Buildings of the future: Sustainable is smart


energy efficiency, energy 3.0, electricity consumption, smart grids

Tomorrow’s smart buildings will play a crucial role in shaping a less energy-intensive world. Here is an overview of the characteristics of smart buildings and how they will help meet future energy challenges.

What is a smart building?

A smart building will have to meet five requirements: cut energy needs, optimize energy consumption for every use, generate energy and store a part of it, send real-time information via smart metres to allow for the best possible network management, and be a home to responsible consumers. It will also use architectural techniques for design and insulation in order to achieve energy savings. The smart building of the future will be part of the Internet of Energy; it will be connected to smart grids of varied scale, while generating its own energy from renewable sources and integrating automation technologies in order to optimize energy consumption.

In order for these challenges to be met, sizeable investments will be necessary to improve the grid, and many buildings will have to be renovated or built in a way that enables them to generate their own energy.

How to build smart?

Energy-positive building standards (such as the French standard BEPOS, for “bâtiment à énergie positive”, created in 2013 for buildings producing more renewable energy than they are using non-renewable energy) were created to help meet energy efficiency targets. By 2020 every new building will not only have to cut energy consumption but also generate more energy than it uses. This goal requires an adequate management of supply and demand of energy to avoid wastage. Energy generation by buildings will be based on solar, thermal, wind or micro-generation, whose prices are expected to sink.

Passive design techniques can optimize a home’s insulation as well as the need for lighting. Used to maximise a building’s ability to heat itself in winter, and cool itself in the summer, passive design has proven to be a smart solution for the smart home. Michael Koenig, leader of the Honda Smart Home project, used these techniques in conceiving the experimental house: “We set out to build an extremely efficient envelope using passive design techniques, optimizing the house layout, windows, and insulation. Then we added extremely efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems, as well as appliances. The passive design techniques resulted in an open space with tons of natural light“.

The building of the future will also be home to electric vehicles and feature, for instance, charging stations connected to the smart grid with the ability to collect and store energy from a solar array producing direct current. To avoid water wastage, xeriscaping – gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation – and recycling gray water will become commonplace in the architectural solutions offered to consumers.

Smart metres and sensors will send real-time information to network operators and users. Energy management software (building management systems – BMS – in the tertiary sector and power management systems – PMS – in the industry) will in turn improve functions such as heating, cooling, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, closing and opening of shutters…

One easy way for existing buildings to get closer to meeting energy-positive building standards is to adopt automated energy management.

Full integration with the grid

As Rudy Provoost, Chairman of the Rexel Foundation and CEO and Chairman of the Rexel Group, describes in his book Energy 3.0, tomorrow’s electric network will have to include a complex, hybrid system that will manage energy efficiency in an optimal way by fully integrating buildings within the smart grid. These changes are expected to help meet energy consumption reduction targets, standardize data within a smart automation process, while satisfying growing requirements for renewables, which will lead players in the sector to resort to small, decentralized production units.

The emergence of smart buildings does not hinge so much on technical advances, as adequate technology is already available, but rather on the networking of a complex web of players with sometimes diverging interests via Information and Communication Technologies. The building of the future is within reach, provided that regulatory adjustments are made and that education and awareness-raising among consumers becomes a priority.

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