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Monday, July 1, 2013

Technology is getting smarter, so why aren’t cities?

Smart phones. Motion-sensing lights. Search engines that remember our history and auto-complete our questions before we can fully pose them. Yes – we live in an age where most of the population demands smart technology to compensate for their own shortcomings. We’ve realized the error of our ways. Our own humanity. So why can’t we apply the same thinking to our over-populated cities?

“The adoption is slower than we would like,” admits Jim Sandelin, senior VP of Schneider Electric, a French-based energy provider. “The technology is there. The platform and the analytics, which tell you how the building and the equipment is performing, have really come on in the last three to four years, and [is getting] better and better all the time.”

You can walk into a McDonald’s and order off of an interactive, touch screen menu. College dormitories are regulated by energy-efficient heating and cooling systems that help reduce costs and consumption. Heck – even the iPad seems like it’s straight out of Star Trek.

So, what’s next?

New data processing centers now allow office buildings, highways, stadiums, and entire city blocks to be run through a singular, integrated network that analyzes power distribution . But while governments have already started to invest in transitioning to these “smart cities,” private building owners remain averse to flipping the bill.

 “A lot of investors don’t want to hear [about green energy],” says John Dawson, regional director of engineering with Lincoln Property, a management company in Dallas. “They don’t want to spend the money. They figure the electric’s pass-through, so why should they pay for it?”
The city of Dallas’s annual energy bills regularly run in the tens of millions of dollars. Since 2003, City Hall, the Dallas Museum of Art, parking structures, and dozens of corporate buildings have been renovated with automated thermostats, motion-sensing lighting, and improved insulation. Their government is predicting $30 million in energy savings over the next two years.

Although American cities have been somewhat reluctant to embrace energy-efficient renovations, in Europe, many countries require them by law. According to Steven Moore, an architectural planning professor at the University of Texas, “Most people are resistant to change they don’t see benefits from immediately. [But] change is coming, and there will be increasing incentives to get institutions and governments to adopt.”

Yet making a building energy-efficient is far from a “one and done” deal. As they age, buildings begin to bleed energy. That’s why they require regular maintenance. Educated operation. They need to constantly adapt in order to survive.

Now the question is: will the human race adapt to global warming and survive? Or will we fail to learn from our mistakes, and fry along with the planet?

[ ana shell, nrglab, nrglab pte ltd, nrglab singapore, nrglab сингапур, research council nrglab, technology, environment, energy project] 

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