Is Smart Building Technology the Future of Sustainability? We take a closer look at Smart Sustainability.
By Ray Brosnan of Brosnan Property Solutions
The future is a great challenge for today’s architects and city planners. They must develop new infrastructure and buildings that are reassuringly future-proofed. Homes are already incorporating Smart technology to increase efficiency, but they must now include sustainability.
The United Kingdom is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. By emphasising sustainability in the materials they use, architects and builders can help reach this demanding target.
Introduction: The Future of the UK
Experts have been predicting a very different future for the UK by the year 2050. Climate change will still be a major factor with carbon emissions leading to an increase in global average temperatures. This additional heat will continue to melt polar ice caps, leading to alarming rises in sea levels.
An article in Country Living Magazine cites information from the Oceans and Coastal Management Organisation that predicts large swathes of the UK will be swept away. These could include East Anglia, Merseyside, Yorkshire, Wales and the South Coast.
The population in these areas will have to move inland to new cities. However, these are likely to be overcrowded, as according to the World Population Review, the UK’s population is predicted to reach at least 77 million, an increase of at least 10 million compared to today. To keep carbon emissions within pledged targets, city planners are developing adventurous techniques for smart sustainability.
Why Buildings Need Smart Sustainability
A report in BBC News stated that creating building materials such as steel and concrete currently contribute around 8% of global carbon emissions. According to the Government’s data, running the UK’s homes and businesses releases up to 505 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Converting to Smart sustainability should drastically reduce both of these figures.
What is Smart Sustainability?
Smart sustainability combines technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT) with age-old practices such as recycling, upcycling, and reusing existing materials. IoT in particular is set to be instrumental in controlling carbon emissions. It ensures every system within a home or commercial enterprise is coordinated, enabling it to run as efficiently as possible. Through sensors placed strategically within the building, IoT technology can determine issues such as energy use per person. This includes a proportion of the overall lighting use, central heating, and effective insulation.
Energy use throughout the day is strictly monitored, particularly for household appliances. It provides solutions as to where cuts in carbon emissions can be made. Consequently, programs within the controlling mechanism shut down systems at times when they won’t be missed. IoT is already an integral part of many facility management services, helping to make businesses reduce their carbon footprints.
Sustainability in a building means using recycled materials wherever possible. Aluminium is a staple part of many new building projects as it possesses tremendous strength. It’s also highly malleable, enabling the creation of iconic buildings such as London’s 30 St. Mary Axe, affectionately known as the Gherkin. According to ASM Metal Recycling, aluminium in the UK is currently recycled at approximately 98%. The metal retains all of its remarkable properties during recycling. In addition, the process is environmentally friendly, preventing nine tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every time one tonne of recycled aluminium is used.
Designing for Smart Sustainability
Several technological advancements are aiding the progress of Smart sustainability in building and design. Uninterrupted connectivity is a vital issue in buildings that rely on IoT. Existing buildings constructed before the internet era frequently contain ‘dead’ zones where tracking systems and sensors usually fail. In futuristic Smart buildings, architects purposely design for Wi-Fi and connectivity. Consequently, the flow of rooms is streamlined enough to incorporate the sensors required for IoT monitoring.
An advanced feature of architectural design and IoT is digital mapping. This creates a digital replica of the building. As an exact twin, it produces real-time updates for a wide range of procedures such as energy usage and efficiency within the building. it provides constant Smart information that enables systems to be instantly regulated to conserve resources and reduce the building’s carbon footprint.
Efficient Control Hub
Smart sustainability works at its best when it incorporates multiple systems into one streamlined hub. It is much more efficient than operating several individual apps at the same time. Many such systems can be easily controlled through a smartphone, tablet or PC. There are even more advantages when a centralised hub is installed in a large organisation. It enables maintenance staff to keep track of repairs and energy usage. It even assists with issues such as security.
Benefits of Augmented Reality
Architects are increasingly using augmented reality to help design new infrastructure and buildings. Combined with CAD software, augmented reality helps create a three-dimensional image of a design or city as it is being planned. It provides an immersive experience that is reliably realistic. It enables designers to gain a far more effective insight into how their new infrastructure is developing than ever before.
A Future of Environmentally-Friendly Buildings
A growing number of today’s designers are planning for the future by revisiting the past. Centuries ago, new building materials were scarce and difficult to acquire. When old buildings such as fortified manor houses were dilapidated, builders simply used the quarried stones and timbers for new properties. Interestingly, the UK has made great progress in recycling building materials.
NBS is an organisation that provides the construction industry with environmentally-friendly information. One of its recent reports highlighted that in 2014, the industry contributed 59% of the 202.8 million tonnes of the country’s wasted materials. However, just six years later, construction materials were being recovered and reused by up to 89.9%.
Smart Green Buildings
In addition to technological solutions such as energy monitoring, sustainable Smart buildings usually incorporate recycling and upcycling in their designs. Reusing timber is particularly important as it preserves trees that convert harmful carbon dioxide into oxygen. Yet according to ForestResearch.gov.uk., the UK produced approximately 10.4 million tonnes of raw, green softwood timber during 2021, an increase of 4% compared to the previous year. As sustainability increases in popularity, more timber will be recycled and reused in the future.
Smart technology is ideal for ecological, sustainable building design. According to Statista, solar panels are currently producing an energy equivalent of 54,000 metric tonnes of oil. Converting sunlight into electricity is a sustainable system that virtually eliminates a building’s carbon footprint. When controlled by Smart technology, it can be one of the most efficient ecological systems.
Sustainable Heating Design
According to Statista, 78% of UK homes still use gas central heating. Data collected during the 2021 census revealed that only 98,730 homes were heated by sustainable, renewable energy. The government has published details of how it wants at least 30 million homes to convert to sustainable heating methods. Consequently, Architects are now eager to incorporate sustainable heating systems such as HVAC heat pumps in their forthcoming building projects.
Experts are predicting a higher number of UK residents will be competing for less land in the future. Existing and new homes must have energy efficiency built into them to reduce carbon emissions. Sustainable heating methods such as solar panels and HVAC heat pumps are even more effective when controlled by Smart technology. Architects can help reduce carbon emissions by using recycled and upcycled materials in their building projects. Through Smart technology and ecological building principles, sustainability can be a major influence over the future of the UK’s buildings.
About the Author
Ray Brosnan is the owner of Brosnan Property Solutions, a facility management services business in Ireland. They provide services in the commercial, residential, healthcare, and manufacturing industries.