Smart Buildings – Smart Cities

Written by Adam Schultz

Smart Buildings are key to Smart Cities. This OpEd was published in the Australian New Zealand Property Journal, December 2017.

Within the technology context, the concept of a ‘Smart City’ has been gathering pace over the last 10 years.

Whilst there’s no single accepted definition, a Smart City refers to the use of technology, sensors, and data to improve city services, create new ones, and ultimately improve the lives of citizens. The City of Adelaide defines a smart city as: a city that uses technology and data to drive economic activity, accelerate innovation, and better manage energy, resources and services.

Many cities have recognised the incredible opportunities available to use smart technology to improve their environmental credentials. From smart water grid management, to passenger drones, there are creative examples from cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Dubai where technologically advanced smart city projects are being trialled, tested and deployed to reduce environmental impact and improve lives and lifestyles.

Our region plays host to multiple smart city conferences and events every year, and many of our cities have invested in the development of smart city strategies and pilots. Yet for all the local smart city hype, most of Australia and New Zealand’s cities are still to deploy significant, large scale smart city projects.

According to the City of Adelaide, Adelaide is on the way to becoming a smart city, with its gig-city investment (providing fast and affordable gigabit internet for start-ups, entrepreneurs and big businesses), and the Adelaide Free WiFi network.

The ACT Government has a strategic plan to turn Canberra into a smart city, through initiatives like the CBRfree WiFi network, one of Australia’s largest free outdoor public WiFi networks, and an integrated smart parking network currently being trialled in one boutique shopping district.

The City of Melbourne has partnered with Vision Australia to trial beacon technology in Campbell Arcade, which transmits location-specific information to phones, as well as its Open Data platform, which has almost 100 unique data sets that are available for anyone to access and use, such as the 24-hour pedestrian counting system, which helps to understand pedestrian activity in the busiest locations in the city to better plan for population growth in the future.

Parramatta has set out ambitions to become a smart city as part of a range of redevelopments, while in late 2014, Sunshine Coast Council partnered with Cisco and Telstra to develop a Smart City Framework for the Maroochydore City Centre Priority Development Area, and the wider Sunshine Coast region.

The Australian Federal Government has started to announce $50m of investment in a range of smart city projects via its Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, which will be selected through a competitive process.

So why the slow uptake? There are multiple reasons for this – complexity of the project scope, compelling business case development, availability of funds, and relevance to citizens. But perhaps the first and most daunting of all the challenges, when it comes to building a smart city, where do you start?

For city leaders and investors, smart buildings are the best place to start. The City of Adelaide defines smart buildings as: a building uses technology and data to better manage energy, resources, and services. Smart buildings, again like smart cities, are also about improving people’s experiences – creating better ventilated and lit physical environments that are efficient, productive, and enjoyable.


Smart building projects create an excellent, practical opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of a city. Buildings can contribute about 40 per cent of a city’s overall CO2 emissions, as well as consuming vast amounts of energy and water. There are enormous opportunities to use technology to improve the ways in which a building operates, particularly focused on reducing energy and water consumption.

Return on investment:
Against the backdrop of ever-increasing energy costs, smart building projects generate a great return on investment. Any savings made can be reinvested back into city services or other smart city projects. Smart Buildings have the opportunity to not just save money, but even generate revenue through demand side management schemes where companies are incentivised by utilities to curtail their energy use. Using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, this can be achieved in a low cost and non-invasive way, providing the conditions to potentially avoid rolling blackouts, as well as deferring costly power network upgrades and keeping power prices down for everyone.

Smart building services don’t need to be prohibitively expensive building management systems, which are difficult to implement or only suitable for larger sites. With the advent of IoT technologies, every building can be smart. Put another way, every building should be smart.

Citizen engagement:
The built environment provides the daily backdrop for our city lives and lifestyles. Educating and engaging citizens to better manage resource consumption in and within the built environment creates an opportunity to meaningfully engage citizens in smart city projects.

Meeting mandatory requirements: 
The cheapest and cleanest energy in our region is the energy that we don’t use. The Australian and New Zealand governments have recognised this with the implementation of mandatory reporting, including Australia’s Commercial Building Disclosure Program.

Generation of open data for better management and planning:
One of the most exciting and promising opportunities that smart buildings offer to property owners and city leaders is in the creation and manipulation of data. To be of true value, this data should be open, accessible data – not data locked away in proprietary systems. The drive for open data sets in smart cities is really starting to gain steam, as individuals and organisations worldwide look for building data that can be combined with contextual data from energy systems, traffic, weather, lighting, air quality, crime, affordable housing, and more. In this context, open building data is the most critical pieces to the sustainable, smart city puzzle.
Imagine incentives for building owners to share their building’s data and progress in increasing efficiency and reducing their carbon footprint, or designating efficiency and sustainability zones in cities where residents and businesses commit to shared goals and benefits to help reduce negative impact on their city and the planet.

The Edge, an office building located in Amsterdam, is being touted as the smartest office block in the world. Using a smartphone app developed with the building’s main tenant, Deloitte, the building knows its occupants’ schedules and directs them to a parking spot,
and then a desk, all while adjusting to preferring lighting and temperature. The Edge is also the most sustainable building in the world, with a score of 98.4 per cent, according to British rating agency BREEAM, thanks to super- efficient LED panels, 28,000 sensors, solar panels, and a huge atrium that circulates air and lets in natural light.

Embedding smart technology into new constructions is an ideal, cost effective approach to adopting this technology. Arguably, it’s more difficult and expensive to retrofit this level of technological advancement into existing building stock.
That said, there are some stand out examples of retrofit success, including the Empire State Building, which, since the building started a comprehensive retrofit in 2009, is touted to save 38 per cent of the building’s energy, and $4.4 million annually. This retrofit included 6,000 insulated reflective barriers behind radiator units on the building’s perimeter, reducing lighting power density in tenant spaces, dimmable ballasts, photo sensors, plug load occupancy sensors for personal workstations, condenser water system upgrades, various room temperature sensors, electrical service monitoring, upgrading the existing insulated glass, and more.

As a rule of thumb, investments should look to provide a return on investment within a two-year period. Smart building systems can also create a range of additional benefits that contribute to ROI, although this might be harder to quantify. These benefits include improved health and wellbeing in the building. For example, in an office setting, more efficient heating, cooling and lighting, smart systems management (predicting systems failure before it happens, e.g. hot water systems), can combine to improve staff comfort, customer engagement, and reputational benefits.

We can’t achieve the huge potential in smart, energy efficient cities unless every building, of every shape and size, has access to technology to understand how they use resources.

In the end, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

To fully realise the sustainability and energy savings goals in buildings and facilities, access to real-time monitoring and visualisation of resource data is crucial – for buildings of all sizes, age and budget.

As a region, there’s huge benefit in focusing on large scale smart building investments as the first and best step towards building our smart cities. We are already blessed with some of the most liveable cities in the world, these investments will help to sustain them for the future.

Affordable resource monitoring services like Buddy Ohm are changing the game for building owners and operators, providing invaluable and real-time insight into energy and water consumption, so that building systems can be managed and costs can be reduced.

Systems like Buddy Ohm use industry-standard sensors to track electricity, water, and steam consumption, as well as solar power generation, which can help provide new insights for operators and tenants to drive down monthly resource spending. Once the energy data is gathered, it is made available to building owners and occupiers.

Buddy Ohm has had recent success following the installation of a smart system in a tenanted Adelaide office of 355sqm. The office is on track to save 44 per cent on its energy bill just by understanding energy usage, adjusting and optimising HVAC, lighting, server room, and is changing office behaviour.