Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications

Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications

Science‘s Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications by Jeffrey Brainard, at a time when they all seem to be still looking for a growth model especially needed in these times of pandemic. Here we have a whole region south and east of the Mediterranean whose elites had not been stranger to social mobilization and street politics in the past, presently sparing a little time to research better ways of life.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Al-Fanar Media.

Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications
Iran’s Sharif University of Technology has helped drive an increase in the country’s published scientific papers. MASOUD K/FLICKR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CC BY-SA)

After years of lagging scientifically, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have significantly boosted their share of scholarly articles in international journals—as well as citations to those papers—during the past 4 decades, the Clarivate analytics firm said last week. Further growth could occur if the region’s countries boost their low rate of scientific cooperation with each other, it said.

From 1981 to 2019, the region quadrupled its share of research articles and reviews to 8%; among regions and large countries, only China grew by more. Clarivate’s report, based on its Web of Science bibliometric database, notes the “outstanding relative growth” of papers from the Middle East and North Africa came despite international sanctions against Iran and violent conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere.

The report covers 19 countries stretching from Morocco to Iran, but only six accounted for 80% of the 150,000 papers by the region’s scholars in 2019: Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Tunisia.

Iran led the way with 188,163 papers from 2015 to 2019; its output from 2000 to 2019 rose 30-fold. (Despite reports of paper mills and fake peer reviews involving papers by Iranian authors, the study notes efforts in Iran to tame the problem). At least some of Saudi Arabia’s expansion may have come from non-Saudi researchers affiliated with Saudi institutions.

“The notion that science and technology are essential for economic and societal progress, one of the pillars of the current policy in the European Union, applies to [this] region as well,” said Henk Moed, editor-in-chief of Scholarly Assessment Reports, a journal that covers research metrics, who was not involved in the Clarivate report. “The valuable trends presented in the Clarivate report, therefore, have a certain predictive value for economic and political relations in the region, especially in the somewhat longer term, and provide evidence that Iran’s economic and political role in the region will only grow stronger in the years to come.”

Clusters of the region’s papers focused on sustainable development, including soil erosion, and other areas of applied science, Clarivate said.

These and other publications have attracted growing attention: In 2019, 15 of the 19 countries had a citation score higher than the world average (when adjusted for differences across scholarly disciplines); in 2000, almost all had been well below.

The region’s international collaborations also increased, with 45% of its papers reporting co-authors from other countries in 2019; most often, the co-authors were in the United States. By comparison, the percentage in Western Europe was 65%. Worldwide, articles with such collaborations tend to attract higher citations. But countries in the Middle East and North Africa collaborated little with each other: Only 5% of their articles in 2019 had a co-author from a different country within the region.

Skirting the challenge of bridging long-standing tensions within the region, the Clarivate report encourages the countries to forge closer research ties, which “could improve competitiveness between the region and the rest of the world by focusing on shared needs and priorities.” One mechanism for encouraging regional collaboration could be a joint research-funding organization, similar to that of the European Union, the report said. Focusing on research might also “create more robust educational and social transformation through human resource capacity.”

“This would do much,” the report concludes, to “visibly rebuild the international reputation of Islamic, Arab, Persian and Turkish learning and scholarship that sustained the Western world for centuries.”Posted in: 

Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications
Portrait of Jeffrey Brainard

Jeffrey Brainard

Jeffrey Brainard joined Science as an associate news editor in 2017. He covers an array of topics and edits the In Brief section in the print magazine. 

What does it take to be smart?

What does it take to be smart?

James Rowntree, vice president at Jacobs, asked this question in Infrastructure Intelligence blog: What does it take to be smart? It is in everybody’s mind these days.

12 March 2021

What does it take to be smart? | Infrastructure Intelligence

Collaboration between city leaders, asset owners, investors and the tech sector is crucial in realising the benefits of smart cities says James Rowntree of Jacobs.

The term ‘smart’ has been used for some time now to broadly describe the adoption of technology by a city or infrastructure owner. The expression has begun suffering from overuse, particularly where the public experience of the result has been anything but smart, in the literal sense. 

