By Ali Dika

The sustainability benefits of smart homes are well publicized and those of us who have digital power outlets, smart thermostats and automatic lights know firsthand about the energy and cost savings. However, much less discussed is the broader adoption of smart building technology by companies and industries. With buildings generating nearly 30 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the latest data from the Canada Green Building Council, it would be impossible to ignore how quickly our path to net zero would expedite if entire sectors adopted them.

That may seem daunting for companies with well-established infrastructure, however smart, streamlined digital solutions do exist. Not only do these solutions exist, but they can make companies more competitive, efficient, and consequently more attractive for other companies to do business with.

Facility operators and managers, whose job is to find cost savings and increase building safety, can digitize their electrical and mechanical infrastructure and couple it with a smart software platform. Not only will this lower their energy spend, but it will also contribute positively to the environment.

Best practices for building smartly

Existing buildings with conventional infrastructure can be retrofitted with the proper hardware and cloud software to become smart, integrated buildings with inter-connected systems. Once online, building facility managers are equipped with energy and predictive maintenance data in real-time, a feature that has proven to optimize energy consumption and reduce both operational and energy costs by about 25 per cent.

Smart buildings have digital energy and asset management systems that capture vast amounts of data. That data is then analyzed and can be accessed on a fully integrated cloud-based platform. In addition to producing reports and analyses, the system provides insights that enable smarter (and even automated) decision-making. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and automation combine to create a system that keeps getting smarter and calibrates itself over time.

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This translates into smarter, evidence-based decisions that can positively impact cost savings, reduce carbon footprint, and create a healthier environment for occupants.

Healthier planet, healthier people

Digital, contactless environments in buildings provide significant health benefits, especially when health safety policies are in place (like in hospitals). We’re also seeing a greater focus on building occupant flow, air ventilation and air quality across sectors. Correspondingly, the sensors in smart buildings track energy consumption, the number of occupants and how they use resources and space. This data can then be utilized to inform decisions about the use of space and resources as well as ways or areas to improve air quality.

Smart buildings are the optimal solution for tracking this kind of data. They are also the obvious option for reducing the building sector’s carbon footprint—whether retrofitting old buildings or constructing new ones. And that will help in achieving net-zero emissions for buildings.

Tracking consumption to stay on track to net zero

While the technology has existed for some time, government initiatives typically propel more widespread adoption. Canada, for example, has implemented the Smart Buildings Initiative (which applies to federal government buildings) and the Canada Green Building Strategy (which applies to the entire building sector). These programs include guidelines, requirements and penalties related to energy efficiency and sustainability in buildings—targets that, smart building products and services play a major part in achieving.

The Canadian federal government has recently announced two new green building programs totalling $235.5 million to support deep retrofits for commercial, institutional and mid- or high-rise multi-unit residential buildings: the Deep Retrofit Accelerator Initiative (DRAI) and the Greener Neighbourhoods Pilot Program (GNPP).

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Furthermore, companies such as ABB are taking additional initiatives. ABB and Export Development Canada (EDC), Canada’s export credit agency, have signed a global partnership to promote investments in sustainable technologies and projects in Canada and around the world. The support provided by EDC, with a total limit of up to US$2.9 billion, will provide ABB’s customers with financing and insurance solutions to strategic electrification and automation projects in the sectors of clean technologies, advanced manufacturing, digital technologies, and resources of the future. Commercial financing will be provided on a project-by-project basis and the partnership will initially run for three years.

“I am very pleased about our partnership with EDC and their trust in ABB as a global technology leader in electrification and automation,” said ABB CFO Timo Ihamuotila. “This partnership enhances our value proposition to customers and is fully in line with our purpose to enable a more sustainable and resource-efficient future. It will offer our customers and us the opportunity to further invest in sustainable technologies and – in doing so – to contribute actively to reaching decarbonization goals in various industries.”

ABB’s ecosystem includes customers, partners, and broader industry collaborations. The global company with offices in Canada partners with tech giants like Hewlett Packard and Samsung as well as small start-ups like Pratexo, and energy service companies to share best practices and innovate technologies that will reduce long-term impacts on the planet.

Helping McMaster University manage their building retrofits

McMaster University is using technology to better control and manage its legacy thermal systems and create smarter buildings. Carmichael Engineering Ltd., a Canadian systems integrator, worked closely with ABB Canada’s leading experts and its adaptable smart building platform to improve energy efficiency, enhance user adaptability, and leverage innovative technologies in locations across campus.

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The project was prompted when McMaster University decided to upgrade many of its buildings to a flexible control platform to ensure better efficiency and building management, while simplifying control of elements such as air quality, temperature, and carbon emissions. McMaster’s challenge lay in migrating legacy systems across campus, some with 1960s technology, and newly constructed digitally enabled smart buildings.

“To ensure interoperability, it was important to choose systems that can align with all environmental requirements and specificities,” explains Alvin Baldovino, director of Engineering Operations at McMaster University.

Five of the University’s facilities are now either using or developing innovative smart building solutions with ABB hardware support for such a transition. Facilities include: the McMaster Museum of Art; select campus laboratories, including a lab with the high-resolution electron microscope; and the under-construction McLean Centre for Collaborative Discovery.

Furthermore, the McLean Centre for Collaborative Discovery, a 10-storey facility that is currently being built on McMaster’s campus, aims to be one of the university’s most sophisticated and sustainable buildings. The building will use ABB hardware to enable all systems to communicate and gather data, thereby facilitating reporting and resulting in prompt maintenance.

Initiatives such as these drive industry-wide change and accelerate the adoption of the technology that will make a tangible difference. Industry across all sectors stand to benefit from the energy efficiency gains and the cost savings of the smart building revolution. If adoption continues to gain momentum, cities will become smarter, more sustainable and attractive places to live.

Ali DikaAli Dika is a seasoned professional with over a decade of expertise in smart building technology. He is Product Director for Smart Power & Smart Buildings at ABB, where he plays a key role in shaping the industry’s future. 

Featured image credits: ABB

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