Smartening up the City

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

There are some leaps in technology that seize the mind and imprint themselves indelibly on the memory. There can hardly be anyone over the age of 50 who doesn’t recall their grainy view of the first man on the Moon, and people who are quite a bit younger will remember when, say, paying a bill or booking a holiday online was still a novel experience.

There are other changes which, while they are already having far more impact on our lives than the Moon landings, seem to have crept up on us, almost by stealth. The advent of the Smart City looks very much like being one of the latter.

The Seminar Smart Cities and the Internet of Things, which BSRIA attended on 16th July, helped to flesh out some of these. One key factor is of course the sheer all-encompassing variety and complexity and scale of a modern city, as reflected in the technology required to support it. This was underlined by the presentations on the range of “smart” cities, from major building consultants, to companies working closely with utilities, to data analytics companies.

This points to a pluralistic approach where different companies collaborate, each contributing their own particular skills, rather than one where a mega-corporation tries to orchestrate everything.  As one speaker pointed out, the smart car alone is likely to involve motor manufacturers, battery and power specialists, grid utilities, digital IT specialists, and the advertising and public relations industry (interestingly, two of the three first people I spoke to represented public relations companies). And that is before one gets on to the subject of the role of city and national authorities.

While the seminar focussed, understandably, on the elements that comprise the “Internet of Things”, making up ‘the nuts and bolts’ of the smart city, it also convinced me that we need to pay more attention to the wider social, political and economic context.

What makes a city smart? Given the combination of complexity and subjectivity, that is always going to be a hard question to answer. Nonetheless a group of academic institutions did rank 75 smart cities across Europe based on the “smartness” of their approach to the economy, mobility, the environment, people, living and governance.

When I measured the ranking of smart cities in each country against that country’s average income, I was struck, but not that surprised, that there was an almost linear correlation between a country’s wealth, and the ranking of its ‘smartest’ city. Thus at one extreme Luxembourg, easily the richest country in Europe, and second richest in the world, was also judged to have the smartest city. Lowest ranked was Bulgaria, which also had the lowest per capita income of all the countries on the list. Most other countries were in a ‘logical’ position in between.

Smartening up the city

One can of course argue whether smart cities are mainly a cause or a consequence of a country’s wealth. Up until now I suspect it is mainly a matter of richer countries being able to afford more advanced technology, not least because the relative economic pecking order has not changed that much in the past 25 years, i.e.. since before the smart city era really got underway, indeed if anything the countries on the bottom right of our chart have been catching up economically, which could be why countries like Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are doing better in the smart city stakes than their income might suggest.

Luxembourg is of course unusual in one other significant respect. In terms of size, and population, it is about the size of a city, and is politically and economically very much focussed on its eponymous capital city. This raises a question sometimes posed in other contexts: Is the “city state” making a comeback, and could this have a bearing on the development of the smart city? In this respect it surely speaks volumes that Singapore, probably the closest entity to a city state in the modern world is not only highly productive economically but frequently cited in the history of the smart city, going back to the days when it pioneered road pricing more than a generation ago, and one of the cities mentioned in this seminar.

If you are laying down the guidelines for a smart city then there are clearly advantages in having an authority with the resources and powers of a government, combined with the local knowledge and accessibility of a city.  But given that splitting up the world into hundreds if not thousands of new ‘city states’ does not look like a viable option, what can be done to create a framework in which smart cities can flourish in a way that is responsive to their citizens’ needs?

Even in larger countries, the Mayors of major cities are often heavyweight national figures, enjoying wide ranging  powers. This applies to cities like New York, Berlin, Paris and, more recently London. One of the most interesting developments in Britain is the growing recognition that while London is already in effect a global economic power, other cities have been struggling to keep up. While this problem long pre-dates the smart city, it speaks volumes that, with a general election due next year, all of the major parties are now committing to giving more powers to major cities outside of the capital, possibly with more directly elected mayors.

Given the nature of democratic politics there is still no guarantee that this will happen, especially given governments’ traditional reluctance to hand over power, but with Scotland likely to enjoy greater autonomy even if it votes to remain in the UK, the pressure to devolve more power to cities and regions in the rest of the UK will be that much greater.

Even this would not of itself promote smart cities, but it would mean that city mayors or leaders seeking to promote and coordinate smart city developments, and companies and interest groups looking for partners, would have much more powerful instruments within their grasp.

BSRIA’s Worldwide Market Intelligence team produces an annual report into Smart Technologies. To find out more go to our website

Is construction still a losing game for most women?

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Politics is all about attempting to second-guess the mind of the electorate. Although cynics might cast a sceptical eye at the timing of the Cabinet reshuffle, the fact that women are more prominent in politics is a cause for celebration. After all, women make up 52% of Britain’s population, so increasing female ministers to around a quarter of the Cabinet (6 out of 17) is a belated step in the right direction1. But when there are so many talented women, why is it that more of them don’t achieve high office?

Before we cast too may stones, we in the construction industry need to have a good look in the mirror. Women make up just 11% of the workforce and our industry’s lack of progress towards equality is shameful. Aside from the lack of diversity, from a practical perspective, with one in five workers soon to reach retirement the industry needs to increase its skilled workforce. It needs to thus start attracting and retaining talented professionals regardless of gender, age or ethnicity (needless to say, ethnic minorities are also under-represented in construction2).

Women have struggled to get an equal footing in construction, but the representation of women in our industry has waxed and waned in recent history, demonstrating that, left to chance, both government leadership and the fluctuating demands for skilled labour can be persuasive. Perhaps Nicky Morgan, the new Minister for Women and Equalities ought to have something to say about this too.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of women who work as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is currently so low as to be essentially unmeasurable. It hasn’t always been like this. In the 18th century, women in Britain worked as apprentices “in a host of construction occupations, including as bricklayers, carpenters, joiners and shipwrights”. However, by the early 19th century, with changes in legislation and new divisions of skilled/unskilled labour, women became increasingly excluded. By 1861 trades including that of carpenter, plumber, painter, and mason, were subsequently largely ‘male’3.