Many cities and infrastructure owners have made technology investments over the years to automatically monitor or control things such as streetlights, water levels, utility distribution and traffic flow. However, these are relatively modest interventions when put in the context of ‘Industry 4.0’, the much-heralded fourth industrial revolution and the impact that real-time data and advanced analytics could have on how our cities and infrastructure assets operate in the future. If the hype is to be believed – and there’s good reason for it to be – then the future of smart is potentially transformational. The big challenge though is how to get there – and who pays? 

The use cases for smart cities are multiple, varied and growing, as anyone who has visited any of the international smart city exhibitions will be able to testify. It’s clear that relatively benign sensors that periodically transmit data today will be replaced tomorrow by real-time interactions which will allow for advanced applications, such as connected and remote healthcare, and connected ecosystems for things like autonomous vehicles.  

Whilst many of today’s use-cases will operate on current networks such as LoRaWaN and 4G, 5G is widely seen as the tipping point technology that will enable a lot of the next generation, disruptive use-cases to be realised. However, a challenge for cities and infrastructure owners is that predicting these use-cases is a little like trying to predict in the early 2000s the vast array of applications we now use on our smart phones. Creating a business case for a ‘smart’ entity is therefore not easy.

Connecting people and place

For anything to be smart it needs to be digitally connected and whilst satellite technology is developing, this invariably means hardwiring everything back to fibre. This then introduces the value of connecting people as well as things. Both local and central governments are actively encouraging reliable fibre-to-the-home connectivity for all citizens, recognising the value of closing the digital divide and giving people better access to 21st century jobs, opportunities and services. 

There is now a very good body of evidence that points to the positive social and economic benefits of fast and reliable digital connectivity. Cities in particular have an opportunity to promote digital connectivity as a platform for creativity and innovation that in turn is attractive to inward investment and growth. 

Unlocking the value of infrastructure

Similarly, owners of linear infrastructure assets see the opportunity to use their networks to promote the laying of fibre, unlocking not only operational use-cases and additional revenue streams for themselves but also providing a social value benefit through connecting people in harder to reach areas.    

The starting point is therefore to be clear on the outcomes to be achieved. The challenge for any city or infrastructure owner is to get digital connectivity where they need it and to build use-cases around the technology they intend to adopt.

Both urban and rural communities are generally reliant on the established telecom network providers expanding their fibre and mobile networks, although the timing and geographic reach of these plans is principally driven by their own commercial considerations rather than the specific priorities of a city or infrastructure owner. 

More recently, given it can be highly revenue generative, there are increasing numbers of private investors seeking to realise value from fibre ownership and governments are actively encouraging this in certain jurisdictions. The good news is that there’s a lot of cash available for investment in digital connectivity if only the right business cases can be established. 

What does it take to be smart? | Infrastructure Intelligence
Infrastructure Intelligence

Putting forward the case for change

To be both smart and to realise the benefits of connected citizens, public authorities are highly reliant on this private investment from either established or new telecom network providers. In turn, that private investment depends upon being able to secure anchor revenues to justify an investment case. 

For public authorities who can navigate state aid and public procurement regulations, they can attract this investment by either providing a future anchor tenancy commitment or encouraging others to do so. This all comes down to being able to develop their own credible business cases that clearly capture future connectivity benefits.

Defining and banking these future benefits is therefore key to being able to attract investment.  Whilst technology companies are spending billions on research and development and there’s a highly impressive array of technologies on the market, cities and infrastructure owners need to understand those that will truly add value. Technology remains nothing more than an interesting idea until such a time that it becomes accessible and deployable in a way that creates tangible value for the end user. 

For a city or infrastructure owner, it’s the consequences of this technology on business processes, people and training that needs to be clearly understood as part of the overall business case. These important points are often lost in the excitement of the technology but matter hugely to the ultimate buyer.

To realise the benefits of becoming truly smart – where city and infrastructure operations are a fusion of the physical and cyber worlds – is highly complex and requires the alignment of interests across the technology, telecommunications and investment sectors in collaboration with the city leadership and asset owners.  

James Rowntree is vice president – telecoms and digital infrastructure – at Jacobs.

