The Future of the Eco-City: Delivering Measurable Results

By Don McLean on Tuesday 7 January 2014

The design of “eco-cities” – cities with sustainable smart buildings that integrate with each other and the grid itself to conserve resources – is becoming increasingly important.  The world’s population is projected to keep rising for at least the next century, by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, so addressing efficiency is essential. Controlling our use of energy, water and other resources will no longer be an option, but a necessity.

The IES Research & Development vision is based on smart eco-cities which utilise information and communication technology (ITC) to incorporate real-time dynamic control. Performance analysis and predictive interrogation of data will play a key part in this.

Our emerging vision is that each building would be designed or refurbished using state of the art 3D simulation to quantify, optimise and verify its performance. The building simulation model would then be used to commission and subsequently control the building. However, in order for it to be a true eco-city it would not be enough for each building to be independently efficient. There would need to be a master system that can optimise city wide energy and water consumption in coordination with the relevant utilities.

The company invests over ¼ of its turnover into research & development, and is actively involved in a number of Scottish, UK and European funded projects across all areas of such an eco-city lifecycle. We are also actively involved in key sustainable building/community test sites considered to be at the forefront of global research.

Across these projects IES is both providing the underlying technology and acting as a ‘hub’ to connect many different organisations and stakeholders into the eco-city lifecycle. Our concept maps the entire process from masterplanning through to simulation-based control of eco-communities and links with smart grids.

IES played a part in the recent successful 24mil Smart City grant won by Glasgow – which saw off competition from London, Peterborough, Bristol and 30 other UK cities. IES contributed on the aspect of using the communications hub to inform buildings on how to improve energy efficiency.

The company also recently signed an agreement with Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to form a working partnership that will promote the creation of smart eco-cities. The agreement includes the provision of free academic licenses of the IES Virtual Environment (IESVE) and a number of six-week internships to students studying at the institute. Masdar Institute has educational and research and development interests in Masterplanning, Smart Cities and Smart Building Control particularly as related to Abu Dhabi and Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates. The agreement will allow students to use IES software on research and development for the Masdar Institute and IES will benefit from the feedback from this work, incorporating it into its own R&D programme.

One of the major barriers is the discontinuity between actual utilities consumption and design/simulated data. Buildings rarely perform as predicted, and Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) only monitor and report in a descriptive, ad-hoc way. Vast amounts of data are collected but not fully utilised to inform decisions. These conventional management methods are laborious and make it difficult to maintain optimal control. Post-design, BEMS monitor only the individual building and rely on facility managers to interpret the data and act accordingly. This creates a lot of “data” but not viable “smart buildings”.

Until now, the technology to simulate and test optimisation hypotheses based on real operational data simply didn’t exist. There was a reliance on design simulation technology that could point out flaws and optimise performance virtually before the building was constructed, and BEMS systems which monitor usage after the fact. However, with new software and computer modelling capabilities, creating smarter, more efficient buildings is easier than it has ever been. Performance analysis is in our opinion the technology that can truly drive eco-communities, -districts and -cities.

Building design using 3D models is already the norm and can deliver a model suitable for operational activities.  Connecting the dots by incorporating real operational data into the model is the next step, and one which IES has already taken successfully through its Scottish Enterprise funded SCAN research project.

The application of 3D building performance simulation on new-build, refurbishment and operation optimisation projects facilitates a greatly improved integrated and sustainable design process. It paves the way for smart interaction between buildings in a community or city to optimise efficiency at the next level.

Through virtual testing and performance analysis the industry is able to cut through greenwash and deliver measurable results. These results are what will drive eco-cities.

This article was originally published in Environment Industry Magazine in January 2014 http://www.environmentmagazine.co.uk/?p=3824