Plugging into the “smart city”

Q&A with Erica Brabon, Director, Energy and Sustainability, Black & McDonald Limited
Friday, November 1, 2019

The push for smarter and more sustainable cities is gaining momentum. From the rise of “smarter” buildings to the expansion of digital infrastructure, forward-thinking asset owners are taking advantage of the latest technologies to create more efficient, advanced, and connected environments.

How can Canada’s commercial property owners and managers “plug in”? Here to examine how facilities new and old can take advantage of the “smart city” revolution, and where to begin, is Erica Brabon, Director of Energy & Sustainability at Black & McDonald Limited.

How do you define a “smart city”?
First and foremost, a smart city is one that’s designed to increase the quality of life for its citizens. That means a jurisdiction that focuses on sustainable, connected, and resilient assets and infrastructure. It’s also one that makes large-scale investments based on how those initiatives will contribute positively to the lives of its people, be it where they live, work, or go to enjoy themselves.

What should property owners/managers consider as they move closer towards becoming part of a smart city?
Whether you’re a public facility or commercial complex, the question is: “Are we ready to exist in a ‘smarter’ environment?” For example, if your retail outlet sits in an area of the city with a micro-grid, are you ready to participate in that grid from an investment and regulatory perspective? If you are an office complex with multiple tenants, are you sub-metering? Moreover, are you able to bill back to the tenants or provide them savings through some of the new technologies and systems that you’re putting in?

There’s also the connectivity aspect of ‘smart cities.’ What’s the connectivity experience for the citizen and is it integrated with new municipal platforms? Moreover, what kind of conversations are you having with those people in regards to how they feel about some of this digital transformation that’s happening around them? We need to determine the long term capital investment strategy that supports tenant retention and experience while transforming the building into a sustainable connected asset.

There are certainly many advantages for all asset categories within a smart city, but they require some upfront considerations, planning and an open minded approach to innovation and affordability

How do firms like yours support these “smart” building initiatives?
We can be the partner, the innovator, the implementer and the integrator. Our Energy & Sustainability Team serves as a centralized resource for clients who can bring together different expertise from across our company and the tech community to provide the best and most innovative solutions that are the right fit for your needs. So for an office tower or residential building, that could mean exploring the implementation of electric vehicle charging stations and battery energy storage, which not only contribute to better energy management but are increasingly popular amenities for today’s commuters.
In those cases, we work with asset owners and managers to examine what the energy impacts will be on their property, determine operational implications of new solutions, and help plan for their installation and ongoing monitoring.

That’s just one example, though. When we talk ‘smart buildings,’ we’re talking about any number of technology investments such as automated heating and cooling systems, predictive maintenance systems, advanced lighting controls, energy-saving amenities, or “intelligent” technologies that sense when residents pull into the parking lot and adjust their environment or unit accordingly.

Overall, our role when consulting clients on these “smart” initiatives is to be technology agnostic and outcome-focused. We provide advice on what technologies are out there, formulate a pathway to adopting these technologies, and then deliver insights to help the client make decisions that best match a building’s profile, its population, and resources.

What are the costs of becoming a “smarter” building or facility?
Like anything, it’s an investment. There again, however, we can help bring funding to the table from the federal government and provincial government, depending on what province you’re in, to decrease the cost of the project. We can also assist with upfront project scoping and having interactions between technology stakeholders.
We have to remember that being a smart building and “plugging” into a smart city has financial and operational benefits. More and more, asset owners/managers are recognizing that becoming a more sustainable and “smarter” building can create better returns while driving sales through an overall better resident experience.

You mention that becoming a smarter, more sustainable building has promotional benefits as well. Can you expand on that?
People are expecting more out of the places in which they live and work. They’re much more tech-savvy and conscious of their environment. Industrial tenants are asking about automated peak consumption prediction, building automation, ‘smart’ HVAC controls, and energy-saving amenities; residential unit owners are expecting amenities that will feed into their ‘connected’ lives; and commercial businesses are in search of the tools and services that will create more connected and digital customer experiences. Across the board, there is an increased desire to invest in technologies or at least begin planning to adopt them down the road. As an asset owner or manager, that’s how you’re going to stand out to potential tenants, and position yourself to take advantage of what these current and future smart cities have to offer.

Erica Brabon is Director of Energy & Sustainability at Black & McDonald Limited. For more Smart City Solutions and services, visit www.blackandmcdonald.com.

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