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Could self-sustaining smart buildings be the future of commercial construction in the UK?

There’s no doubt that the UK’s cities are already smart. According to the IESE Cities in Motion Index 2022, London tops the global charts as the smartest city in the world thanks to its performance in mobility, transport, urban planning and governance, although the report highlights that London’s performance in sustainability is poor: the city ranks 17th globally for environmental progress.

The problem is one of multiple facets which include complex challenges like electric vehicle charging, smart waste collection, and, crucially, environmentally friendly buildings.

All over Europe, these challenges are being addressed head-on and development of early smart cities is beginning to take shape – and London would do well to take note.

Smart cities across Europe

In Barcelona, rubbish bins have been fitted with sensors to communicate how full they are so that waste collectors can pre-plan their routes based on waste hotspots. Not only does this keep the city cleaner, but the technology is helping to reduce the number of trips needed for waste collection. The knock-on effect is less pollution from waste collection trucks and a noticeable improvement in general traffic flow.

Portugal is making great progress with electric vehicle infrastructure, having recently developed a smart connected charging system in conjunction with car manufacturer Renault. First launched on the Portuguese island of Porto Santo (dubbed ‘The Smart Island’), the island’s electric cars communicate with the power grid to return electricity from the car to the grid when they are not in use so it can be used to power people’s homes during spikes in demand.

Things are very different in London where energy consumption is poorly managed and the city often reaches peak electricity demand, causing massive power outages like the ones seen in 2019. Shockingly, London’s commercial and industrial buildings make up around a quarter of the city’s building space but consume almost half the energy.

Professor Warren Manning, Pro Vice-Chancellor Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Derby, believes that the UK needs to do more to meet its 2050 Net Zero pledge: “If we are to become zero carbon by 2050, we have to start managing demand and invest now. There are examples where smart systems are already working across the globe and in our own capital city, which the rest of the UK could look to implement.”

More than just technology

Technology can provide the tools we need to manage energy usage more effectively. It also shows promise in helping our cities harness data to reach carbon neutrality.

Commercial construction is reaping the benefits of technology through innovations such as smart facades and connected construction – a way of monitoring the progress of a construction project in real-time using digital monitoring software. Connected construction can also be used to optimise the use of materials during a construction project.

Sadly, there’s a long way to go before we are close to neutralising carbon output during construction. According to the World Green Building Council, buildings are responsible for an extraordinary 39% of all global energy related carbon emissions, a quarter of which is directly attributable to building construction and much of which is for commercial use.

The good news is that the UK is taking action to tackle these problems through new proposed regulation on the re-use of certain building materials – including facades – where possible. Although still in the early stages of its life, the Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill aims to make it compulsory for developers to calculate the upfront carbon emissions for each construction project, with assessments being made about the feasibility of replacing materials if there is a valid case for reuse.

In a landmark ruling in early 2022, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove ordered an inquiry into already-approved plans to demolish the Edwardian M&S store on Oxford Street and replace it with a brand new 10-story building, following concerns over carbon emissions. Campaigners say that the new building would come with an upfront Co2 cost of 40,000 tonnes – the equivalent of driving a car 99,000,000 miles.

Creating a green construction industry one step at a time

As self-sustaining smart buildings begin to take shape, See Brilliance is working closely with construction industry professionals and facade producers to improve the lifespan of commercial building facades across the UK.

Restorative cleaning and commercial facade restoration are two areas where we have worked extensively to help commercial building owners and occupiers benefit from refurbishment over replacement. Our work in these areas covers a wide range of building facades, from historic stone facades to modern panel facades and glass curtain walls.

See Brilliance has over 30 years’ experience in providing specialist facade restoration and cleaning services. Our services are kind to the environment and offer significant cost and carbon emission savings compared to replacement.

To find out more about our restoration methods, including DOFF Steam Cleaning, TORC Cleaning, commercial facade and cladding restoration and restorative cleaning, get in touch today.

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