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World

Or as originally titled as The perils of relying on high-tech networks in a warmer world (commentary) by Simon Pollock in this Article published by Willie Shubert in Mongabay. We all know that Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience but would it be the case in these circumstances of a warmer world.

The picture above is for illustration purpose and is of Smart Cities World.

The perils of relying on high-tech networks in a warmer world

25 February 2021

  • Wild snowstorms paralyzed electricity infrastructure in Texas, a state in the country with the world’s largest economy.
  • Just imagine what climate change fueled extreme weather will do to our cities as infrastructure and ICT systems become increasingly interconnected.
  • Many see high-tech “smart cities” as a climate solution, but just how smart are they?
  • This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Smart cities are held up as beacons of hope in meeting the climate crisis. This is because they reduce greenhouse gas emissions by paring back energy use and urban waste. But is it possible the high-tech complexity of smart cities actually leaves urban dwellers more exposed to future climate disaster? Smart cities’ dependence on the information and communications technology (ICT) systems that help generate these emission reductions may actually be opening up new climate vulnerabilities when we consider what happens if these systems fail. There is a danger that we fall into the trap of assuming that a reliance on increasingly high-tech solutions is our “get out of jail free” card for everything.

We need to think more about whether our increasing reliance on interconnected information-based technology includes adequate fails safes to protect against systematic collapse if cities are hit by outside stresses – including climate-induced shocks. A number of experts working in the field of urban climate adaptation believe this issue is not receiving adequate attention.

Considering that about 55 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, and this figure is projected to rise to seven out of 10 people by 2050, we ignore this issue at our possible peril.

The definition of what actually makes a smart city is not clear cut. There is general agreement though that they share an ability to combine real time data and digital technology to improve people’s decisions on when to use energy and when to move around, while also contributing to more efficient long-term city planning.  Sensors and people’s ubiquitous use of smartphones, for instance, encourage urban residents to use public transit during off-peak hours to avoid large crowds and to access energy and water services at different times of the day to lessen demand surges.

Smart emission reduction

Smart cities reduce carbon footprints by utilizing interconnected ICT systems to create greater efficiencies. These can come in the form of more energy efficient buildings and street lighting, better waste management, smart energy meters that allow consumers to tap cheaper off-peak power, and electrified public transport links that best conform with people flows. Largely absent from positive depictions of smart cities’ ability to reduce emissions though are considerations of how robust the ICT systems are that make them smart.

In his book published last year, “Apocalypse How”, former UK politician Oliver Letwin issues an arresting warning about whether we are adequately assessing the way our growing reliance on technological connectivity opens our societies to vulnerabilities. Letwin provides a detailed portrayal of how the physical and human infrastructure of UK society would break down quickly if there was a systematic failure of the internet and associated services, including banking and satellite-based communication and navigation. He predicts this would lead quickly to a large number of deaths (in his synopsis due to the failure of indoor heating) and, ultimately, a breakdown of law and order.

The title of Letwin’s book is a misnomer (possibly with a suggested nod by the publisher to the current popularity of dystopian literature and TV) as the ICT breakdown he posits –associated with internet-busting solar flares – is rectified in a few days. While Letwin does not address climate change, his book does provide a useful thought experiment in highlighting the way our fragile modern society is increasingly dependent on the ICT systems that connect us and our machines. Isn’t it possible that the increasingly extreme effects of climate change – such as floods, hurricanes and extended droughts – could, ironically, threaten the integrity of the smart city ICT networks designed to help mitigate global heating?

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
An overreliance on interconnected ICT urban networks also raises the possibility of devastating systematic collapse – including through rapid climate-induced disasters. Image by j_lloa (Pixabay).

Enmeshed in the ICT era

Humanity’s increasing reliance on technology is by no means new. It began with the use of simple tools and fire, leading to gradually more sophisticated irrigation and animal husbandry. During the past few decades, the use technology has carved out a central part of our lives – accelerating rapidly with the invention of steam power (which, along with the myriad benefits of fossil fuel-powered modernity, began the current trajectory to the climate crisis we now face). The extent to which we now use technology-based communication and interconnectivity though is unprecedented. Today’s generation is deeply enmeshed in the ICT era, equally as it is within the Anthropocene era.

