Opinion: Where do smart buildings fit into the net zero conversation?

Smart buildings and net zero are already big topics but where do they cross paths? Dean Marsh, IoT & LPWAN Expert at Connexin, investigates… 

Can smart technology within our infrastructure drive us closer towards that net zero goal? The two are intrinsically linked. In fact, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has stated that the built environment is ‘directly responsible for 25% of the UK’s carbon emissions’, meaning it ‘has a moral and legal responsibility to rapidly decarbonise’.   

Google Home on white rack

Photo by Jonas Leupe

Moving forward, we need to adapt our behaviour with a proactive awareness of the impact buildings have on the wider climate emergency. When we zoom out from the small details, it’s clear to see the bigger part that our infrastructure has to play.  

Smarten up your infrastructure  

The key components that make up smart buildings include technology that is built directly into the infrastructure. The technology is ‘smart’ by the way it can effortlessly communicate and collaborate between networks and devices. The smart technology in buildings allows for data to be generated in real time and fed back into a closed-loop system, turning them into ‘talking buildings’ that can communicate the current situation of a property.  

But why do we need this data? Without data, we’re often blind to what’s going on and unaware of any issues in our buildings, and therefore we can’t measure the impact a building is having on the environment.   

Smart technologies can detect intricate details around the likes of water and energy consumption, room occupancy and even people’s usual routines and habits within the buildings. At Connexin, our LoRaWAN IoT sensors can be applied in different areas of a building to generate this data and help us visualise real-time consumption patterns, highlight any potential issues and allow us to act upon this intelligence. In fact, it was announced in 2022 that public LoRaWAN networks grew by 66% over three years, illustrating a massive demand for this technology due to its wide coverage range and low power consumption.   

Dean Marsh, IoT & LPWAN Expert at Connexin

Dean Marsh, IoT & LPWAN Expert at Connexin

Drive net zero further with data  

Data generated with the likes of IoT sensors can highlight the overuse of gas, electricity and water for example, and allow for action to be made to reduce consumption. When we’re more aware of excessive use, we can make a conscious effort to adjust our behaviours to be more sustainable and in turn save money.  

We can also get a clearer picture of how people inhabit or populate a building. Sensors can pick up an unusually high electricity output in a particular room of a building to suggest that it is overpopulated with people. If this was a work environment, decisions can be made to better disperse desks and people so that enough space and resource is given to each person. This could also be when the air conditioning is too high in a certain room. By having the data, the air conditioning can be adjusted so it’s at the right level where people can be comfortable. But this is only one of many examples. Many approaches and solutions can be taken based on real-time data to ensure buildings are run in the most efficient way possible.  

Instilling duty of care into net-zero approaches  

While we often talk about net zero in a global context, it is important to keep in mind the individual impact that the environment has on humans. The World Health Organisation predicts that between 2030 and 2050 climate change will cause approximately 250,000 deaths a year. Smart technology can mitigate this loss of life and allow people to exist in more resilient surroundings, helping them to live healthier lives.   

This is why landlords hold a duty of care to their tenants and must ensure that the living environments are safe and secure. Sensors are an effective way to pre-empt potential issues ahead of time, such as detecting conditions susceptible to damp and mould. The importance here is that the risks are detected before becoming a reality, so measures can be put in place to prevent illness, injury or wider impact on human life.   

Likewise, sensors can also detect issues relating to Legionella bacteria, temperature, water ingress and humidity. Landlords and tenants can have peace of mind knowing that with the implementation of smart technology, their living environments are closely monitored for any health risks ahead of time.   

However, landlords are not the only ones accountable. Local authorities, specifically the housing officers and maintenance teams within them, are responsible for the duty of care of their tenants.   

Traditionally, we have seen local authorities be more reactive to issues rather than proactive. However, with a smart building, real-time data is gathered into a central system for analysis – such as real-time reports of building temperature. This is incredibly useful for detecting issues for more vulnerable citizens; a sensor can pick up on low temperatures in a house, indicating potential fuel poverty – an issue that affects 13.4% of households. In these instances, the local authority can reach out to the occupant and offer support that may otherwise never be sought out.   

At the end of the day – collaborate   

In a time of financial uncertainty and climate change, it’s essential that we team together to protect one another and build resilience. There’s an opportunity to not only create smart buildings from scratch but to update our current infrastructure into something that works with nature and the world around us now and for years to come.  

It’s not an easy task, with many naming net zero as the ’biggest challenge’ for the built environment. Nonetheless, complacency won’t help either. Technology is growing at an exponential rate and new sustainable solutions are being developed all the time to help the building sector in the net zero journey. The power to change our buildings, lives and the future is now within reach.  

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