Q: You write that “smart cities” of the future can completely eliminate tragedies like the recent New York explosion by identifying infrastructure problems before they escalate. This presumes a comprehensive transition to the “Internet of Things”–the current digital promised land. If, as you contend, today’s technology is already equipped to create these “net-zero” cities, is it mostly expense that prevents broad adoption? In your view, what will it take to incentivize stakeholders to upgrade systems, especially in old buildings with financial difficulties? And how long would large-scale implementation take if the proper incentives were put in place?
A: The “Internet of Things” is the concept of mirroring the physical environment in a virtual map. Smart building sensors will record environmental and occupancy conditions, and maintain a database of the world in real-time. The realization of this concept relies on having a critical minimum of smart buildings in a given area, enough that a comprehensive view of that area is possible. In this regard, the “Internet of Things” is an effect rather than a cause.
The main factors restraining the widespread implementation of smart building systems and smart cities, is education. This is a relatively new capability, and many architects, engineers, and contractors do not have experience commissioning and building these systems. Additionally, building owners and operators do not properly understand the value that a system like this can deliver; smart buildings can use as much as 50% less energy than ordinary buildings, so their smart components typically pay for themselves within a year or two. The incentives need to be made clearer to building owners and operators by developing an accepted, industry standard life-cycle cost model that properly demonstrates that these systems are far less expensive to own than ordinary systems over the life of the building. The large scale implementation of smart building systems could be achieved in five to ten years, given an adequate educational initiative.