A public lecture by guest international speaker, David Bartlett, shone light on a new project to make the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) campus the first ‘smart campus’ in Africa.
David Bartlett, also known as ‘the building whisperer’ is an internationally renowned IT professional, known for reducing the energy consumption of buildings considerably. He was listed by Realcomm as one of the top 25 people to watch in 2012. He is currently the IBM executive for Smarter Infrastructure Solutions for a Smarter Planet.
The public lecture was about how smarter infrastructure solutions for cities worldwide is halting wasteful energy practices that are not always easy to pick up in large buildings.
81% of UCT energy used by buildings
Buildings, on average, use 42% of a city’s electricity. In the case of UCT, 81% of the electricity used on campus comes from the buildings. It’s therefore clear to see why David focuses his energy on campuses.
“We have to look beneath the surface to realise what sustainable thinking is really about. Our cities must change and so must our buildings as we move forward,” said David.
The key is to understand the intricacies of our buildings and implement more sustainable technologies. This will help us achieve greener and more cost efficient cities, campuses and corporate offices worldwide. And if these giant energy consumers become more efficient, then the battle for a smarter planet is half won.
Double savings at world universities
David shared stories of the buildings and campuses he’s worked at to explain the paradigm shift that needs to be made to create not only a smarter campus at UCT, but also a smarter Cape Town and a smarter planet. His success stories of the University of Minnesota, the Los Angeles public school district and the city of Boston are incredible.
In some of these places there were already energy saving programmes in place, but he managed to save double what was already saved. In others, he took a place where large amounts of space and electricity were wasted and turned these buildings into truly smart infrastructures that still function in the same way.
David reckons that “the way we efficiently manage our buildings is a wonderful opportunity.” He ‘listens’ to buildings by analysing the data produced by all the systems within a building. This means everything from water consumption to electricity usage and even maintenance.
How he listens to a building
It’s this IT-based approach that makes him ‘the building whisperer.’ After collecting the data, he gets a holistic view of the building’s systems and sees where energy is wasted.
It might seem very complicated, but he simplified this idea by explaining the three i’s of a smarter planet – instrument, interconnect and intelligence:
- First, we must instrument our systems to produce data on electricity and energy consumption. The idea is to get all energy consuming systems like appliances, air-conditioning units, geysers etc. to produce data on their individual consumption. In the last decade the physical world has already become so much more instrumented that this shift is a fairly small one. Even toasters have LED screens these days.
- This data produced by the systems inside a building must then be interconnected, made simpler by the fact that we have the internet and other technologies keeping us constantly connected. The same technology can easily be used to connect all the systems and make them speak to each other.
- From here, you make the systems intelligent. In the same way our bodies adjust to different temperatures, climates, heart rates and feelings, we must automate our buildings to adjust in the same way. Allowing lights to dim when the sun is shining and increase again when it gets darker, for example. Water and electricity consumption can then become more efficient, thereby saving great numbers of wasted energy. Once we’ve found ‘numeric representations for buildings,’ we can use these numbers to detect wastage and curb wasteful energy consumption.
Universities are national game changers
“Universities are the national game changers when it comes to building a smarter planet. They have no hidden agendas. Their agenda is to help us move forward.”
Though many people are worried that UCT and other campuses don’t have the technology to implement systems like these, David says that “it’s not about the technology. Smart means it has to have some meaning to the people.”
In Los Angeles, for example, they didn’t have systems producing all the data in the school, but rather created an app for the students’ smartphones. Students take a picture of a maintenance issue, geo-tag it and send it directly to the maintenance systems. Because, as David explained, maintenance is one of the main areas where energy wastage is overlooked.
UCT first to sign sustainable university charter
UCT is the first university on the African continent to sign the International Sustainable University Network Charter. They are therefore committed to creating a smarter campus, working together with David. Applying his ideas will make this a wonderful achievement, not only for UCT, but also for Cape Town’s smart energy future.
David believes that the movement has already started in Cape Town and that we already have many of the resources needed to implement a smarter energy plan. As he said, ‘for a movement to work you have to engage the people’ and in Cape Town, we already have people willing to move forward, toward a smarter planet.
By Adél Groenewald