Smart cities and smart buildings have always been discussed as somewhat separate topics. One falls under the public domain, while the other mostly falls under the private domain. At the end of the day, though, a city is mainly composed of buildings, so what role does a smart building have in a smart city? A better understanding of each is needed to understand the relationship and potential for interconnectivity.
Defining a Smart City
Typically, a smart city starts with a government-funded initiative to connect infrastructure into a monitoring-based network of information. Monitoring with the purpose of measurement sets the foundation for a smart city, while control is the end goal. To improve the efficiency of a system, it must first be measured. There is unlimited infrastructure monitoring related to the power grid, water supply, street maintenance, city lighting, and security. The increased accessibility and sophistication —as well as falling costs of IoT devices— is making it easier to make monitoring capabilities more widespread and to implement control.
One example of this is San Diego’s $30 million streetlight upgrade with GE. In addition to being able to control streetlights remotely to reduce energy and detect outages, the lights are equipped with cameras and microphones that can serve to improve traffic and mitigate crime. While this program started to come to fruition this year, a project like this takes years to coordinate. Much of the funds for smart cities are mostly going to engineering professionals and consultants for research. So, while it may not seem like a city is being proactive when it comes to smart city initiatives, most likely major steps are being taken behind the scenes.
Defining a Smart Building
What constitutes a smart building is essentially the same as a smart city. It comes down to what gets measured and can then be streamlined, fixed or improved upon. Raw data points —from internal sources such as building sensors and external sources such humidity and temperature— can be combined to create information and knowledge. In turn, knowledge can be combined to forecast or institute change, whether that is reducing energy usage, improving tenant comfort, or more.
However, the influx of data can be information overload for a facilities team that already has an abundant to-do list creating a premium on their time. This is what makes a solution like our 5i platform so critical. It sits on top of the building’s building management system (BMS) and uses it as a data source in combination with external variables, such as weather forecasts and energy pricing, to bridge the gap between monitoring and action. The platform uses cloud computing, machine leading, and the expertise of BuildingIQ’s remote team of data scientists to either implement closed-loop control of a system or provide actionable data. It can also allow for communication with the local utility to participate in energy initiatives that extend beyond just a single building to the city.
The Intersection of Smart Cities and Smart Buildings
Utilities need to play a major role in the business justification that drives smart buildings into the ecosystem of smart cities through various incentivized programs. The antecedent of grid management and networking buildings together (e.g. a smart city) exists today to support demand response programs —aimed to curtail energy usage when the utility is nearing capacity on hot summer days during peak demand hours— when consumption is at its highest. As the common link, utility programs will be an interesting proving ground for how smart city infrastructure and smart buildings can interact.
Another key driver is an increasingly strategic view of energy use in commercial buildings. Instead of a cost of doing business, smart companies are looking to leverage their energy use as an asset that impacts productivity, recruiting, employee health, and of course costs. Taken together, there are both intrinsic and extrinsic drivers that help drive smarter buildings and their conglomeration into smart cities. It’s unclear how integrated smart buildings and the city will become. It’ll will be a long journey, but a very interesting one as we all have a stake in the end result.
Terrence McManus is Vice President of Business Development at BuildingIQ. He’s a pioneer in the development of enterprise-level, web-based (SaaS) applications. In the late 90s, Terrence founded Northwrite, a provider of a work flow, maintenance, security, energy metering, and building control solutions. The company was acquired by BuildingIQ in 2016.