A Walk Through the Smart Buildings of Tomorrow

Guest blog by Yaniv Vardi

It isn’t hard to understand the thinking behind early architecture. Dangerous neighbors called for high, sturdy walls. Nomadic lifestyles called for tents. Colder climates called for fireplaces, which called for chimneys. Whatever the circumstances of life or geography, chances are we had a building for it.

Most of those structures evolved with the introduction of steel, concrete, glass and other building materials, turning over towering cityscapes unrecognizable to those who came before. The goal of construction, however, remained the same: to keep those inside safe, comfortable and productive. And even though more and more firms are looking to smart building technology, construction will take those three goals into account on a scale never before thought possible.

Talk about technology always precedes the technology itself, and smart buildings are no different. Even today, when we already have so many smart building concepts in use around the world, there is still plenty of confusion over what smart buildings actually are.

In short, smart buildings are the natural next step. For decades, we’ve been allowing building managers more visibility and control over their environments, from lighting and security to heating and air conditioning systems. Now, we’re taking a step back and looking at the impact of our buildings on the environment.

A smart building is a building that operates as a living organism. Thinking, self-aware, responsive and highly communicative. Every system, every machine and every device interacts with coordinated purpose in its service of the whole.

Less abstractly, according to Tina Casey of TriplePundit, “A smart building is one that achieves significant energy savings by taking advantage of improved technology and materials in terms of structure, appliances, electrical systems, plumbing, and HVACR."

Smart buildings allow us to connect and enhance all of these systems. At the end of the day, we’re looking at a workplace that is more comfortable, more productive, and more environmentally conscious. Also, as the folks at Energy Smart can tell you, reducing your building’s carbon footprint will in turn reduce your operational expenses.

Smart Building Management

Imagine this. You work in a smart building and your boss has decided to use your office for a closed-door interview. After a quick check-in with the smart building management system, you’re directed to a vacant room.

Upon entering the room, the BMS reads the chip in your ID card and you’re Monday morning playlist begins to sound. What’s more, the room’s climate controls are automatically set to what the system has learned to be your preferred settings, based on months of data collected after prompting you to rank rooms as too hot, too cold or fine. You’ll be working in this room alone today, so you only need a small workspace. A temporary wall cuts the room in half, allowing the lights and air conditioning to be turned off in the room that you won’t be using.

At any given time, your company is only paying to heat, cool or keep the lights on in occupied areas."

Prescriptive Maintenance in Smart Buildings

The above scenario might just sound too good to be true. When we hear about an intelligent building that can tell us what to do, turn out the lights, or lock the doors, we think “disaster waiting to happen.” All that machine interference and automation may seem like a frightening forfeiture of control begging to go sideways. In fact, the opposite is true.

The complete interconnectivity allows for extreme operational awareness, to the point that human managers are given a simultaneously panoptic and microscopic view into the functionality of every system and its component parts. Potential failure points and waste can be identified before they’ve ever graduated from instrument anomalies.

After an instant notification is sent to the relevant manager, and a service order is placed for maintenance, operational compartmentalization can be implemented at any point in time, at any point within the smart system, to limit the impact radius of any such anomaly. The level of control made possible in a smart building is simply on another level.

Not just will massive malfunctions be a thing of the past but with a complete frame of reference and nearly perfect knowledge, standard operations will be in a constant state of refinement and optimization.

In a traditional building, it might take a human manager twenty minutes to realize that the air conditioning has shut down. In a smart building, that can’t happen.

Prescriptive maintenance technology means that the management system is collecting data constantly, reading each device’s and network’s operational signature every ten seconds. This allows a smart building to “learn” what is expected, and identify any deviations beyond the standard range. If past data indicates that you’ve always wanted the air conditioning on in room 301 on a Monday morning in June, then next June the system and its human building managers will be alerted immediately when the A/C malfunctions.

Energy Intelligence Around the World

Smart building technology has already been implemented in buildings around the world, and the phrase is a constant in any plans for future projects. While a fully-automated system such as the one we imagined is still in development by companies such as Intel, Honeywell and Siemens, we’ve already taken our first steps in places such as Bahrain, Hong Kong and North Carolina. Thanks to an article over at Architizer, we know exactly what that looks like.

At the Bahrain World Trade Center, the nontraditional shape of the building channels wind through three turbines. The turbines, which are supported on bridges that connect the two towers, generate up to 15% of the energy used by the building.

Mansion ZCB in Hong Kong is the world’s first zero-carbon building. Its control systems and innovative cooling systems have successfully reduced 25% of the building’s energy demand, a fact that is easily measured using data collected from the building’s 2,800 sensors.

At the Duke Energy Center in Charlotte, two underground tanks store groundwater and rainwater. The building has its own irrigation system, which minimizes water usage by tracking the rates of both evaporation and rainwater.

All three of these projects have made for better, more dynamic workplace environments, and all three are committed on an automatic level to decreasing energy costs and protecting the environment. Construction has come a long way in the last one hundred years, and with all that smart buildings have to offer we know exactly what we have to look forward to.

Yaniv Vardi is the General manager at Panoramic Power, a member of the Direct Energy group of companies, and a leading provider of device level energy management solutions. Yaniv is a seasoned executive with close to two decades of leadership experience in the Enterprise Software Solution Industry. As CEO of Panoramic Power, he oversees the day-to-day operations of the company as well as provides vision, strategic direction and focused execution for the company.