Richard Dawson, an urban climate expert based at the UK’s Newcastle University, warns of a “cascading failure” if single ICT components fail. Dawson says we need to upgrade our thinking about urban infrastructure connections beyond a traditional focus on electricity, road, rail and sewage systems. “The increasing reliance on data and ICT in urban planning is a double-edged sword,” he said. “It allows for incredible flexibility – to create new communication lines we don’t have to dig up a road.  We could live without being able to talk across continents if telecommunications fail, but we would struggle if this breakdown led to a mass system failure.”

A loss of ICT interconnectivity has implications far beyond the failure of systems employed to create urban efficiencies and, therefore, reduce emissions. The rapid speed at which ICT systems operate could actually work against us if they fail, as the negative effects would be sharp and sudden. Dawson points out the loss of electronic banking could quickly lead to social problems. This would be particularly worrisome if this occurs as the result of a climate disaster when a ready access to personal finance is so important.

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
The way megacities are emerging now in developing countries may well determine whether we are able to overcome the climate challenge. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay

Strange conspiracy theories

The US Government found that many of the social problems following Hurricane Katrina’s destructive descent on New Orleans in 2005 arose from “information gaps”. While accounts  of rioting and other lawlessness at the time were later described as exaggerated, numerous reports do indicate communication breakdowns did severely impact social cohesion. Professor Ayyoob Sharifi, from Japan’s Hiroshima University, warns the ICT systems that control smart cities are not just prone to disruption from uncontrolled disaster, but also from intentional human-created harm.

The curation of social media misinformation by individuals or organizations, including overseas governments, could overcome local officials’ attempts to prevent the outbreak of havoc when disaster strikes, said Sharifi, who studies urban climate measures. This could include the dissemination of purposefully incorrect information about where to take shelter during flooding. Purported attempts by the Russian Government to use social media to sway election results in the US and Europe shows that anonymous attempts to sway public perceptions can be effective.

The ability of strange conspiracy theories, especially if abetted by unscrupulous populist politicians such as former US President Donald Trump, to cut through the daily online traffic and garner widespread support shows that social media is not always the best medium to convey factual information. Social media, usually accessed by smart phones, is an important part of the two-way communication interface of smart cities, as it is with many forms of climate early warning systems.

How do we ensure then that the commendable work of climate proofing cities does not lead us down cul de sacs of urban planning where an overreliance on ICT connections actually increases the potential for climate disruption? One way is to take a holistic approach that incorporates different approaches to urban dynamics.

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
A informal neighborhood in Caracas. In view of climate-induced disasters, it’s important that all urban dwellers be included in the decisions that shape their cities, smart or not. Image by Wilfredor via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

Future megacities

Future Earth’s Urban Knowledge-Action Network – a global group of researchers and other policy, business and civil society innovators – is striving to make cities more sustainable and equitable by highlighting the human element in democratizing data and including underrepresented voices in city planning.

Local Governments for Sustainability, known as ICLEI, is another global network – comprising local and regional governments in over 100 countries – that advocates cities that weather rapid urbanization and climate change by combining sustainable and equitable solutions.

Nazmul Huq, ICLEI’s head of resilient development, says people need to be placed at the centre of all urban management – especially in developing countries, many of which are now entering intense urbanization. Rapid interconnectivity in the new urban hot spots of growth in India, China and Nigeria is creating advantage and potential disadvantage at a rapid pace.

“The emergence of ICT, especially mobile phones, represents a revolution for poorer people in developing countries as it provides them with greater control over their lives,” Huq said. “But at the same time, an overreliance on interconnected ICT urban networks also raises the possibility of devastating systematic collapse – including through rapid climate-induced disasters such as heat waves. This could disconnect people, while knocking out internet connections and electricity generation.”

Huq said the most important factor in making cities livable – whether they are smart or not – is to include all urban citizens, including disadvantaged groups, in the decisions that shape their urban spaces. “We must ensure the voices of the poor and marginalized are heard to avoid injustice and unequal distribution of the benefits of city life,” he added.

