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Creating 'smart cities'

Smart technologies can be applied at all levels: from the individual to the city.

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Companies that will be successful in the market are those whose buildings are not only smart in function, but are also smart in connecting and integrating with the urban fabric.

CITIES have never been more important, nor the competition among them more intense. Recently, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reinforced this global focus with sustainable city life as one of the 17 global goals for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Smart cities are those that have incorporated (or are incorporating) technology solutions to make infrastructure and government more efficient, improving environmental performance and adaptability and reducing full life-cycle cost for infrastructure. Delivering successful urban and smart environments requires planning for climate adaptation, strategies to protect assets and cyber security, as well as frameworks for sustainable economic development.

AECOM recently conducted research on 40 of these cities around the world that are involved with expanding smart initiatives to find out their priorities. Energy, transportation and governance were identified as the top three issues. With building and structures being one of the top consumers of energy in cities, multiple-pronged approaches need to be implemented to reduce consumption.

These results are in line with Singapore's plans where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has made sustainable development a priority under the six core pillars of the Smart Nation Programme (2014) to transform Singapore into a city "where people live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all". Critical to this programme is the design and implementation of a fully integrated information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem with innovative solutions to transform Singapore into the world's first "smart nation".

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A major part of this transformation will include Singapore's real estate environment. Existing and future buildings and structures need to become smarter, work more efficiently and be more adaptable to users. The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Ministry of National Development have been championing many key initiatives to create better and smarter buildings and infrastructure but there is still room to advance.

A smarter built environment that uses technological solutions to provide intelligent control and management systems for energy, water, waste and security (physical and cyber) is starting to emerge. Such solutions are usually automated and this makes the buildings more resource efficient. There are intangible benefits such as health, employee productivity, corporate social responsibility, educational excellence and there is also evidence that smarter performing buildings are translating into higher property values. However, the market is only beginning to consider operating or life-cycle costs in pricing models.

KEY TECHNOLOGICAL TRENDS

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is described as a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility. It provides critical information during the planning and design phase of the project, increasing overall productivity of the project. Post-construction, these BIM information systems are becoming the smart hubs for building monitoring and management systems that are connected to highly sophisticated smart technologies and sensor network that integrate, manage and analyse data collected from across the building. At the same time, this data is becoming more accessible to end users who can understand consumption patterns.

The number of green-certified buildings and gross floor area is getting larger in Singapore but is still small compared to the amount of current building stock with higher consumption patterns. Introduction of building management systems can drive energy efficiency and it is estimated that energy consumption for buildings can be reduced by 10 to 20 per cent with simple operational changes that require little to no capital investments or upgrades.

This can be done through retrofits of inefficient equipment with new energy management systems which provide key information about a building's consumption, streaming real-time data to a centralised platform for managers to see when and where the building is consuming energy.

BUSINESS OF SMART CITY SOLUTIONS

As these trends continue to evolve there will be business opportunities for Singapore in the delivery of smart solutions.

The World Green Building Trends 2016: Developing Markets Accelerate Global Green Growth report indicates that the growth of green building activity in Singapore is expected to remain robust from 2015 through 2018. The report identified four green building sectors where Singapore is positioned to be a global leader:

  • Retrofitting of existing buildings: highest percentage of survey respondents who indicate that they will engage in green retrofits of existing buildings in the next three years.
  • New commercial construction: 53 per cent of Singapore-based respondents expect to undertake new commercial projects in the next three years, above the global average of 46 per cent.
  • New institutional construction: 48 per cent of survey respondents expect to undertake new institutional building projects in the next three years, Singapore leads in the area of constructing new healthcare facilities, schools, public buildings, and others.
  • New high-rise residential: Singapore leads this sector with 48 per cent, tied with India.

Given the amount of new regulations, policies and incentives relating to green buildings, it is striking that these numbers are so low. However, as buildings and structures become smarter and more sustainable, this will provide a platform of growth for Singapore businesses and also as a global exporter especially for cities in tropical climates.

SMARTER COMMUNITIES

Smart technologies can be applied at many levels: the individual, the home, the building, the estate, the neighbourhood, the district, and the city as a whole. There are many opportunities at a community level for smarter interfaces and to create the next evolution of building projects. Companies that will be successful in this market are those whose buildings are not only smart in function, but are also smart in connecting and integrating with the urban fabric.

This means creating easy and efficient multiple mobility modes connecting the last kilometre of any journey, opening up opportunities for changing industrial spaces which have better alignment with residential, retail and commercial land use, and connecting private and public housing with facilities such as community centres, schools, family clinics, parks and more.

Bedok Transit Oriented Development is a good example that blends many of these elements together including the new Bedok Integrated Transport Hub servicing bus and MRT, retail and commercial space and residential development. This facility achieved the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) Green Mark Platinum Award and features energy efficient lighting for the concourse, LED lighting for the driveway and bus park area, as well as a water-cooled air-conditioning system.

With Singapore going down the decentralised city centre route that entails moving the population and employment to Jurong Lake District and Woodlands, buildings that have greater connectivity are the ones that will be able to capture the people and increase footfall, resulting in enhanced property value as a whole.

SMART CITIZENS

Ultimately, a significant part of the smart city and smarter buildings movement involves educating people about their behaviour, how they affect usage and costs of limited resources, and potential ways to adjust. It will be the citizens who will create, enhance and maintain a smart building stock that add to the vibrancy of a tropical city and make Singapore brilliant.

  • The writer is vice-president, strategy and growth, South-east Asia at AECOM.
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