Needed now: Smart homes for greener urbanization
Digital technology powers the rise of sustainable buildings, and just in time
Global climate change is forcing a radical rethink on energy consumption in the home-building industry. The
science is clear: buildings are major contributors to climate change. Buildings account for almost a fifth of
global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Inter-governmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC). A business-as-usual approach could be disastrous: as billions of people are expected
to move to cities over the next few decades in a renewed era of intense urbanization, fears are mounting of an
irreversible effect on our climate.
“If we don’t double down on [dealing with] emissions now, it’s our emissions that will double,” warns Marina
Otto, head of UN Environment’s Smart Cities Unit.
We can meet this challenge by stabilizing or even reducing energy use over the next 30 years with the help of
technologies already available and the adherence to the building industry’s best practice. The IPCC has
identified recent advances that can drastically reduce energy use in buildings, including highly insulated
building envelopes, energy-efficient appliances, and digital automation systems such as ABB Ability™
Looking at some of the recent construction projects we are involved in, I am optimistic the industry is getting
the message. Within the Arctic Circle, in a region of Finland, a hotel composed of dozens of “igloos” is using an
ABB automation system (ABB Ability i-bus® KNX) that enables remote monitoring and control of heating and
cooling from a central office, or even a mobile tablet. Even in a harsh environment where indoor and outdoor
temperatures can vary by as much as 50° C, the hotel’s owners can keep energy costs to a minimum.
In the Netherlands, we are involved in an exciting project with Factory Zero, a company that builds homes that
are so efficient that their energy bills come to…zero. Factory Zero uses ABB Ability™ Smart Energy
Management (SEM) modules to monitor the energy consumption of the homes it builds, sending data to the
cloud to optimize the homes’ energy-efficiency, while giving the homeowners greater insight and control of the
energy they use.
Beyond demonstrating impressive new technology, the Factory Zero project emphasizes the importance of
policy. As part of the Netherlands’ contribution to the Paris climate agreement, the country has pledged to build
and retrofit 2 million new energy-neutral homes by 2030.
The Dutch government’s aggressive target for lowering the nation’s household carbon footprint has been one of
the drivers behind the construction of energy-neutral homes that produce as much energy from rooftop solar
panels as they consume.
Sustainable homes policy and digital monitoring and control technology deliver value on multiple levels.
Financially, upfront costs are soon recovered in energy savings. From a social-welfare point of view,
sustainable-home technology empowers homeowners to understand and control their energy use while cutting
unhealthy atmospheric emissions. It is essential for the world to double down on sustainable homebuilding as
the earth becomes more urbanized. The future of our planet depends on it.