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. What role does technology play to drive sustainable design?

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 urbanisation, fears are mounting of an irreversible effect on our climate.

We can meet this challenge by stabilising 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.

Looking at some of the recent construction projects we have been involved in, I am optimistic the industry is getting the message.

Powering the first 10-star rated house in South Australia

We are proud to be part of a project that can showcase the power of technology combined with smart design in South Australia’s first 10-star rated house. Building consultancy SUHO wanted to prove that buildings can be more economical and environmentally friendly than the norm in Australia. They quickly saw the integration of home automation as a key solution – to the point where the house regulates itself.

Using ABB’s free@home smart home solution with the ABB-Welcome door intercom, together with ABB’s TerraAC Wallbox electric vehicle home charger and Fimer’s REACT 2 solar inverter, we contributed to building truly holistic house. The in-home automations adjust to the environment and manage the comfort of the house, controlling features such as lighting, heating and shading, even where shutters automatically react to the external environment.

Those features seamlessly integrate with a solar inverter and electric vehicle charging, enabling the house to adjust to available energy. For example, if the energy storage battery is full from solar power, the home automation triggers an action such as charging the car or starting the washing machine. A key point of value is that the range of applications are available in one solution that makes living easy for the end user. It is a true showcase of technology at your fingertips.

Over in New South Wales, the DPN Casa Capace project is one that takes social value to an incredibly exciting space. Using ABB i-bus® KNX automation technology, the innovative house pilot is enabling people with a disability to gain full control of their home via smart devices or voice control.

As part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the automation pilot has unlocked greater scope for people to live in a real home environment, rather than a hospital-like one. ABB i-bus KNX is reducing building operating costs by focusing energy use according to demand while keeping the comfort level of residents at its highest. Temperature values in rooms are automatically recorded and sent to the heating and climate control system to generate the optimum temperature and air quality. Similarly, lighting can be adjusted by residents or they simply use predefined settings to achieve welcoming environments with minimal effort. The trial has proven to be so effective, particularly from the perspective of residents, that it is set for expansion into new housing projects.

Empowering the elderly to lead independent lives with smart technology

With demand for smart home automation continuing to grow at double digit rates, ABB released the first truly open API platform in the professional smart home sector that delivers full electric appliance integration to developers and partners.

The ‘My Life, My Way’ project is the first of its kind to use ABB’s new open API to provide an alternative means of holistic care and virtual support for key aspects of social and clinical care provision within assisted living environments.

Designed to help elderly residents lead independent and fulfilled lives by blending people and technology, the project was implemented by iHomeLab and Bonacasa Smart Living in Switzerland, together with a number of international partners. The project uses a virtual assistant, which supports assisted living in Bonacasa apartments, implemented by the ABB-free@home® system.

While the technology in the background is quite complex, for the end-users the virtual assistant is a friendly, human-looking avatar called Anne, which interacts with residents through voice control and can be seen on the screen of their PC, TV, tablet or smart phone. Residents can ask the virtual assistant to access the Smart Home menu and easily control up to 15 functions in their apartment, from door automation to lights and video intercom.

With rising loneliness and isolation also affecting a growing number of the elderly, the avatar project is seen to be having a positive impact on helping families and friends connect more regularly through digital with video calls and instant messaging.

Comfort and convenience designed around sustainability

With innovative, integrated solutions already available, homeowners and building managers have the technology at their fingertips to make homes and buildings intelligent with energy-efficient and future-oriented technology. The convenience of smart device integration for home owners for anywhere-anytime access, and with remote access to building management systems for building managers, means all aspects of a building’s energy use can be monitored and controlled without the need to be on site. In both residential and commercial contexts, remote monitoring optimises energy use and environmental value with absolute convenience.

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About the author

Christian Schiemann

Christian has more than two decades of experience in the smart buildings and smart home industry in Australia, Germany and UK, helping customers to achieve more sustainable and automated building outcomes. In his Market Development Manager role, Christian is responsible for representing ABB’s building automation solutions in Australia and New Zealand, mainly with an approach of an open protocol solution (KNX), and promoting the advantages of automation across industries to stakeholders in a building process. Christian has participated as a keynote speaker at a range of industry events in the UK and Australia focusing on emergency efficiency in buildings and the impact on the global carbon footprint.
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