Smart Buildings Taking the Real Estate Sector by Storm

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Smart Buildings

We have, indeed, come a long way from primordial early human settlements made of stones, sticks and hay. While the era might seem unimaginable today, given the advent of technological gizmos and innumerable skyscrapers, the need for shelter has been the endemic basis of this human requisite. The concept of ‘house’ and ‘home,’ however, has traversed through the tumult of public and private space before being consolidated into systems and structures that allow a symbiotic coexistence of the individuals residing in there. 

As we continue to rely on our outside environment for a host of necessities ranging from lighting to ventilation, it becomes more than important to ensure that the same is done in a smart and efficient manner so that it does not collide with the norms of sustainability. Modern living requires one to look outside the four walls to consider and mitigate the impact of their consumption on the global environment. This ensures productivity of an occupied space besides, lowering expenditures during the lifecycle of a building. 

Therefore, as interoperability, reliability, and security combine together in an over-arching realm of technologies, it has ushered in the development of ‘smart buildings’ that offer comfortable living in a healthy environment. 

What are Smart Buildings?

The emerging concept of smart buildings allows owners, property managers and operators to combine occupant needs and behaviors with the idea of enhancing their safety, welfare and well-being. While doing so, the emphasis is also laid on implementing techniques that can save operational costs, increase the efficiency of the complex, and reduce the environmental impacts. The ultimate goal of constructing smart buildings is to –

  • ensure that comfort, security, sanitation and quality is delivered at the least financial as well as environmental cost. 
  • establish a relationship between the constructed environment and the residents of the area. 
  • establish communication, not only between systems but also between systems and the humans operating it.
  • create a space that offers a better living experience with enhanced energy efficiency. 

This long-term solution to highly specialized needs requires the addition of intelligent measures from the very beginning of the designing phase through the execution and the lifecycle of an arena. For which, the buildings are equipped with home automation systems that run on technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence. 

Why are Smart Buildings a Solution for the Future?

The aforementioned description hardly convinces one to believe that smart buildings are a futuristic solution or how exactly does the concept, the architecture and the design contribute to sustainability or a reduced environmental impact. 

Smart building designs involve use case models to connect the design and construction of the building systems to the modern-day requisites of business. The use case models help buyers or investors figure the reason why one thing might be better suited than the other, besides helping the developer estimate a cost bracket for the proposed model. 

The use case model also helps in understanding the requirements for data generation, sharing and analysis, system interaction and monitoring. Potential smart building use cases could include: 

  • Using weather predictions to prepare for sub-cooling measures during a heat wave.
  • An indoor positioning system to track more assets by monitoring the indoor position of store guests, store products and store equipment. 
  • Usage of a combination of occupancy sensors and indoor positioning as a way to control lighting and HVAC. 
  • Enhancing user experience of a space by regulating temperatures based on an individual’s behavior, needs and nature. 

The building models designed with regard to the usage of the novel Proptech model-Space as a Service (SPaaS) concept-looks at smart buildings as a way to enhance the productivity, economic viability, and sustainability of a given space over a period of time. Not only does it help organizations to design spaces that accentuate employee experience, but also improves the value of a space greatly. This is set to transform the future of the commercial real estate. 

What Does the Smart Building Model Constitute?

Now that we have established the need for smart buildings, we will now look at a variety of smart services that act towards the realisation of the smart building model. The key aspects and trajectory of realising this smart project is listed as follows:

Data Generation and Sharing 

The use case outcomes from the experimental data sets can be used to bring maximum value at a low cost for a developer. As technology enables data capture and analysis; connectivity, monitoring and control is turning into a key aspect of modernist smart building culture. A smart building possesses the systems that gather data and synthesize it in a way that it can be used for system integration. 

Dealing with data requires one to pay special attention to accuracy and resolution that is compatible with the use case (for instance, the number of electrical appliances that occupy physical space over a specific period of time). The following techniques of data collection is what makes a building really smart:

  • Systems for managing and checking the functionality of the construction equipment, elevators, motorized shades. 
  • Proper metering of utility consumption commodities like energy, water and gas.  
  • Sensors for monitoring and measuring indoor air quality. Or motion sensors for burglar alarms, security cameras, switching a light off or on, etc. 
  • Video analytics, Wi-Fi accessibility points, bluetooth beacons for user location. 
  • Visitor management for enterprise systems or platforms. Parking spot availability and other amenities for building-generated data. 
  • Square footage of building spaces, floorplans, locations of desks for generating static data.  

