By Yuri Ramsamy, Product Marketing Specialist Building Products
Several major metros in South Africa are investigating the potential that smart city technologies have for meeting the needs of an increasingly urbanised population, a population that could see the size of Africa’s cities doubling within the next 15 years, according to Deloitte. A city can be defined as ‘smart’ when investments in human and social capital, traditional transport and modern ICT communication infrastructure boost sustainable economic development, quality of life and equitable management of natural resources.
A smart city is therefore an evolving ecosystem helping people to live, work and play in a smart, sustainable and safe way. It connects people and places through intelligent solutions and industries by means of building automation. This has raised the issue of what exactly makes a building itself ‘smart’. Firstly, smart buildings are not new. Architects and developers have been installing separate systems to control lighting, heating and ventilation (HVAC) for decades.
Later systems have helped building managers control access to different areas of a site, mitigate fire risk and protect against power surges. What is new is the addition of web-based platforms to allow these verticals to integrate seamlessly with each other. They can deliver a single view of how efficiently and effectively a building operates. Managers can use this data to take proactive steps to avoid waste and improve use, cutting emissions and making savings at the same time.
What makes a building ‘smart’ is the vast amount of data it generates, which effectively transforms it into an iterative learning loop. Sensors in buildings track the use of assets and resources and can adapt to the changing consumption or activity patterns that take place. Buildings can make autonomous decisions, based on pre-installed algorithms, to adjust lighting and HVAC levels to reflect the time of day, external environment, occupancy levels or any other variable.
Older buildings, which are common in the South African urban context, currently rely on forms of passive energy management that are often deeply embedded into the fabric of the building itself, from the insulation to double glazing, flooring and so on. Most of these methods are highly inefficient as they do not actively respond to how the building is used, nor are they easily adjustable.
Even buildings erected as recently as the 1980s consume up to twice as much energy as new ones. However, retrofitting existing builds is possible. ABB’s many solutions in this regard range from EDCS (electrical distribution control system) to ABB i-Bus (a lighting and HVAC control system). All these systems are retrofittable, which leads to lower energy costs, reduced maintenance costs and fewer voids.
We can expect more everyday building functions to become automated. Smart offices will become independently intelligent, learning how occupants use the space and services and then proactively adjust lighting, HVAC and other systems to maximise health and comfort. Buildings will recognise employees as they arrive at work, direct them to an EV charging point and then on to a work station configured to meet their requirements for a productive day’s work.
Visitors to a corporate office will be recognised as they arrive and automatically checked in, along with all the appropriate access rights and personalised settings. More offices, hospitals, malls, stadia and homes will capture and store renewable power from the sun and wind. Many will supply power back to the grid or to EVs charging on site.
The proposed Lanseria smart city on Gauteng’s west rand is expected to be completed around 2030 and accommodate up to 500 000 residents, featuring newly-integrated public transport systems connecting residential zones and industrial hubs. ABB is a world-leading provider of smart home, smart building and intelligent community solutions that embrace a pragmatic and innovative spirit, as well as contributing holistically to social and environmental responsibility and sustainability in ambitious projects such as this in Africa.
Smarter building solutions can take advantage of ABB’s expertise and know-how of building automation in both electrical and mechanical building systems. From the individual components through to systems and a choice of communications protocol platforms, ABB supports a broad range of requirements. Its solutions cover smart mobility, smart homes, smart buildings and smart utilities.