Jamie Cameron, director of digital solutions at Johnson Controls UK&I, looks at how smart technology can make a difference in climate change.

As the COP26 conference has come to a close, the race to tackle climate change is firmly rooted in the agenda. The UK government recently released a comprehensive net zero strategy and detailed plans to cut emissions in the UK’s 30 million buildings. The suggested solutions included installing low carbon heat pumps to replace gas boilers and offering grants for electric vehicles. However when looking at reducing carbon emissions and reaching net-zero, these suggestions are missing one vital tool – smart technology, and specifically smart buildings.

40% of the worlds global emissions is from the buildings we use. To improve efficiencies and lower carbon emissions, innovation within technology is ultimately where success lies. Technologies that can help us are available today, but must be used correctly These technologies do already exist, but we need to implement them in the right ways for them to work in the best ways.

Our current situation

Businesses across the UK are implementing smart solutions into their buildings, just not at the pace required to see real change. Our recent research shows that just 34% of UK buildings are fitted with smart technology yet, when asked how important smart technology is to performing their role, almost every respondent (99%) saw the value of smart technologies. When looking at these figures, the disconnect between awareness and action becomes clear.

When the pandemic disrupted the world of work, the focus for smart tech turned to health and safety. Businesses across the country implemented point solutions such as thermal cameras, contactless access controls, air purification systems and remote management into buildings to make it safe for employees to return to work. At the time, it was what we needed for our buildings.

But as sustainability and efficiency conversations continue to take precedence; a new era is on the horizon. What may seem like a daunting goal, in fact, isn’t. Businesses can meet net zero targets while remaining on track with employee safety and comfort. But it lies in holistically bringing smart solutions together and ceasing to rely on siloed approaches.

The technology of tomorrow

If we get the technology right in our buildings now, we can transform the way we use them in the years to come. But first we need to move away from solutions and concentrate on our desired outcomes. This means changing the way we operate: our buildings need to deliver ROIs and achieve net zero carbon and energy efficiency targets, all while ensuring occupant comfort and safety throughout. The smart building of the future will need to tick all these boxes.

The challenge is that we need to manage the combination of operating tech, bringing together multiple data sources and different systems to drive value. Digital twins, for example, can turn the physical world into computable objects. Computable objects provide a consistent way for software to manage and represent entities from the physical world. These can then be used to predict the future state of physical objects, and to simulate or test future processes. If a product is having any issues, or is nearing the end of its lifecycle, a digital twin can notify and send out an engineer with the right part to fix it first time. The building can remain energy efficient while bringing down costs to the business.

Human intervention only when necessary

Numerous new technologies such as digital twins, IoT, ML, AI and Automation mean that smart buildings can operate with minimum human interference. Building management systems can optimise buildings autonomously, and only require human intervention when they are notified.

Organisations have a clear chance to create an environment that is sustainable, efficient, and ultimately healthy. The pandemic has forced us to be vigilant with our health, while sustainability is at the forefront of minds. We now must progress from regular buildings with siloed solutions to truly smart buildings. Only then, will we able to achieve everyone’s goals for the future.