Joël Désiré, connected building solution manager at Distech Controls asks what can we expect in terms of smart spaces in the next 12 months? We see five key trends emerging that are all underscored by “sustainable efficiency”.

The surge in 5G networks is supporting correlative growth of the Building Internet of Things (BIoT), with more than 3.25 billion units projected to be installed in commercial buildings by 2028. These ubiquitous connected devices, through data compilation and analysis tools, automatically manage a building’s heating, ventilation, security, lighting, and other systems.

We anticipate five major trends tied to the growing automation of smart spaces that will build throughout 2024, all sharing the watchwords of “sustainable efficiency”. While regulations could be a factor, companies and commercial building owners should have an eye toward automation as it will support them in long-term decarbonisation goals.

Investors, shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders are showing more support for companies that prioritise sustainability and environmental stewardship. In turn, organisations will be increasingly focused on optimising energy use in 2024 to lower their carbon footprints. Here are the areas we expect to gain more attention over the next several months:

Keeping building performance top of mind to reduce waste

Optimal building performance considers the indoor space quality and comfort in balance with how resources are distributed. A vital first step for understanding building performance is a comprehensive evaluation to identify system efficiencies, energy waste issues, and demand patterns. Tougher regulatory climates are pushing for better building performance in large markets.

Moving from simple systems to programmable systems, and identifying how to heat, cool, and clean a building according to the real occupancy of the building will go a long way to ticking off performance KPIs.

Artificial intelligence’s superpower: energy reduction and equipment optimization

AI is rapidly advancing in the areas of energy, especially in corporate real estate and smarter grids. Because it can compile and analyse vast reams of data, AI can adapt systems to real-time scenarios depending on occupancy and external temperature factors, anticipate patterns, and proactively identify equipment maintenance requirements.

Through AI, buildings will become more self-sufficient, as noted in the first prediction, thanks to advanced autonomous technology applications supplementing IoT sensor networks. AI programs will not be able to do everything themselves, but will function with less human intervention and know when to stop and ask for help as when it recognises anomalies.

This increased adoption will further advance the technology and accelerate the capabilities. AI is also vital for technicians managing complex equipment, as it can collect and analyse thousands of internal and external variables to predict outages and recognize when something is wrong. Remote maintenance and access teams will increasingly depend on AI to monitor equipment and energy utilisation.

Retrofits over new construction

There’s more value in upgrading what already exists instead of constructing new buildings, to both reduce the embodied carbon emissions around manufacturing steel and concrete and to preserve the aesthetic qualities of historic structures. Demolishing older buildings to build new ones expends significant energy, as well as hastens the loss of cultural heritage and continuity. Updating older buildings adds the benefit of new energy-efficient features and can be done while preserving the integrity of the building’s original design.

Smart energy retrofits involve installing new hardware and software to reduce a building’s energy utilisation while improving occupant comfort. It can also include replacing windows and adding programmable blinds that respond to excess solar glare, installing motion-sensitive lighting, and adding security. For large commercial operations, buildings are the most liquid assets. Stock markets veer up and down cyclically, but buildings’ value remains generally stable. An optimised, retrofitted smart building, no matter how old it is, will hold a higher value of the building over a structure that is not upgraded.

Surge in electric vehicles requires managed charging

More cities are investing in electrification infrastructure to lessen pollution and lower their carbon footprint. As transportation becomes increasingly electrified, local governments are paying closer attention to how charging stations affect the grid. Because EV systems are part of a building complex, they will likely become more regulated as cities work to lower emissions. Building managers will need comprehensive tracking tools to ensure energy is allocated for peak demand and to avoid penalties.

Clean indoor air is a top health concern

We expect to see more air-quality sensors installed as businesses proactively manage indoor air quality. In the wake of COVID-19, indoor air quality has become a vital concern to consumers and employees who do not have the option of remote work. They want assurance they are in a space that has healthy air, especially when the outdoors is polluted from wildfire smoke or other environmental issues.

In fact, clean indoor air has been shown to carry a productivity bonus - a Harvard study reported that the benefits of ventilated, clean air calculate to about $6,500 per individual annually. Air filtration systems are essential to indoor health, as they can help to lessen the spread of air-borne germs and promote the dispersal of purified air throughout a space.