In this article, John Bohlmann, founder and CEO, HawkenQA, dives into smart building technology, how it works, and how AI has empowered the tech to go mainstream while cutting costs, automating operations, and creating a healthy environment that impacts carbon emissions.
When most people think about carbon emissions, they think about rush hour traffic jams and industrial activities. Many experts urge people to look closer to home when considering how to make a greener world. However, few imagine that the building where they live or work is what experts are referring to.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) explains that buildings are responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, using 40% of global energy, and the sector is the largest contributor to carbon emissions.
But how can buildings have such an impact on the global climate? The answer is simple: operation and construction. In operation, emissions can be constant. These are driven by electricity use, heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and equipment. Buildings also have an “embodied carbon,” which refers to the carbon footprint generated during construction. This carbon factor includes everything from running the construction equipment to the carbon emissions generated through the supply chain, for example, when sourcing steel and concrete.
Despite these severe impacts, buildings have one of the most significant potentials for green transformation. Today, data-driven technology empowered by machine learning models or artificial intelligence (AI) creates smart buildings – where the software automatically integrates with the building’s components. HVAC, air quality, temperature, energy use, occupancy, downtime hours, ventilation, and many other factors can be continually monitored with sensors paired with monitoring technology and can make automated decisions to optimize performance.
Installing smart building platforms was challenging for years because every building is different. Technology has tackled this problem using AI, which can reduce the time and cost of installation. AI-based building solutions are a big step in the right direction toward reducing carbon emissions, not only in the U.S. but globally. Today, smart building platforms are more advanced, more affordable, easier to install, and easier to use than ever.
How AI-Smart Building Tech Works
Reducing the carbon emissions of a building doesn’t mean turning off the lights. It means optimizing resources like airflow, electricity, and water or installing solar panels. Indoor air quality technology is essential to a low carbon footprint due to the significant energy consumption that HVAC systems have. Indoor air monitoring technology uses AI to intelligently control the HVAC-energy balance without compromising the comfort and health of the people inside a building.
AI “learns” the habits of the occupants of a building and can predict when to increase, stabilize, or decrease the usage of heating and air conditioning systems. Additionally, these new systems can be space-specific, only applying changes in the rooms or common areas needed. The same AI can optimize air quality in the building by revealing and acting on sources of indoor air pollution like CO2, humidity, or high particulate matter.
AI can also improve operations and maintenance. When smart building systems are integrated with smart devices or the IoT, the AI will detect any abnormality in a device. For example, if a heating device malfunctions, it will use less or more energy and affect the temperature of the room. Therefore, the AI can identify if a device is having a problem, make adjustments, and notify management. Smart AI systems can also manage scheduled HVAC filter changes or other maintenance and review and approve work orders.
The automation processes not only eliminate human error from the equation but also save building owners a significant amount of labor, energy spending, and work costs that were previously done manually.
The Business Case: What Should Leaders Pay Attention To?
New trends in reducing carbon emissions in the building construction sector include using alternative green materials or sourcing materials from low-carbon producers. Additionally, architects and engineers are integrating solar, wind, and alternative renewable energy sources into construction to maximize the building’s operations and reduce their impact on the grid.
On the other hand, during construction, it’s essential to maximize natural resources through innovative ventilation mechanisms and manage temperature by using windows to keep the sunlight in during cold seasons and keep it out during summertime.
Decision makers should be following new developments closely in smart buildings due to the many benefits they provide. Smart buildings can bring down carbon emissions, improve performance, build a good reputation, and reduce liability.
Next-generation smart building platforms also enable radically better financial outcomes for real estate managers. Green buildings’ rents and sale prices are higher, and vacancy rates are significantly lower. On the other hand, smart-AI technology can have direct economic savings. Typically businesses pay $1 per square foot per month on energy, $10/sqft/month on office rent, and $100/sqft/month on employee salaries.
But leaders investing in smart-AI building tech are flipping this economic equation for buildings while adding significant wellness and health value and creating better green workplaces.
Building a Sustainable Future
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, smart building technology can reduce energy by more than 60% in residential buildings and up to 59% in commercial buildings. Additionally, investing in AI smart building technology that provides good indoor air quality standards has proven to improve employee productivity and cognitive function in office buildings by more than 10%.
Deloitte Insights, an international professional services network, explains that smart buildings marry physical assets with the digital fabric that connects spaces. The organization explains that leaders shouldn’t spend money on smart building technology without having a clear strategy. Before installing smart building technology, decision-makers should draft a solid business case outlining the benefits and savings, goals, revisions, and milestones.
Additionally, smart building technology should factor in technical needs (energy savings) and consider human elements such as wellness, comfort, health, and performance. AI is undoubtedly an innovation disruption, and data is the raw material that drives it. However, data governance and data management are essential. Buildings should never collect data without identifying what it will be used for. Finally, choosing a flexible technology that will allow users to install updates and keep up with modern trends is essential.
Image Source: Shutterstock
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