Buildings are expensive, both in terms of property and operating costs, and in what they cost the planet. The heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, the lights, the water, the lifts, the power and cooling for technology, the heating and cooling for people: all contribute to making buildings a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, and a leading energy user. In fact, by 2025, buildings will use more energy than any other category of 'consumer'. And 40% of the world's current output of raw materials goes into buildings.

Businesses face increasing pressure to reduce costs and run property in a more efficient and sustainable way. This can be achieved by designing and operating buildings in a much smarter way.


What is a Smart Building?

A smart building is the integration of building, technology, and energy systems. Civil engineering and architectural firm Arup defines a “smart” or “intelligent” building as “one in which the building fabric, space, services and information systems can respond in an efficient manner to the initial and changing demands of the owner, the occupier, and the environment".

Smart buildings provide the most cost effective approach to the design and the deployment of building technology systems. The traditional way to design and construct a building is to design, install, and operate each system separately. A smart building takes a different approach and integrates the design and installation of the systems. This process reduces the inefficiencies in the design and construction process, saving time and money.

Opportunities for business

This broad, and exciting, technology area brings together scientists and experts from engineering, health, electronics, architecture, design, computing and mobile applications amongst others. Smart buildings integrate building technology systems at physical, logistical and application level. They leverage mainstream information technology infrastructure, and take advantage of emerging technologies. The business opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs to contribute to this huge, and growing, market are vast.

The UK Green Building Council is a campaign for a sustainable built environment, with a focus on leading industry action on sustainability, building capacity within the sector and influencing government policy to enable green business to flourish. They say that while much of what they do now is retrofitting old homes to make them more energy efficient, it is in the new-builds where they are seeing genuine innovation driven by the standards being set. And this is creating a market for new companies to come in.

National and international environmental targets are likely to focus the public and investment spotlight on low carbon sector technologies and performance. At the same time rising energy demand from developing nations and fluctuating energy prices are likely to increase the international focus on energy security and encourage continued investment in new energy technologies.

According to a report commissioned by the Environmental iNet, The European Commission identifies a number of areas for research and development in relation to environmental efficiency and smart buildings technology. These are indicators of where the opportunities lie in terms of investment:

Intelligent objects – embedded systems able to manage appropriate protocols in order to acquire and supply information;

Communications – allowing all intelligent objects (sensors, actuators etc) to communicate between themselves and over the network, based on standardised, open protocols;

Smart Building Management Systems (BMS) / Energy Control Management Systems (ECMS) – new systems characterised by improved features, the ability to communicate by embedding appropriate tags and the ability to monitor complex assembling of products and equipment in the built environment.

Multimodal interactive interfaces – making the in-house network as simple to use as possible, without overloading personal communication devices unnecessarily.

These areas for research are likely to build on existing and cutting edge technologies such as wired and wireless sensors, wireless and wireline connection models and protocols, proprietary platforms and networks, among others.

In addition to these technical areas, opportunities lie at a service level, including creation of energy saving business models supported by ICT, remote operational services and engineering customised solutions.

Funding and support

The BEN Network is holding a Technology Update event on Smart Buildings on 3 May. This BEN networking event will help you to understand the ‘state of play’ for the industry, where the opportunities are and where further developments are taking place. Come along to find out how you can get involved in this vast and growing market.

The Technology Strategy Board is the main source of funding for innovation in the UK, and recently revealed plans for a Catapult Centre in Future Cities, bringing business and research together to accelerate innovation in order to improve services and quality of life in cities.

The Technology Strategy Board has recently launched two competitions in this area. The first is the three-year, £10m Invest in Innovative Refurb competition, that will show how innovative technologies and processes can be used to make significant energy savings in non domestic buildings such as schools, shops, offices and hotels. The second is the £4m Rethinking the build process competition, to fund collaborative research into radically innovative ways to adapt the supply chain and the build process to deliver low impact buildings.

For more information about national funding and support for smart buildings, visit the Modern Built Environment KTN.

More locally, the Environmental iNet works with businesses right across the environmental spectrum, including Sustainable Construction. A ‘one-stop-shop’ for environmental technology businesses in the South West, the Environmental iNet provides a gateway to the expertise, funding and support services businesses need to succeed in this fast growing and competitive sector.

Smart buildings in the South West

With its strong technical, academic and cultural base, Bristol is considered well placed to develop smart applications.

A study commissioned by Bristol City Council examines how to transform Bristol into a “Smart City”. This study looks into the overlap between green and smart issues with an emphasis on opportunities to reduce carbon emissions. It suggests that by applying the criteria used in The Climate Group‟s “Smart 2020” report findings, Bristol has the potential to make energy efficiency savings of around £53 million by 2020. The study recommends three key areas as a focus for Bristol‟s smart city work: smart grids and meters, smart transport and smart data. A focus on implementing smart city policies in Bristol would provide opportunities for large, small and medium sized businesses in the region. This expertise could in turn be applied to the market as it develops nationally and globally.

In 2011, Bristol received £300,000 in funding from the European Union as part of its Smart City Programme, to be invested into two projects involving green technology, specifically energy saving and ICT. In the same year, electricity regulator Ofgem awarded Bristol £2.2 million for a pioneering joint low carbon project between Western Power Distribution and Siemens, working closely with Bristol City Council, to help mange energy in homes, schools and workplaces.

Bristol City Council Leader, Barbara Jancke is in no doubt about Bristol's potential:

"Bristol has led the way in recognising the importance of using smart technology to reduce the city's carbon emissions, launching the Smart City Bristol Programme in March 2011. Bristol and the South West has a strong micro-electronics sector, with particular expertise in smart grid, so there are significant economic opportunities for the city."


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