SSE Enterprise

Energy Solutions

Last week Grant Widlake, our Business Director in the South, addressed a prestigious audience at Energy Live. His topic: Do the benefits of smart buildings outweigh the costs?

So what exactly is a smart building?

According to Grant, the definition of ‘smart’ depends on the focus of the customer. Organisations will have a leading objective which will determine what aspect of a buildings’ performance is important to them. These business objectives are likely to fall into one of five categories:

  • Gaining operational efficiency
  • Reducing environmental impact
  • Improving business operations
  • Ensuring service delivery
  • Better managing the wellbeing of staff and customers to improve productivity

A smart building is all about information – creating data insights which lead to performance optimisation and delivering the organisational benefit required.

Graphic of a smart building


Could my business’ premises benefit from smart technologies

Pretty much any premises can adopt smart technologies. But our ability to deliver a smart building and get worthwhile returns depends on the assets you have to work with.

Unfortunately many of us work in ‘dumb buildings’ – small office buildings in business parks that have little building control and no infrastructure to measure apart from fiscal meters.

Then there are older buildings with outmoded infrastructures with limitations to interoperability and a plethora of open and closed protocols.

So in short – before we start any smart upgrades, we make sure it’s worthwhile by looking for hard evidence of ROI.

Don’t new buildings come smart-ready anyway?

Although there are various existing and historical frameworks that measure, benchmark, and help build efficiency, as a nation we are not advancing quickly when it comes to smart buildings.

Innovation included at building design stage all too often gets ‘value engineered out’ to meet the demands of construction cost plans, leaving the building owner/operator without the infrastructure required to operate a smart building.

We generally have more opportunity to create a smart building where the asset owner maintains control or influence in the construction phase. Or when we’re working together during a refit or refurbishment project.

So do the benefits of smart not outweigh the costs? 

Pitfalls in the construction process, and the fact that smart buildings are seen as an investment begs the question – is smart really worth it?

The fact that there are continued calls by Innovate UK to apply for research funding in this area and that universities thrive on research funds to drive smart buildings would indicate that we’re still searching for the answer to this question.

But crucially, smart buildings do save energy, reduce environmental impact, improve employee and customer wellbeing, have the potential to save money, and streamline on operational costs.

To drive smart forward, all we need is a little more vision and focus. As Grant rightly illustrated, look what Dubai achieved in ten short years:


Photo of Dubai in 1991

Photo of Dubai in 2013

Looking forward to a future with smart cities

In the short term, it’s up to building infrastructure solution providers to harness the power of smart technologies and sell the business benefits, rather than the technologies themselves.

For long term success, it’s also key that we:

  • Work to develop a universal smart supply chain
  • Make the benefits of smart technologies significant to compete with other business priorities
  • Employ building optimisation systems in the construction process, such as Remote Optimal, so that they are embedded for the benefit of the building owner/operator.

And finally…

If you found this article interesting, keep a look out for future blogs on including:

  • How do you deal with the complexity of protocols, and how quickly new technology is brought to market?
  • How can you measure staff comfort and wellbeing?
  • How can you make a smart building easy to manage?  It sounds complex…
  • If government don’t provide a stronger legislative framework, is there anything you can do to influence purchasing decisions?

SSE Enterprise

Energy Solutions

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