Smart sustainable solutions: Smart demand and water “as a service”
Water management techniques are far behind energy management, but water is no less important and - in a drought stricken country like Australia - needs to catch up fast.
Harnessing the Internet of Things (IoT) in the water management of commercial buildings can deliver significant environmental and economic benefits, but these benefits are only maximised if the design is integrated holistically into the building systems at the planning stage.
This was one of the messages from Professor Stuart White, the Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), when he spoke on a panel discussion at the 2019 Total Facilities conference in Sydney
White’s view is that while advanced water management techniques are two decades behind energy management, largely driven by the rising price of electricity, water is no less important and – in a drought stricken country like Australia – needs to catch up fast.
How can ‘Smart Demand’ help
White extolled the principles of “Smart Demand”, where IoT sensors re integrated into integrated building management systems to drive exponential improvements in water efficiency.
“Water can’t be considered separately from energy nowadays, and it can’t be separated from waste and organic waste processing,” he told the conference in Sydney.
“So we are working with some partners on how to look at the water and the waste piece together, looking at new vacuum technology.”
Professor White worked with Singapore developer Frasers Property on the company’s flagship Central Park development in Sydney, integrating water and energy management through the use of low cost sensors and communication technologies such as LoRaWAN IoT.
“We have taken a lot of sessions from the electricity industry, and we see in Smart Command a way forward in building design and management,” he said.
The award winning Central Park building is famous for the vertical garden which covers the building exterior, with flowers and vines stretching 150 metres high.
The feature is not only visually stunning, but helps in lowering energy consumption in winter by protecting the building from the cold, and in summer by providing a natural cooling system.
Integrating algae into the Built Environment
With Professor White on the panel discussion was a colleague from UTS, Associate Professor Sara Wilksinon from the School of the Built Environment, who is researching a building technology even more transformative than the vertical garden, in algal building technology.
Professor Wilkinson said her interest in this was sparked by the world’s first algal powered building, created by engineering firm Arup in Hamburg and opened in 2013.
“The façade is comprised of panels of water and algae, and you get thermal energy from the liquid which then goes through a heat exchanger,” she said.
“This is stored below ground and used for heating, both for hot water and building heating, and after a three week cycle this can be harvested for biomass, which can also be converted to biofuel or used to remediate grey water.”
Wilkinson said this technology had the potential to take commercial buildings partially off the energy grid, relieving pressure on ageing city infrastructure struggling with population growth and urbanisation.
“Algae is nowhere near competing with solar PV,” she says.
“But when I looked at the history of solar energy, in the 1950s it cost A$2700 for one watt of solar energy, while in 2016 it was down to A$1.14, so it is clear that these technologies can develop.”
Another of Professor Wilkinson’s project is to develop “wall bots” which will automatically cut the vegetation on buildings created with algal technology, and also those like Central Park with vertical gardens.
She is currently working with robotic experts on a prototype, and hopes to have a demonstration project at UTS within 12 months.
Smart design choices
As a design approach, Stuart White told the panel audience that water design was like other areas of environmental design in that it should move from “supply side solutions” to IoT driven technologies which would make better use of existing resources, be that water or energy.
The traditional response to water shortages, for example, was to build dams and desalination plants.
“But we need to get smarter,” he said.
“Rather than just applying brute force we need to apply some of these better management systems.”
This approach has already had significant success without using next generation IoT. The south east region of Queensland, for example, was able to drive per capital water consumption down by more
than 50 per cent through emergency accelerated efficiency programs which retro fitting commercial premises with leakage detection and pressure reduction equipment.
“We have two choices to make,” said Professor White.
“We can build our way out of the problem, but that starts to become a law of diminishing returns and the economic challenge, let along the social or environmental channel, is astronomical.
The other was to focus on the use of existing resources and leverage new technology to drive efficiencies, and also to move to a “service model” in commercial buildings to drive innovation.
“Why not have HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) as a service, or lighting as a service, and of course there are vendors now offering this, where you turn something into a service offering and bundle it up,” he said.
“There is no reason why we can’t move to water fixtures and management as a service.”