HomeIndustry SectorsAsset MaintenanceSmart city: Automation of electrical and mechanical building systems

Smart city: Automation of electrical and mechanical building systems

In South Africa, major metros are investigating the potential that smart city automation technologies have for meeting the needs of an increasingly urbanised population writes Yuri Ramsamy, the product marketing specialist building products at ABB.

A city can be defined as ‘smart’ when investments in human and social capital and traditional transport and modern ICT communication infrastructure fuel 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’.

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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.

What makes a building ‘smart’ is the vast amount of data generated by buildings

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 generated by buildings, which effectively transforms them into iterative learning loops. 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.

Even buildings erected as recently as the 1980s consume up to twice as much energy as new construction

Older buildings, which are common in a 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 construction. However, retrofitting existing builds is possible. Solutions in this regard range from electrical distribution control systems (EDCs) to lighting and HVAC control systems. All these systems are retrofittable, which leads to lower energy costs, reduced maintenance costs and fewer voids.

More everyday building functions will also 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 workstation configured to meet their requirements for a productive day’s work.

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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.

Smart city automation on the cards is the proposed Lanseria Smart City on the Gauteng West Rand, which is expected to be completed around 2030. The project will accommodate up to 500,000 residents, featuring newly integrated public transport systems connecting residential zones and industrial hubs.

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