The way megacities are emerging now in developing countries may well determine whether we are able to overcome the climate challenge – especially considering that 70 percent of greenhouse gases come from today’s cities. Under current trends, it seems likely the lives of those rich and poor will become increasingly urbanized and interconnected by smart city ICT systems.

The sheer enormity of the climate challenge means we need to consider all options, including seeking out technological solutions. We should, however, balance our desire to be smart and interconnected with urban planning that at least considers the fragility of our city systems and what happens when they don’t work. We must not allow our thirst for technology to overcome our human need to consider nature.

Banner image caption: City of London skyline by Colin via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

Simon Pollock is an Australian-British writer and climate change communicator based in South Korea. Before leaving the Australian Government in 2016, he was a member of the startup team that launched Al Jazeera English Television from its Asia HQ in Kuala Lumpur. Simon’s interest in development and environmental issues stemmed from observation of how the two don’t always mix during six years in Beijing as a Kyodo News reporter.

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

GreenBiz came up with these six tips for deploying data-driven energy management to drive meaningful emission reductions through reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics. So here is a much down to earth way to a certain decarbonisation strategy.

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

By David Solsky

February 25, 2021

This article is sponsored by Envizi.

After a low-carbon target has been setGHG accounting baselines have been calculated and financial-grade GHG reporting has been established, the next chapter of decarbonization comes to the fore. What emission reduction strategies will be needed to reach your company’s target, and how should your team prioritize its efforts to plot the fastest, most cost-effective pathway for your business? 

Nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions come from the built environment — with 28 percent resulting from buildings in operation. Whether your organization owns, operates or occupies a building, data-driven energy management is key to reducing its GHG footprint and Scope 1 and 2 emissions.  

In the past, organizations have struggled to scale building operational energy improvement efforts for a variety of reasons. The most-cited reasons include organizational structures that fracture ownership of energy performance across disparate stakeholders, a lack of goal alignment and collaboration between landlords and occupiers, and the preponderance of legacy systems that make interoperability and data consolidation challenging.  

According to United Nations projections, carbon emissions from buildings are expected to double by 2050 if action at scale doesn’t occur. With more companies pledging to decarbonize their business, and investors increasingly scrutinizing ESG data, scalable energy management will be a critical step in the transition to a low-carbon economy.  

Today, we share six tips for deploying data-driven energy management at scale to drive meaningful emission reductions from your business. 

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics
Portfolio energy management software. Source: Envizi.

Collect meter-level energy consumption data where possible  

Identifying GHG reduction opportunities should be a data-driven, systematic process. Start by examining building-level energy meter profiles and understanding how usage patterns relate to changing occupancy and weather conditions. Meters, which typically generate one datapoint every 15 to 30 minutes, as opposed to one datapoint every month or quarter on a utility bill, provide rich data to better inform your organization’s decarbonization strategy. 

Tip: Leverage meter data, which provides real-time transparency of when and where energy is being used, to identify unexpected usage patterns and unlock higher-resolution benchmarking and analysis opportunities.  

Benchmark the energy intensity of your building portfolio 

Building-level energy management is powerful, but it never pays to operate in a vacuum. Understanding how a building performs compared to others provides context and can help your organization identify where to focus first. The approach to benchmarking depends on the type of buildings in your portfolio. 

For example, typical portfolios of small to medium buildings (buildings of 4,000 to 20,000 square feet or so) often include many buildings dispersed across a geography (such as convenience stores, bank branches and fast-food stores), while large shopping centers, hospitals and universities manage larger, but fewer, centralized complex buildings. 

Portfolios with larger commercial buildings can leverage third-party frameworks, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Energy Star and NABERS, which compare energy intensity against an industry benchmark.

For portfolios of small to medium buildings that are dispersed, external benchmarks are harder to find. In this case, Envizi recommends internal benchmarking using meter data to make meaningful performance comparisons. Advanced normalization techniques can be applied to identify the poorest performers in the portfolio, which helps to inform a highly targeted strategy for improving efficiency and reducing emissions.  

