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What’s a smart city without smart buildings, and where is the city with only smart buildings? Municipal and national governments talk confidently about their smart cities, but until they can drive the conversion of old building stock into smart-connected elements of the urban landscape, they are just creating smart infrastructure. To truly see the potential of smart technology, cities must incorporate infrastructure, buildings, and people into their strategy.

Infrastructure, be it energy, water, transport or telecommunications, is a fundamental part of a modern city. As smart city and smart grid technology evolves these urban networks are coming online, providing a variety of benefits from reduced congestion, to greater efficiency, as well as better security, health, and wellbeing for citizens. Alongside public spaces, the remaining physical space in a city is taken up by buildings; however, 99% of which are basically dumb and inefficient.

“A city is essentially just a collection of buildings. A smart city, therefore, should be a collection of smart buildings. However, the development of smart buildings and smart cities has, so far, been relatively independent of one another. At the door of the building, a new network begins, with a new set of applications, and an entirely different set of objectives,” we wrote in a January article entitled ‘Smart Buildings Set For Big Smart City Integration Drive in 2019’.

The article discussed expert predictions that we will see a turning point for smart building to smart city integration this year. Smart buildings will be seamlessly connected to smart grids, electric vehicles, smart city infrastructure, and other smart buildings, in a glorious urban network that will hurl us into the future:

“A single smart urban platform, which included buildings, would be able to bring about a seamless digital urban experience for city dwellers and visitors. Electric vehicles will be connected to streets and buildings to share data and energy for greater efficiency. Occupancy tracking could go beyond the limits of buildings to monitor the flow of people as they move between indoor and outdoor environments or through transport systems. This type of tracking would facilitate a range of health, safety, social, and convenience applications.”

While the first half of 2019 has not shown any remarkable change in interconnectedness, anyone still holding out hope for the second half of the year would be wise to remember that 99% of building stock is still dumb. Smart building to smart city integration does not make dumb buildings smart, and while it may encourage the adoption of smart building technology, much more must be done to raise the standard intelligence of buildings, for the sake of smart cities, their citizens, and the entire planet.

Buildings consume 40% of total energy and account for 39% of global carbon emissions. One of the most significant steps we can take to slow rapidly-accelerating climate change is to make buildings more energy-efficient, and smart technology is proving to be one of the best ways to do that. Making buildings smart also encourages the deployment of energy storage and distributed renewable energy generation, namely rooftop solar, which creates an efficient, clean, and resilient, urban energy network.

Beyond energy, smart buildings have the potential to revolutionize urban society. Most of us spend the vast majority of our time indoors, and smart buildings can improve the health, wellbeing, and productivity of occupants. Be it at the office, factory, hospital, school, or home; smart tech is supporting our activities and our biology with a new era of human-centric smart systems. Making our mass building stock smart not only gives a boost to the environment but also elevates society as a whole.

Addressing the intelligence level of the majority of buildings is the key to creating smart, clean, and human-centric urban environments, true smart cities, but turning the remaining 99% of building stock into smart buildings is a monumental challenge.

The problem is not technological, however. The smart building retrofit offering is evolving rapidly to serve the needs of all kinds of buildings. Approaching its 90th birthday, the Empire State Building in New York has been retrofitted with advanced technologies, achieving a 38% reduction in energy consumption. Younger buildings are registering significantly higher savings, with minimal installation costs, as retrofit technology is designed for common legacy systems.

“The digital retrofit approach can dramatically ease the capital costs and transition time required, by combining physical hardware retrofits with software-led solutions. Digital retrofits are poised to act as the impact multiplier, which leapfrogs building assets to a Smart Buildings and Smart City future,” said Prabhu Ramachandra, CEO and Co-founder of Facilio, a facilities management firm based in India – where the national government is pushing ahead with their 100 smart cities program while 40 million households in the populous nation are still without power.

A smart city is nothing without smart buildings and, aside from a few unique greenfield developments, there are no cities without dumb buildings. Key stakeholders from government, industry, as well as social and environmental leadership, must come together to find a solution to this missing piece of the puzzle. The priority for our urban evolution must be retrofitting the majority of building stock with smart technologies.