Malcolm Anson, president of the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA) gives his thoughts on the dramatic rise of smart cities and why we need innovative methods across the UK…

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will have heard of the phrase “smart cities”. But what exactly is a smart city? Definitions of the term vary from each organisation as there is no one universally-accepted answer. I feel CISCO sum up smart cities well, as “those who adopt scalable solutions that take advantage of information and communications technology to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance quality of life.”
Smart cities are evolving due to the challenges our environment currently faces. Energy reserves are limited and therefore it’s becoming increasingly more important to ensure commercial buildings are both energy efficient and sustainable.
Not only that, there are growing budget restraints thanks to aging populations and more and more people moving to urban areas. Together, this puts pressure on both resources and public finances.
Buildings and cities are highly accountable for energy resources, in fact their impact is more than some of us may realise. Buildings are responsible for 40% of the world’s energy consumption, therefore, the priority must be, that buildings are and remain future-proof.


To put this into context, it would take a forest the size of 470,000 football pitches to compensate for the CO2 emissions in a city as large as London.
This statistic alone underlines the huge task at hand. Technology is moving at a fast pace; hence we live in a world where intelligent buildings seem the norm. But there is constant progression and evolution of our surroundings and the next concept we are embracing is smart cities.
This is our future. Once merely a vision, this has since become reality. The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) states that there will be at least 88 fully developed smart cities across the world in the next ten years. In the UK, more than eight out of ten of us already live in cities.
According to statistics from Siemens, cities are growing by 1.5 million inhabitants. By 2050, more than two thirds of the global population will be city dwellers, up from just one third in 1950. With cities growing, how we build and manage urban infrastructure has never been more vital.
To tackle the challenges faced by the built environment – our aim must surely be for a connected and healthier future. But how do we achieve this? There is no simple answer and as we often say in the building controls industry – there is no one size fits all solution.

Integration and connectivity

What we must strive to do, is to continue to develop innovative methods to help enable smart buildings to evolve into smart cities. Governments and stakeholders are investing in smart grids, open data platforms, lighting systems and so forth, in their bid to establish this.
What’s more, the rapid rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is hugely influential in the development of this. It is expected that by 2020, there will be 30 billion networked appliances and sensors worldwide. More than eight million Building Management Systems (BMS) will be integrated with some form of IoT platform, application or service within the next two years.
Two-way digital technology makes data more accessible with the ability to collect and analyse data in a simple manner. Subsequently, building owners and managers can be clever and lower energy costs, with early detection of component faults and prevention of system downtime after analysing real-time data.
That’s why, when we have access to intelligent data – we need to be smart and do something with it.
One of the ways in which this is achievable, is by working in unison. It is imperative that every building professional involved in the design and build chain – understands and shares the long-term goal of working towards smart cities.
If each individual only focuses on their isolated task, it will fail. Appreciating how everything is connected, needs be the big picture and the overall vision. This is why engineers, architects, contactors and so on, must be united in their planning to deliver smart outcomes.
Technology may be advancing but we can only reap the benefits by smart behaviour of those working in and utilising buildings. Cutting-edge technology is great – but left in the wrong hands – nothing will change.
Take the example of one person leaving a window open at work, or not turning a light or appliance off every night - this probably sounds no big deal right? But if thousands or millions of people have the same attitude, it can make a substantial difference in both energy efficiency and costs.

Smart behaviour

Encouraging behaviour change is not necessarily a quick or easy fix. Innovative solutions will only work effectively if the individuals operating such systems use them correctly and to their full potential. That’s where we need to work collectively to try and change public perceptions and show them that every unique action matters. Just as we want our systems to communicate together intelligently, we as people need to do the same. We share a common goal.
However, the role of smart cities is not only about reducing costs and making commercial buildings more energy-efficient, it’s also about improving the wellbeing of individuals. This is crucial in today’s workplace.
Smart cities are for everyone’s benefit, whether they help people to enjoy cleaner air thanks to reducing pollution, or enable occupants to dictate their own personal preferences in regard to heating and lighting in smart buildings.
There is no overnight solution, so let’s be realistic and take this one step at a time, or should I say one building at a time…