The inevitable development of buildings

The inevitable development of buildings

“The urgent imperative of transforming buildings in the face of the energy crisis and climate change” by Henning Sandfort, CEO Building Products at Siemens Smart Infrastructure

The energy crisis and climate change are topics of paramount importance, capturing the attention on a global level. These two pressing challenges not only shape discussions in private circles but also impact businesses significantly. Among various branches, the building industry is particularly affected: Buildings account for 40 percent of the world's energy consumption and are responsible for 42 percent of all CO2 emissions. Given this reality, the imperative to upgrade and transform both existing traditional as well as new buildings – regardless of their size – is essential. Henning Sandfort, CEO Building Products, Siemens Smart Infrastructure explains in this article why the transformation of buildings into smarter and more autonomous structures has never been more urgent.

Buildings today: Their ecological impact and untapped potential
Not least due to the forecasted doubling of global floor area within the next 35 years, it is imperative for building owners to recognize the urgency in ensuring their buildings digital and sustainable transformation. Certainly, the political landscape is evolving with the introduction of regulations and incentive programs, such as the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) or the US Inflation Reduction Act. Both are incentivizing the construction of or transformation towards smarter, more sustainable buildings. In addition, available technological solutions are paving the way. The adoption of smart and digital building solutions carries the potential for substantial cost and energy savings, with estimates suggesting a minimum of 30 percent, according to industry experts. However, the potential for optimizing and future-proofing buildings through retrofitting and upgrades could even reach as high as 60 percent – contingent on the building’s nature.

Three critical solutions: IoT, edge and cloud navigating the way
There is a wide range of already existing solutions aimed at making buildings smarter, encompassing automation, energy efficiency, safety, health and productivity enhancements. These tangible benefits manifest in everyday operations and tenant experience. Examples are the automated shutdown of pumps upon detecting icing, preventing damage to hydraulic systems, but also selective cooling of occupied rooms, and leveraging weather forecasts to curtail energy consumption. The pivotal element, that enables these and numerous other functionalities, is digitalization, facilitated by Internet of Things (IoT) devices, edge computing, and cloud services: IoT solutions on the one hand include sensors, valves, damper actuators and more – all enhanced with intelligent features that enable them to communicate via the Internet Protocol. This results among others in proactive maintenance and the facilitation of energy efficiency improvements. Edge computing on the other hand involves the deployment of advanced data processing services, such as Artifical Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), on-site. This ensures rapid response times, low latency, and the dependable operation of critical building automation applications. Last but not least, cloud-based applications and services play an essential role in the collection and analysis of extensive data through remote and distributed computing infrastructure. This framework provides substantial computing power to efficiently manage and optimize entire building portfolios.

The insights derived from acquiring, sharing, and merging previously isolated data can prove invaluable in the pursuit of optimizing engineering, performance and maintenance, even remotely. As AI-driven solutions offer a wide spectrum of advantages in effective building management, the three technological levers must ultimately synergize harmoniously to unlock the full AI potential in smart buildings.

The inevitable development of buildings
A significant portion of available building data remains untapped, compounding the challenge of minimizing system failures, disruptions, downtime, and enhancing overall system performance, as well as extending the lifespan of building systems. The reason? A large share of today’s operators are still left to perform tasks manually and on-site as 80 percent of commercial floor space in buildings lacks any integration of smart technology. However, there is a viable path towards automation – not only to enhance energy efficiency and sustainability but also to preserve or even increase value. Three essential steps ensure this: First, the building necessitates the integration of sensors and automation systems. By interconnecting previously isolated building systems and establishing networks, the barriers of siloed systems are broken down, facilitating remote monitoring and diagnostics. This, secondly, empowers the establishment and execution of proactive and preventive measures for Fault Detection and Diagnostics. Last but not least, the incorporation of predictive management comes into play through the utilization of ML algorithms, enabling autonomous actions. The in-depth analysis carried out by these predictive services holds the potential to further fine-tune system performance. In truly autonomous buildings, workflows are seamlessly integrated, and advanced analytics enable early predictions of potential failures. However, operators need to ensure cybersecurity and data protection, storage as well as processing demands. All of them need to be guaranteed in design and operations at any time. Hence, the systems must adhere to the highest standards to mitigate risks effectively. Furthermore, adaptability in technology is crucial, given the varying regulations across different regions. Although there are different options for data storage and processing – such as on-site data storage, cloud solutions, cloud services, and hybrid solutions like edge computing – data security remains the overarching principle.

Outlook: Technology is key
In addressing the urgent global challenges of climate change and the energy crisis, proactive action rather than a passive stance is crucial. Digitalization is an essential tool for preserving the environment, ensuring the future readiness of the built environment, and safeguarding real estate investments. Failure to upgrade assets to meet latest efficiency standards may lead to substantial value depreciation in the coming years and decades for building owners. So, why aren't more buildings autonomous? Companies often deal with challenges such as scalability limitations, high costs and integration efforts, and compatibility issues among single solutions. Nevertheless, the necessary technological solutions are already available and can integrate seamlessly: IoT, edge computing, and cloud-based applications and services are key. Leveraging these three technologies, companies are empowered to navigate their digital transformation successfully. In the end, the shift toward digitalization will help building owners maintain and enhance the value of their assets over the coming decades by aligning with future standards.

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