Tip: Undertake energy benchmarking before making investment decisions — don’t make the mistake of focusing on areas where there are no material savings. Envizi’s software can combine meter data with other contextual data (floor area, weather, operating schedules, and production units) to enable performance comparisons on a normalized basis. 

Tune operational and behavioral efficiency 

Buildings can be complex, but not as complex as building operations: the interaction between a building, its operators and occupants, and flow-on effects to energy performance. 

Building services such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), which often account for almost 30 percent of annual emissions, are subject to continuous change and are often responsible for considerable “energy drift” over time due to poor operational practices. For this reason, technology that proactively informs and educates building operators is necessary to support time-poor operations teams to maintain optimum performance. 

Tip: Systems go out of tune when people manipulate equipment for comfort, which typically worsens over time. Sophisticated technology continuously automates and monitors the HVAC performance to flag human adjustment that renders systems wasteful and inefficient. 

Often, manual audits will not detect the inefficiencies, but Envizi’s software uses a combination of continuous equipment monitoring, building management systems data, equipment nameplate data, weather data and other metrics to provide transparency to HVAC system performance and uncover operational issues that are otherwise difficult to detect.  

Consider plant and equipment upgrades 

Investing in equipment to deliver emissions reductions is dependent on an organization’s scale, scope and asset type and may be relevant only to building owners. 

The appetite for plant and equipment upgrades may depend on how long the asset owner intends to hold the asset, the age of the building and the age of the equipment. Envizi recommends that building owners and operators engage their engineering consultants and specialist contractors to determine the feasibility of plant and equipment upgrades. 

Tip: Technology can assist in the pre- and post-analysis of reduction projects to measure effectiveness and return on investment (ROI). Envizi’s software uses the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol to ensure calculations will withstand audit and validation. 

Consider on-site and off-site renewables 

After implementing solutions for operational, behavioral and system efficiencies, many organizations seek renewable energy as a proactive solution to get ahead on the decarbonization journey. Decisions on whether to procure on-site or off-site renewables are complex, and Envizi recommends coordinating with your organization’s engineering consultant or specialist contractor to assess its options. 

Tip: Software platforms such as the one offered by Envizi can assist with monitoring the performance of solar assets, comparing the actual performance to promised performance and integrating the accounting of the renewable energy certificates to facilitate the most traceable reporting and auditing process.  

Engage stakeholders

Energy management is rarely the remit of one team, but rather involves multiple stakeholders across an organization. The success of any emissions-reduction effort will be affected by the organization’s ability to effectively engage a cross-collaborative stakeholder group.   

Typically, organizations with a strong culture of governance and executive ownership of the energy agenda can make the most impactful positive change. Often, inspirational leaders can make the difference with robust internal communication, empowerment through clear roles and responsibilities, and incentives for employees to take ownership of the energy reduction goals.  

Tip: Find a senior executive-level champion to shepherd the decarbonization journey while supporting the pursuit of their business goals, whether ROI, risk mitigation or otherwise. Leverage a single system of record to track emissions and energy management opportunities to better enable cross-functional collaboration between stakeholder groups.  

Conclusion

The transition to a low-carbon economy will require organizations to drastically increase the energy efficiency of buildings in operation. The following data-driven tactics can help your organization identify and achieve meaningful emission reductions: 

  • Collect meter data where possible to understand granular energy consumption.
  • Benchmark the energy performance of the buildings by size/cohort in your organization’s portfolio to identify poor performers. 
  • Use technology to monitor how HVAC systems are configured, to detect energy waste and optimization opportunities. 
  • Before implementing equipment retrofits, solar photovoltaics or energy projects, engage a specialist to understand your organization’s options, and use data to establish a baseline against which to measure improvements.
  • Nominate a senior executive to champion your organization’s emissions-reduction program. A single system of record for emissions and energy can help enable cross-functional collaboration. 

If you’d like to learn more about using data and technology to streamline and accelerate decarbonization, read “Pathway to Low-Carbon Guide.”

The first step towards the future of Smart Cities

The first step towards the future of Smart Cities

Smart Cities are set to gain further traction post the pandemic, with providers focusing on developing data-driven infrastructure to provide appropriate healthcare facilities and public security services. Could The first step towards the future of Smart Cities be a matter of connected buildings? BW SMART CITIESGanesh L Khanolkar explains.