Systems Integration

System integration for intelligent buildings encompasses an interaction between the system and subsystem levels. In this, a collection of IoT devices and HVAC systems operate within a web-enabled network with demand-based control, which in turn provides enhanced flexibility and a reduction in costs. 

A smart building aims at being sustainable and adaptive. Therefore, by integrating various systems, the data generated can be instantaneously put to operational use. Not only can it help in anticipating customer demands but will eventually aid in optimizing services and implementing immediate changes in the existing model. Therefore, smart buildings bring with them, and added business value because data and predictive analytics inform organizational decision-making.

Technology Enablers

There are certain technologies that are fundamentally changing the way how buildings are designed, constructed and maintained. Real estate developers, therefore, need to understand these technologies in-depth to realize the benefits of smart buildings.

Smart Building TechnologyRelevanceUse
Internet of Things (IoT)IoT or Internet of Things refers to a set of physical systems (bulbs, fans, etc) that don’t have an internet connection, but are actually controlled over the internet using sensors and communication protocols like Wi-Fi and bluetooth. So when IoT-enabled devices are installed in buildings, monitoring everything from the performance of individual light fittings tothe health and wellbeing of employees will become possible. 
Data and Predictive AnalyticsData and predictive analytics helps the systems installed in buildings to capture, store and evaluate the past data in order to predict future events. For instance, a residential building is consuming a lot of energy, even though the requirement is not that high. So smart buildings, that have smart equipment installed can identify the problematic areas, manage power accordingly and trim down the bill to a large extent. 
Open Standards ArchitectureAlso known as open protocol systems, it is the process of  integrating new and IoT-enabled sensors and systems to get a certain output by adding a specific input.For example, in order for cameras to identify an intruder, the building management systems can be programmed in such a way that it immediately blocks the access to a specific part of the building. 
Smart MaterialsSmart materials, which are often referred to as intelligent materials respond to changes, in a controlled manner, when they are exposed to the environment. They not only make the building stronger, but also increase their life.  Self healing concrete or weather resistant paints are some examples. 

What’s in Store for India?

To provide the foundation for a faster and sustained economic growth, India, whose population is poised to reach 1.64 billion by 2050, is in dire need of world-class infrastructure. Besides, if the goal of smart cities is to be achieved, emphasis has to be laid upon constructing smart buildings. These buildings would not only require uninterrupted energy and water supply, but will also need efficient solid waste management systems and excellent connectivity. Therefore, to make the physical infrastructure superior, information and communications technology (ICT) will have to be incorporated efficiently.  

Honeywell in collaboration with EY, in 2018, had launched a Smart Building Score tool to establish an industry benchmark for smart cities mission. In this, various commercial spaces, residential complexes, retail outlets, and government buildings were evaluated for their use of 15 technologies that make a structure green, safe and productive. 

According to the report, with a score of 49, the airport vertical consisted of the smartest buildings in India. This was attributed to factors such as the use of energy-efficient electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures, data-enabled infrastructure and smart intrusion monitoring. Residential space, on the contrary, obtained a score of 26, which was way below the national average for the green and safe categories. 

The report suggested that in order to build smart buildings for the residential sector, emphasis has to be laid on – 

  • Surveillance and intrusion monitoring
  • Disaster response and mitigation 
  • Gas and water leakage detection plus notification systems
  • Improving broadband infrastructure
  • Making use of wireless communication

Although these technologies are at nascent stages in India, many commercial and residential real estate companies have started incorporating them. Let’s understand this through an example. 

Infosys, which is one of the largest IT companies in India, owns and operates numerous offices pan-India. Between 2008-2015, the number of employees at various centres grew by 120%; however, the energy consumption in buildings grew by only 13%. This was made possible by using natural lighting, radiant cooling systems, building monitoring sensors and controls, and smart water meeting, etc. Such technologies have also been incorporated across buildings such as the Seawoods Grand Central project in Mumbai and Godrej BKC Mumbai.

Therefore, it is clear from the above-mentioned examples that incorporating well-designed state-of-the-shelf technology can transform traditional buildings into highly-efficient structures. From grid-connected controls and remote audio or video surveillance, smart buildings aim to ensure low energy consumption at a greater comfort by creating a self-aware space with integrated and optimized building structures, services, and systems. “Smart,” is, therefore, the new buzzword in the realm of housing and facilities management. 

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