Technologies

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Useful and Limited

It is expected that by 2040 the worlds energy supply will be comprised of four almost equal parts - coal, gas, oil and low carbon sources. Future targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions are not expected to be met and are actually expected to increase. The potential of technology as an amelioration measure is regularly cited in various forums. However this is a nuanced subject to evaluate and whereas technology is a valuable feature of CO2 reduction initiatives, it is not a panacea for the ailing planet. Energy is fundamental to human existence. Sourcing, securing and delivering energy sources are part of the lifeblood of contemporary communities and vital to the sustainability of modern society. The demand for energy globally is expected to increase by 37 percent by 2040 and the question of whether the global energy system can keep pace with demand is moot in the face of turmoil in many parts of the world. The availability of renewable energy technologies is a limiting factor in the levels of usage. Solar energy, depending on the location, is an appreciable energy source. It is estimated that the earth is immersed in 170,000 TWh/year radiated from the sun. However photovoltaics, (PVs) are limited by storage matters during the nights and on cloudy days when the sun is unable to power the cells (still evolving).
The concept of smart cities and buildings are undoubtedly worthy additions to the measures to conserve energy. A smart building is any structure that uses automated processes to automatically control the building’s operations including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, security and other systems. A smart building uses sensors, actuators and microchips, in order to collect data and manage it according to a business’ functions and services. This infrastructure helps owners, operators and facility managers improve asset reliability and performance, which reduces energy use, optimizes how space is used and minimizes the environmental impact of buildings.

Our view of the developing environmental crisis is unambiguous. We have no time for climate change deniers or those who acknowledge the issue, but do not attribute it to human activity.

At the most fundamental level, smart buildings make occupants more productive with lighting, thermal comfort, air quality, physical security, sanitation and more at lower costs and environmental impact than buildings that are not connected. To our collective mind, we welcome anything that helps the present environmental situation, but we regard the availability and transparency of open data systems to be key to empowering people to influence change. The exponential increase in available data now available via the Internet of Things (IoT) and other technologies has contributed to the development of the ‘new’ field of data science. Analysing large data sets is generally regarded to have potential commercial value to actors identifying value in understanding geographical location, Internet activity and credit card transactions etc. of their prospective customers. The acquisition and mining of large datasets (Big Data) is now frequently used to evaluate product performance and innovative money saving methods. Beyond the commercial sector, civic authorities have begun to scrutinise big data in an attempt to improve the functionality and management of urban centres with the aim of establishing smart buildings and cities. However, the merits of available data and technology have been slow to filter into design and planning processes. We believe that data made available from sources such as social media, parking sensors, mobile phones and travel cards for example could be effectively utilised to create places more attuned to their inhabitants. We argue that this will enable architects and planners to have a greater understanding of how spaces are used at different times of day and by what types of people and events. The relationship between variables such as traffic, weather, public events and accordingly, how people respond. What users want and what they do in places, their opinion of them and conversing about their needs help to make sense of places by feedback systems such as way-finding information.

Nevertheless, acquiring big datasets is largely a useless exercise unless the right questions are posed in the first place. Understanding the relevant questions to ask is the first step to driving the process to highlight relevant areas that need addressing and the right kind of analysis projects to make this useful and usable. IoT data collection has to be backed up by solid data analysis to be useful, and the relevant actors need to be involved in dictating what data is collected and what analyses are performed. An architect or planner can know the movements of every occupant of a building or neighbourhood, but unless the data can be applied to improving infrastructure and user experience it is meaningless. Consequently, we contend that there is a powerful rationale to educate built environment stakeholders to be able to make sense of big data acquisition and it’s application to environmental technologies. A comprehensive understanding of what is essentially a new branch of science research should be a requisite in applicable learning structures, as equally weighted as technological and computer aided design modules.

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