Connected buildings: The first step towards the future of smart cities

17 February, 2021

Earlier this year, International Data Corporation (IDC) released a forecast predicting that the global spending on smart city initiatives will reach a staggering $124 billion, by the end of 2020. This is an increase of about 18.9% compared to the 2019 spend for the same. 

This comes as no surprise considering smart cities are set to gain further traction post the pandemic, with providers focusing on developing data-driven infrastructure to provide appropriate healthcare facilities and public security services. Investments in the space too, are expected to rise significantly over the next few years. 

While the smart city has definitely become a buzzword of sorts, there is very little understanding on what it takes to achieve this vision. When we think of smart cities, we immediately conjure images of Artificial intelligence (AI), driverless cars, smart street lighting, smart parking, etc. But we fail to guess the starting point of a connected society – smart buildings. 

After all, buildings are the ideal starting points from which a smart city can grow. Just how a building is a functional unit of a city, smart buildings are the primary units of a smart city. Smart buildings integrate technology and the IoT to provide solutions to challenges like overspend and inefficiency in building management. Within a smart building, all the systems are connected, from managing energy, water, lighting, to delivering security and emergency services. Therefore, smart buildings empowered by the deployment of IoT and cloud technologies will be the key reason for smart cities to succeed. So what are the key factors that make a building ‘smart’? Below are some of the key features. 

Energy Efficiency: Connected buildings primarily help save power and centralize control over the energy management. Such buildings unify the management of heating, cooling and lighting functions, and eliminating wastes within the building by use of advanced sensors. Smart thermostats turn the temperature down in your absence saving power to save power and also use renewable energy sources (e.g. Solar panels) thereby reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and electricity.

Predictive Maintenance: Connected building models provide constant monitoring and evaluation of embedded automation and systems. Be it anticipating asset lifecycles, or monitoring the life, repair and replacement of individual elements, predictive management help avoid shutdowns which can incur loses. Minimizing disruption in building operations reflects positively on resource and capital utilization, as well as leading to greater ROI by enhancing the market value of the property.

Enhanced Security: Smart buildings provide enhanced security on various levels. As these buildings are all connected, building managers can integrate fire, intrusion and access systems to provide inmates the highest degree of safety possible. Further, each of these critical amenities can be customized, resulting in an overall synergy, as well as a strict adherence to local or state safety compliance. 

Current challenges in making old buildings smart and how technology helps

Given that half the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, this trend will put unprecedented pressure on our built environment, especially maintaining our buildings. Floor space restrictions are making our cities increasingly taller. So there is an urgent need for a reliable and efficient building services to maintain these buildings and ensure they run at optimum efficiency. 

Currently what holds many buildings back from becoming smarter is their reliance the conventional paper model to manage critical systems, be it electricity, plumbing or air conditioning. Agreed that a full scale revamp of an existing building is somewhat of a costly undertaking, but technology does help make this transition easier. 

Old buildings without smart sensors or fixtures can still be optimized for energy usage by deploying intelligent systems of rule-based efficiency modules. Most of these old buildings have energy meters, and further, several components of the HVAC system are energy hoggers. There is an energy meter associated with each of these. It is through these energy meters that data of energy-hogging equipment of old buildings is gathered. And by using advanced machine learning algorithms, modules can be built that can help decide how energy is being used, apart from detecting fault through identification of abnormal usage. 

Such deployment of integrated IoT solutions to render old buildings advanced and smart can assure building owners and managers of a significant ROI in the long run. 

How the pandemic is shifting priorities towards smart buildings 

The pandemic has really forced us to rethink the way that we are currently living. While many of us have embraced technology to keep connected personally and professionally during the lockdown, very few are aware of how the concept of connected buildings (a key building block of smart cities) can be used effectively to ensure the safety of a building’s inmates and control the spread of the disease. Connected buildings are without a doubt the easiest implementation of a digital upgrade which can have a positive impact on all the fundamental elements around which our societies are organized. Therefore, it is more critical than ever for policymakers at both local, and national level to plan their connected building strategies.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house