Buildings Being Transformed into Smart Environments Through Smart Users
Date: September 30th 2020
Author: Alenka Lena Klopčič
Smart cities, smart infrastructure and smart buildings are part of the portfolio provided by Siemens today, recalled the CEO of Siemens in Slovenia and Croatia and the President of the Managers’ Association of Slovenia, Medeja Lončar, during the introduction to Tuesday’s Green Forum ‘Smart Buildings and Digitalisation in Construction’ organised by Siemens and the Center of Energy Efficient Solutions (CER). Lončar also noted that when planning the future, in the past people mainly spoke about the technological aspect, while today human beings are spoken of as individuals, their communities, and, consequently, a truly sustainable society and future. The multi-award-winning architect Brigita Gartner and the journalist and author of the book titled ‘Plan B’, Boštjan Videmšek, later discussed why action – including in the field of creating ‘smart buildings’ – is imperative, while experts at Siemens, Jon Lester and Igor Kulašić, explained the concrete steps required for such action.
Digitalisation (in construction) leads to significant energy savings (in buildings)
According to Lončar, construction is one of the most traditional industries in which changes take place slowly. However, they are ongoing and, for example, 10% of German construction companies use digital tools in their work, while the remaining 90% are aware that they are inevitable. This is all the more important when considering that half of the energy produced in buildings is wasted or spent inefficiently, she said, pointing out that smart planning and management could save up to 80% of energy in buildings.
Lončar believes in the European Commission’s measures, which she mentioned in a recent video discussion for Energetika.NET, in which she said that digitalisation and automation, which will be additionally boosted by the EU post-COVID-19 recovery agenda, can make the Union the ‘wise man of the world’ (MORE).
Siemens annually invests EUR 5.7 billion in research and development, added Lončar, pointing out that, in her opinion, the merging of the sectors (buildings, transport, industry and energy) in the field in question is very important, particularly in light of intensive electrification, rapidly developing hydrogen technologies and testing in cities that are indeed becoming ‘smart cities’.
Siemens has set a bold goal to become a carbon neutral company by 2030. The corporation generates 60% of electricity consumption in its locations worldwide from renewable energy sources (RES), and CO2 emissions have reduced by 41% since the Carbon Neutral Programme was introduced. Siemens intends to invest EUR 100 million in energy efficiency projects, resulting in savings of at least EUR 20 million. It plans to invest around EUR 45 million in distributed energy systems, expand the infrastructure of (currently 200) charging stations for electric vehicles, and utilise RES to achieve 75% of its own electricity consumption at the global corporate level.
It can be mentioned that on Monday, Siemens' operating company, Siemens Energy AG, began trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The share's opening price was quoted at EUR 22.01 which corresponds to a market capitalization of EUR 15,993,460,697.93.
Data provide the foundation for smart buildings and come from users
The way the role of buildings is intensively changing today was demonstrated later in the online event by the global head of marketing channels and smart infrastructure at Siemens, Jon Lester, who discussed the fact that buildings will no longer be mere immovable property but will constitute ‘smart environments’ for their users in Siemens’ video feature published in mid-March 2020.
“Buildings are not only becoming active users or prosumers but are increasingly energy efficient and sustainable. If we understand how space can be more sustainable, we will not only contribute to greater productivity but also to our health in particular,” said Lester at Tuesday’s forum, referring to the significance of the technology that is becoming more accessible and widespread – including through the Internet of Things, smartphones and all kinds of applications that help us to manage energy. For efficient management, all users of modern buildings must understand why all this technology is necessary.
As pointed out by Igor Kulašić, Head of Smart Infrastructure at Siemens Slovenia, in his response to a question asked by Energetika.NET in a recent interview on the evolution of buildings that will actively help meet the needs of various users, data will assume the most important place. “Big data, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics are already part of this field; the data is collected, processed, and converted into digital knowledge. To this end, companies are able to develop new business models and generate new sources of income. However, to make this happen, users that exchange their data for some type of added value are also needed,” explained Kulašić (MORE).
It is imperative to have a concrete plan that will include a holistic approach (to the use of buildings), said Lester, adding that this not only refers to new constructions but also that such innovation may also be implemented in existing buildings. Additionally, or perhaps precisely because of this, users must be included in such activities, he concluded, underpinning the statement with his personal experience as a user of a ‘smart building’ when he works on the company’s premises or uses various applications when he is outside of the (Siemens) building. Lester expects that digital solutions will make our professional and private lives increasingly easier, a point also discussed by Kulašić.
“Good architecture is well-thought-out architecture”
Kulašić's response to the question of whether we will simply ‘reset’ buildings as we do with modern information systems was that “their intelligence will be gradually built up and constantly upgraded – with additional sensors, namely data, and new technologies that will produce ‘smart’ actions, and by integrating them into the ever-expanding ecosystem”. He does not see a step towards smart buildings as a potential pressure to constantly upgrade automation systems with new versions or frequent ‘replacements of spare parts’ (MORE).
Good architecture is well-thought-out architecture which requires a correct concept, pointed out Brigita Gartner, Director of Gartner Arhitekti, and winner of the Plečnik Medal, the Green Pencil Award and the Interior of the Year Award, in the discussion that followed the event. According to Gartner, it is interesting that clients who contact them already have a certain awareness and knowledge, and consequently specific expectations regarding the design of their planned buildings.
What happens if artificial intelligence mixes with ‘natural stupidity’
In the conclusion of the event on Tuesday, Boštjan Videmšek, a journalist and the author of the book titled ‘Plan B’ whose publication was supported by Siemens, said that success – including in terms of energy self-sufficiency – is possible if matters are not forced but rather implemented by society agreeing to the necessary measures and applying a bottom-up approach.
In the introduction to ‘Plan B’, Videmšek, a former war reporter, stated: “The climate crisis is a great, full-scale, wide-ranging war. A war of humanity against humanity. A war of humanity against the new generations. A war of humanity against animals. A war of humanity against entire ecosystems. A war of humanity against the planet that hosts us. A war of humanity against balance, (co-)existence, the future.”
“If artificial intelligence mixes with natural stupidity, we can quickly go in the wrong direction,” concluded Videmšek in the discussion on Tuesday. He also claims that we need to be extremely protective of our personal data, since its protection is our fundamental right.
Kulašić ended by emphasising that, in all this (the design of smart buildings and infrastructure), people are the main link, since “before we can focus on the technology, we need to find out what it can do for the people who use it and how it affects them” (MORE).
This article is available also in Slovene.