smart building market are strong.  As more smart buildings are developed, their benefits will become evident, increasing demand and driving market growth.  Just as smart devices are proliferating in homes, smart is the future of commercial, industrial, government, and multitenant residential buildings.

Edited by Erik Linask
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Group Editorial Director

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