Smart Buildings Today: Marketing vs. Reality vs. the Future
By Cleantech Invest CoB Lassi Noponen and Antonio Gallizio (Business Development, Cleantech Invest Los Angeles).
For decades, buildings have gotten ‘smarter’ through the addition of clever devices such as remotely controlled heating units and intelligently connected coffee brewers. The outcome of these ad hoc technologies, or ‘point solutions’ (as we now would say) has not been the rise of the ‘smart home’ or ‘smart building’ but rather the creation of the ‘dumb building with smart features’.
Clever quirks might impress consumers and provide instant gratification, but a smart building requires a shift in how we interact with them.
The marketing of these so-called ‘smart building’ upgrades by companies have convinced the consumer that the home of the future is here today. Selling clever algorithms hidden behind sleek hardware that do nothing more than the equivalent of retrofitting an after-market exhaust pipe to your 2007 Honda Civic (and being told you are ready to take on F1) is not the future.
The smart building of the future is not defined by the clever quirks and sexy design it will have, but functionalities such as immediate adaptability, reduced drain on the grid, and comprehensive learning with real time response. Clever quirks might impress consumers and provide instant gratification, but a smart building requires a shift in how we interact with them; in essence, a fundamental change in our relationship to the built environment.
Buildings are becoming key players in the new energy system, the foundation of virtual utilities. They have assets that can be switched on and off and they are, and will be, generating entities as well. We may also expect to see an abundance of different building-user related services, evolving business models and revenue streams — all this is a paradigm shift that will have profound effects, not a cheap card trick that is forgotten as we return to business-as-usual.
Reach into your pocket and pull out your smartphone. Take a long hard look at it. While it may retain some of the qualities first realized in the early Nokias, the smartphone of today is so much more. It was not the addition of a calendar on this device or the ability to beat your personal best score on ‘Snake’ that revolutionized the cell phone, but the comprehensive overhaul of the way we interact with our handheld devices. This is the difference, the shift that genuine ‘smart buildings’ will go through with the right technologies. What we have today in ‘smart building’ is a Nokia with a calendar feature, not an iPhone.
The reason we do not already live in the age of the genuine smart building is not lack of technology.
Perhaps what has permitted these aftermarket ‘smart building’ companies to be successful is the fact that buildings such as our home are fundamentally different to handheld devices. Generally speaking, we do not change our homes every couple of years and casually dispose of the outdated model.
No company has managed to make the leap and become synonymous with genuine smart homes or buildings yet. There are no smart building marketplaces for me to log-in to and download software, let alone a universal system that can interpret the software and adapt to it.
The reason we do not already live in the age of the genuine smart building is not lack of technology. All the pieces are there. Like an artist staring at an empty canvas with a full color palate, or more aptly, a developer staring at a computer screen — it’s just turning theory into practice. The question is not what technology can do for buildings, but what do people really want from their buildings.
The companies that understand the holistic user perspective and are able to create a true smart building will harness a growing share of the value of the global real estate market.
Let there be no doubt that over the last centuries homes and buildings have adapted. The average American household enjoys luxuries once exclusively reserved for royalty. It is easy to forget this when we get irritated about our water pressure being slightly off, or our central heating not working right in the bedroom.
The question then is: where is the home going next? One thing is for sure, at Cleantech Invest, we are excited to find out.
Lassi Noponen is Chairman of the Board, Cleantech Invest. You can stay in touch with Lassi by connecting with him through Twitter.
Antonio Gallizio works in Business Development for Cleantech Invest in Los Angeles. You can also connect with Antonio on Twitter here.