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PropTech Decoded: Smart Buildings

As our daily lives become more and more integrated with technology we take a look at two ways in which advances in tech can be used to improve the existing buildings in which we live, work and play.

 Renewable Energy

New buildings have the luxury of the latest energy efficient technology either through design or imposed through the planning process – but what can be done for our existing buildings?

Whilst we are motivated to ensure that efficiency ratings don’t fall below standards set through the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards, there are ways that we can be proactive in improving efficiency too.   In the UK we’ve just experienced a summer which equals our hottest on record and some are already predicting that this winter will be the coldest in ten years.  The cost of heating and cooling our buildings is only going one way, seemingly because of the pinches between the price of energy itself, our more extreme summers and winters and wider global and political events.   Buildings which are able to produce their own renewable energy appear to be a logical solution.

In September 2018, the winner of the UK James Dyson Award was the O-Wind Turbine, a 25cm wind harnessing turbine designed to be fixed to the outside of existing buildings . It is clear that the technology sector is keen to find ways to make existing buildings “green”. Another company has created interactive flooring which harnesses kinetic energy from footfall and transforms it into energy. This technology is expected to be used in airports, hospitals, and shopping centres (such as Westfield, where it has already been implemented).

Despite advances in technology there are challenges for the property sector:   Will there be a way to keep the aesthetics of a building from being blighted, for example by a turbine on the end of a balcony?  Will battery storage become more common so buildings can store excess energy?  Who is going to pay to adapt our buildings in this way if it is only the occupiers that benefit from cheaper utility bills? Is it too much to expect landlords to fork out for this? Or will the Government need to step in and force change….

Information networks

Songdo International Business District in South Korea, which was built over a period of 12 years, is the world’s first smart city and the largest private development in history. Computers are embedded in the building structures forming a formidable information network used for monitoring everything from waste collection to maintenance.  Will we see similar technology becoming more common within existing buildings?  To what extent will this conflict with the new data protection regime?

Easy examples in new buildings might include sensors in bins which would be able to let a building manager know when waste needs to be removed or lightbulbs need to be changed – all of these can trigger notifications to a centralised manager, reducing the amount of time (and people) needed to check.  Could similar sensor technology be used to reduce energy waste?  Can these technologies work in existing buildings or would the costs associated with this outweigh the benefit?

Residential and student accommodation sectors seem prime candidates for the development of residents’ apps.  You would expect this to be a great selling point: the ability for residents to pay their service charge, request a meter reading, book a visitor’s parking space,  report a problem in the common parts or ask basic questions through their smart phones.  That tied with the benefits of being able to manage multiple buildings centrally and reduce running costs seems to be an obvious progression.  It would involve a central and automated system (significantly reducing service charge costs), yet appear extremely personalised to residents at the same time….

Time to engage?

Whilst we might observe the significant developments that the technology sector is making with interest, what’s not clear is how ready the property sector is to adapt to these new technologies for existing buildings. It’s fair to say the technological developments are becoming more prevalent but perhaps now is the time to push it into the forefront of everyone’s minds and to raise the standards of our existing stock.  Otherwise, at the rate the technology is being developed, we might miss our opportunity to influence how that technology is used.

James Dearsley will be the keynote speaker at the Hogan Lovells’ PropTech Decoded event on Thursday 4 October 2018. If you want to attend the event and find out more about what PropTech means for you and your business then contact Lauren.Boyle@hoganlovells.com.