Simon Parsons, IBM Global Business Services, addresses some of the key questions facing the AEC industry.
What’s the challenge with buildings today?
Buildings – from houses and flats, offices, manufacturing sites to sports facilities and retail outlets – are massive energy users. Experts estimate that commercial and residential buildings consume one third of the world’s energy. If worldwide energy-use trends continue, buildings will become the largest consumer of global energy by 2025, more than the transportation and industrial sectors combined. Massive urbanisation is driving this momentum.
Furthermore, by 2050 the world’s population is projected to be more than 9 billion, with roughly 70% of people living in urban areas, creating a significant challenge for the sustainability, energy efficiency and physical capacity levels of cities worldwide.
A city’s infrastructure is comprised of a number of systems, including roads, bridges, public transportation, sewage, water and energy utilities, as well as public and private buildings. What many people don’t realise is how much buildings contribute to this strain.
How do buildings get smarter?
Technology today can make it possible to ‘listen’ to the abundance of information emitted from buildings. By analysing this data and creating new applications to access it, we can identify and squeeze out building inefficiencies to reduce cost, improve energy usage, extend the operating life of the associated equipment and make buildings better places in which to live and work.
Smarter buildings can be highly-instrumented and connected ‘systems of systems’, providing critical information on not only what the building consumes in terms of water and power and the waste that it produces, but also the way in which it is used in practice, for example how its population changes during the course of the day, which specific areas people are occupying, etc.
Can you provide some examples of the kind of work you are doing?
Smarter Buildings is an area where we probably have some of the best examples of ‘taking our own medicine’. IBM has achieved some very significant results. For example, we’ve deployed real-time asset monitoring technology at one of our major manufacturing sites in Rochester, Minnesota, where we had already achieved savings of 5% to 7% per annum through traditional energy-reduction activities. Many might consider that to be a great result, but we’ve gone further. By analysing the performance of equipment against a set of advanced business rules, we’ve managed to make incremental energy savings of some 15%. At the same time, reactive maintenance has decreased by 16%, the hours per work order have reduced by 34% and the total number of work order hours has decreased by 49%, for those assets being monitored by our system.
We’re rolling out the same solution to our largest UK sites during 2012, as well as being in detailed discussions with a number of household names around deploying the same technology across their property portfolios.
What role will buildings play in creating smarter cities?
We will see groups of buildings start to mimic living systems – buildings will be addressed collectively as they relate to the ecosystem or the immediate community in which they are located. Smarter communities will help address health-related or environmental sustainability issues in a city, such as carbon emissions and local energy demand.
For example, rather than just looking at air quality in a building, we can think of the respiratory system of the locality in which the building ‘breathes’ – i.e. including the associated carbon emissions and other pollutants rather than just the ‘fresh’ air intake. This will drive measures like green roofs and corridors built to connect both horizontal and vertical surfaces, as well as blurring the lines between cities and the surrounding suburbs and countryside.
A community is a microcosm of a city – if you want to make a city smarter, starting at the local community level can be the first step to building a more manageable ecosystem. Successful community-level improvements can eventually be replicated and connected at a city level.
Much like the consumer has at the residential level, are you seeing better control over energy usage at the commercial buildings level?
Yes, today we have better control over energy usage, but soon buildings will be able to ‘choose’ their sources of energy. Think of it as an ‘energy cafe’ – making energy choices will be as easy as ordering a cappuccino.
Today, most coffee bars offer us free Wi-Fi. Tomorrow’s ‘energy cafe’ will provide access to a low-carbon, community-wide distributed energy system. Rather than using one form of renewable energy, it will incorporate a number of forms. Just like customers who order which type of food and beverage they want based on cost and source (such as ‘organic’ or ‘conventional’), we’ll be able to do the same with energy sources.
Organisations will increasingly be able to dynamically choose the source of their energy at their desired price, based on incentives, time of use, etc. If they have environmental targets to meet, they might decide to source 30% of their energy from more sustainable sources like solar and wind.