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A safer, more sustainable SA starts with smart buildings

Home Engineering Automation & Control A safer, more sustainable SA starts with smart buildings

By Dean Gopal

AS plans for South Africa’s new 4IR-ready smart cities begin to take shape, attention is increasingly shifting to construction – particularly how smart technology can be implemented to ensure energy efficiency, safety and sustainability in commercial buildings.

And while the conversation around the development of smart cities is still happening in future tense, the technology and opportunity already exist to turn office spaces, warehouses, retail sites and even hospitals into smart hubs. This means that businesses and other entities can start benefiting from technology that allows them to harness the energy, safeguard building occupants, and ensure the longevity of capital infrastructure.

As the national power utility struggles with ageing infrastructure and inability to meet demand, businesses simply can’t afford to rely solely on the grid to power their operations.

Commercial players are also responsible for contributing positively to the country’s sustainability goals and taking steps to reduce environmental impact. Optimising buildings to ensure energy saving is a key part of this, and the cost-saving certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Automation ensures more efficient use of resources. For workspaces, this means that power-intensive equipment, appliances, and devices necessary for the daily running of a business can be better managed to prevent high energy consumption.

These include HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) or central air systems, which typically draw a great deal of power to operate. Installing a smart thermostat, for instance, allows you to control temperatures from a smart device, setting the system to heat or cool on a schedule to save electricity, or to respond to the weather.

Automated lighting that operates in conjunction with occupancy and vacancy sensors help keep electricity costs down too, detecting when people are in a room or area of the office as well as when they’ve left, switching lights on or off accordingly.

Plug load devices such as computers, monitors and printers may draw excess power unnecessarily when left on overnight or throughout the day. Installing smart plugs can make a big difference in this regard, shutting devices off when not in use and limiting how much power is used in standby modes.

An added energy-saving bonus of installing smart solutions in an office space is that it is possible to track and monitor where and how much power is being used, and to have full control from a remote smart device, allowing for better consumption management. It also helps management to make more informed decisions about equipment and devices being used in the office, and the need to change to models with better energy ratings.

Smart safety and security

The last two years have been challenging for businesses, having faced financial challenges as a result of lockdown, a declining local and global economy, nationwide lootings and unrest resulting in many businesses being burned down, as well as ongoing power cuts affecting operational efficiency and the bottom line.

Added to this, South Africa was recently named the third most dangerous country in the world, as well as having the third-highest number of cybercrime victims in Africa.

This all adds up to a need to adopt both physical and digital security measures to safeguard the well-being of building occupants and businesses.

In smart buildings, adaptive evacuation sign systems would form an integral part of an overarching smart life safety and building security system so that during a fire, for instance, occupants are directed away from danger and towards the safest exit, based on real-time information delivered through integrated heat sensors and smoke detectors.

From a cyber security point of view, it’s worth pointing out that integrated smart technology increases the risk of cyberattacks on building infrastructure. This is the nature of living and working in an increasingly connected world. Data encryption is key in smart buildings, ensuring connections and communications are secure.

The biggest barriers to smart building adoption do not come down to a lack of available technology. Connectivity infrastructure, education and awareness, and an enabling regulatory environment are the main obstacles standing in the way of more wide-scale adoption.

Once these are overcome, we are sure to see a mushrooming of smart buildings across the country, helping to realise the dream of developing smarter, safer, and more efficient cities.

Dean Gopal is Product Manager of Eaton’s Life and Safety Division for Africa

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