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Smart engineering solutions can be used to recycle existing buildings to make them part of a connected city that uses resources, particularly energy, more efficiently, says George Adams.

© iStock
© iStock

06 January 2020 | George Adams

Most buildings use energy inefficiently and consume too many natural resources. But 70 per cent of the buildings currently in use will still be inhabited in 2050, according to the World Economic Forum. Newer buildings may be better designed or use more efficient materials and methods but only account for 1-2 per cent of our building stock every year. 

We need a new approach to recycling existing buildings to meet future energy efficiency and sustainability requirements. This calls for smart engineering solutions.

The smart building as a reality is emerging, but far from fully developed. Uses of IoT are becoming more advanced, thanks to data networks that are faster and more robust. 

Crucially, an increase in edge processing capability – processing power close to the end of the network where IoT sensors reside – has enabled sophisticated analytics combining precise measurements of indoor and outdoor temperature, lighting levels and building occupancy. These analytics can help to achieve efficiencies.

How smart solutions work

1. The power of many

Benefits can be achieved in one building, of course, but there’s also value across a whole estate. A good example is work carried out to recycle a block of student flats in London for Unite. The aim was to reduce energy use while improving lighting and ventilation as well as yielding a good ROI. 

Using smart engineering solutions and design stage analytics, a reduction of over 50 per cent in energy costs was achieved using hybrid heat pumps and unique system configurations. 

Post-completion studies were carried out to inform further refinement of the control settings and user requirements of the solution. These findings are being exported to other buildings on the Unite estate. 

2. Data informs actions

National or multinational businesses with several locations can gather energy, operational and wellbeing data from one or more buildings in a central data analytics platform. Engineering experts then use it to optimise performance across an estate. 

The data can be used to make decisions about rationalising space and trends can be identified across groups of buildings to assist in spotting variances or collective similarities in energy use.

Helping the environment

Smart buildings will become part of wider intelligent infrastructure, particularly in cities. There are examples of counties in Scandinavian countries in which groups of houses are linked together for collective use and generate local renewable energy and export to the national grid.

Combining engineering design and new technology solutions based on whole-life resilience and ROI criteria can solve challenges such as conservation of natural resources and air pollution. The US has conducted large city-scale green projects with social, health and energy benefits. 

Better use of resources

Using smart engineering to recycle existing buildings is essential to respond to the climate emergency and must be integrated with other urban infrastructure, transport systems and spaces when planning more cities. 

  •  Cross-referencing data: By analysing building occupancy and cross-referencing this with crime levels or the provision of public transport at different times of day, cities can deploy resources where they are most needed while achieving efficiencies elsewhere.

  •  Street lighting: Intelligently managed, it can save energy.

  • Waste management: Analytics will help to realise circular economy models and make collections more efficient.

Intelligent buildings that are integrated into overall citywide performance and resource conservation will be key to connecting urban life with planetary sustainability. 

George Adams is director of energy and engineering at SPIE UK