Converting the region into a smart operator
Georges Basamji predicts where smart will take the region in future
To date there have been very few smart buildings developed in the GCC. Why, one may ask, particularly since these are cost-effective, productive, environments that optimise the usage of smart materials, structures, integrated systems, and building services, to meet or exceed the performance requirements of the building stakeholders?
Well the biggest reason is lack of belief. Smart technologies are perceived to involve high capital costs and disbelief or distrust in the actual savings and systems performance that can be achieved.
A few of the current, more notable examples of smart building in practice include the Johnson Controls Building in Dubai, the Yas Marina Hotel, Aldar HQ and Masdar Siemens HQ, all in Abu Dhabi
But in actual fact, retrofitting, upgrading and replacing inefficient equipment in existing buildings offers an important capital investment opportunity with potential for economic growth and employment opportunities, as well as improved energy savings, phasing-out of infrastructure delivery and reduced CO2 emissions.
A distinguishing feature of the design of a smart building is the use of an integrated design process, whereby all relevant stakeholders convene early in the project cycle to develop an integrated strategy to reduce costs, anticipate building usage patterns and exploit synergies for savings in energy, water, and improved indoor air quality.
This may appear time consuming initially, especially since planning cycles, even for traditional building construction and major retrofits, tend to be quite long.
Mapping the available technologies may also be challenging, since most local firms may not have included research timelines or may lack expertise to identify best suppliers, system integrators and suppliers for smart buildings systems.
It is critical to research and understand early which technologies and systems are available within the local market (or elsewhere), before specifying building systems and equipment, as the choices will impact on the budget and supply chain delivery timelines.
Integrating smart technologies in underperforming buildings can be a challenge, especially in those buildings with questionable construction quality, built quickly in the early stages of the boom.
A further challenge is the lack of deployment of smart grids within the region, that require inclusiveness within the future planning for the advancement of the electricity networks and intelligent electric systems.
Promoting smart grids research, development, and deployment projects in the region, will help protect the electrical grids during times of peak energy, leveraging the capabilities of smart buildings to communicate between energy technology platforms with their respective emirate grids in terms of both demand and generation.
FMs are in a position to greatly benefit from smart buildings. We envisage the new generation of buildings behaving like living systems and foresee a new generation of smart buildings that can mimic eco-systems; buildings that are light and yet robust, capable of sensing and responding in real-time to external conditions such as temperature flux, sunlight levels, and internal conditions such as crowd flows, adjusting their power consumption to supplies of renewable energy or altering their power demand in line with available energy supplies.
Interiors of the building’s structures will be able to change responsively, as we can no longer afford to have spaces that sit unused for large portions of the day due to fixed configurations.
Smart building technologies will keep evolving, offering new levels of strategic management and optimisation for facility managers to meet their business goals. The main trend will most likely come in the form of distributed energy resources with the smart grids, allowing smart buildings to become the interface between consumers and smart grids, to allow participation in automated demand response programs.
Other innovations would include smart(er) equipments and sub-systems integration that would allow direct communication and integration with building automation systems.
Others that could be considered include real time monitoring and servicing of building systems through mobile devices and mobile computing applications delivered through cloud services.
Georges Basmaji is the electrical design manager for AECOM.