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Smarter buildings promise a cleaner future

Building automation – both at home and in public – will optimise our use of indoor space and bring our energy demands down

Rhiannon Edwards



In the global discussion about how we move away from fossil fuels, the concept of building automation is rapidly gaining ground. Whether we’re turning on the central heating at home, the air conditioning in a hotel or the lights in a large office block, heating, cooling and lighting our buildings accounts for a large slice of our collective energy consumption.

Current systems of energy management in both homes and commercial buildings are wasteful, meaning a double cost – of the Earth’s resources at a time of accelerating climate change, and of money at a time of global financial concern.

The lights are on… but only when someone’s home

In the near future, every building from apartment blocks to art galleries will have centralised, automated wireless hubs that will monitor sensors that measure heat, light and humidity.

Building Energy Management (BEM) systems promise to use automation to optimise energy usage and reduce it by half, bringing costs down and energy efficiency up. Using sensor data, BEMs will control the heating and lighting levers to maximise energy efficiency without human intervention.

In a time of climate-change-driven extreme weather (both hot and cold) and energy price hikes, the BEM market was worth 6.8bn in 2020 and is, understandably, growing rapidly.

With it, a subscription model economy for services that manage and maintain BEMs is also on the rise. US business consultant Frost & Sullivan estimates that subscription models for remote operation of heating and ventilation systems will make up 8% of the market by 2027.

Intelligent buildings

BEMs (and Home Energy-Management systems or HEMs) also promise to help us manage energy demand as we switch to renewable energy sources. As they work with artificial intelligence, building management solutions will move away from passive management of energy and toward experience optimisation for the end user.

Put plainly, this means AI will help to prevent overcrowding in public places and ensure everyone in workplaces has the needed resources for a meeting, for example, as well as managing other resources.

Air quality will be monitored and there will be an emphasis on touch-free navigation of buildings, addressing very contemporary concerns of pollution and pandemics. Right now, cost holds AI back from being widely adopted in building management. But as technology develops and costs come down through the next decade, AI will play a major role in our public buildings.

AI in the home

Hollywood movies promise us robots who will deliver our morning coffee (and then try to take over the world). While the chances of both those eventualities are slim, the home revolution that started with the smart speaker hub and smart appliance network will inevitably progress. The next iteration is a home network powered by AI and driven by voice command. 

Building Energy Management systems promise to use automation to optimise energy usage and reduce it by half, bringing costs down and energy efficiency up

As well as allowing it to operate our appliances and entertain us, we will also be able to leverage our home AI to give us helpful insights into how we use our homes. Just as in public buildings, AI will monitor air quality and help us conserve and distribute energy. 

It will interact with renewable energy sources such as home-installed solar panels, which are set to become more popular. AI could also help us to assess water quality, monitor our water usage and alert us to water leaks in our pipework.

But more than this, it could potentially help us to optimise our time and suggest and order products on our behalf, giving us “frictionless convenience”.

As the internet of things settles in our homes, cybersecurity to avoid network attacks will remain an urgent priority – and is already a growing market. Across the board, subscription models for smart home systems and their requisite security measures will be the normal model for consumers.

Predictive maintenance

For building managers, automation and AI will also allow a new form of maintenance: one that is proactive and predictive rather than reactive. Combined, data and machine learning will allow building managers to see in real time the status of building assets: pipework or wiring, for example. This promises to reduce costs and system outage times.

Monitoring of this kind will happen remotely. Frost & Sullivan forecasts that remote monitoring and fault detection will by 2025 contribute 64% of the digital solution revenue stemming from the global homes and building industry.

They also expect that predictive maintenance market in the homes and buildings space to reach $2.8bn in 2025. Curbing the energy usage and wastage of our buildings is paramount to the switch away from fossil fuels and into a greener, more productive future.

Building automation – at both the personal and public level – promises to take the matter out of our hands, giving us Earth-changing outcomes. Without us having to worry about turning down the thermostat or switching off the lights.

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