The First World War led to a marked increase in women in the building trades through a government agreement with the trade unions which “allowed women into skilled male jobs as long as wages were kept low and they were released at the end of the war”. During the second world war, there was similarly an estimated shortage of 50, 000 building workers, so the National Joint Council for the Building Industry agreed that employers should identify whether any men were available first before a role was filled by a woman (who earned, on average, 40% less their male counterparts—and it’s still not perfect now, with women earning c10% less4). The bias of the apprenticeship systems and trade unions were largely responsible for the fact that women in the building industry declined once more from the 1950’s to ‘70s3.

We’re currently back to the issue of a lack of available skilled labour. The government recognises this, and I welcome the recently announced BIS funding call specifically designed to help women progress as engineers. The funding will support employer-led training to encourage career conversions and progression in the industry. This call is in response to a recent report identifying that “substantially increasing the number of engineers would help the UK economy […] and the potential to significantly increase the stock of engineers by improving the proportion of women working in engineering jobs”5.

Carbon Comfort event 14th March-lowFunding new training opportunities is a great step forward, but to see real change we need industry leaders to be proactive in embedding a more diverse and inclusive work culture. The majority of women aged 25-45 find that attitudes, behaviours and perceptions are the greatest barriers3.

If you feel there is nothing new in the story, then the words ‘ostrich’ and ‘sand’ come to mind. It is about you. It’s about you and how you and your business behave now, not just when we have the time given that the recession is over and it’s a ‘nice to do’.

So, inspirational leadership—and not just policy—will foster a more inclusive and skilled workforce. Look around you. How many women are in senior management roles? What is your office culture really like? Is your organisation progressive or part of the problem? And, most importantly, what are you going to pledge to do about it?

1 Reshuffle 2014: Women control one in four pounds of government spending. Huffington Post, 15 July 2014

Inquiry into Race Discrimination in the Construction Industry, Action Plan. Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010

3 Building the future: women in construction, The Smith Institute, 2014

Gender pay gaps 2012. David Perfect, Equality and Human Rights Commission Briefing Paper 6.

 Employer ownership: developing women engineers,BIS, 23 June 2014

Why do women leave architecture? Ann de Graft-Johnson et al., 2003.

If you are interested in careers at BSRIA then please check out our website. We also have an extensive training programme covering topics like BIM and the Building Regulations. 

The selection criteria of refrigerants

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

This is part two of a three part series from Salim. You can read part 1 here

There is no general rule governing the selection of refrigerants, however there are of course the five classic criteria and those are:

  • thermophysical properties
  • technological
  • economic aspects
  • safety
  • environmental factors

However, in addition to these criteria, others have to be considered such as local regulations and standards as well as maintainability and ‘cultural’ criteria associated with skills to support the units, application, and user training requirements.

The best approach when presenting evolution and trends is certainly the per-application approach. The desirable characteristics of “ideal” refrigerants are considered to be:

  1. Normal boiling point below 0°C
  2. Non-flammable
  3. Non-toxic
  4. Easily detectable in case of leakage
  5. Stable under operating conditions
  6. Easy to recycle after use
  7. Relatively large area for heat evaporation
  8. Relatively inexpensive to produce
  9. Low environmental impacts in case of accidental venting
  10. Low gas flow rate per unit of cooling at compressor

The choice of alternative refrigerants should involve a review of recycling or disposal of refrigerants. You must decide which criteria for the ideal refrigerant is of most importance to your organisation. It must be considered that the operation phase is the key factor when determining the environmental impact of the various refrigerants as there is less impact to the environment in the production and disposal stages. As an example, supermarket retailers are steadily moving away from long-established HFC refrigeration systems.

Decision making for new refrigeration plant using refrigerant alternatives such as ammonia, CO2 or hydrocarbons, which have comparatively little or no impact on global warming and zero impact on ozone layer, should consider not only the impact on the environment but the additional required skills to maintain (Ko Matsunaga).

You can  find out more information in BSRIA’s library

A forward thinking attitude to energy management

Chris Monson, Strategic Marketing Manager of Trend

Chris Monson, Strategic Marketing Manager of Trend

Given that in parts of the world like Europe and North America some 40% of all energy used is consumed by buildings, both companies and wider society are increasingly focussing on the energy performance of their buildings, and how to improve it.

Building Energy Management Systems (or BEMS) are computer-based systems that help to manage, control and monitor building technical services (HVAC, lighting etc.) and the energy consumption of devices used by the building. They provide the information and the tools that building managers need both to understand the energy usage of their buildings and to control and improve their buildings’ energy performance. 

I’m Chris Monson, strategic marketing manager at Trend Control Systems, and I’d like to welcome you to the latest in a series of blogs where I, along with my colleagues, examine the issues affecting the building controls industry and the use of Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS).

It strikes me as somewhat bizarre that in an age where owners, managers and occupiers of commercial premises are under tremendous pressure to operate as energy efficiently as possible, so few developers recognise the long-term value of installing a fully featured BEMS at the construction stage. Such is the value and relevance of this technology, that to my mind it should be considered as important as other elements of the building services infrastructure that are designed in as a matter of course.

BEMS facilitate greater energy efficiency and the cost savings and the environmental benefits that can be experienced as a result of investment in this technology are considerable. A fully integrated solution can have up to 84 per cent of a building’s energy consuming devices directly under its control, offering greater visibility of energy use by monitoring services such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting.

According to the Carbon Trust 25 per cent of a building’s energy is used in lighting, and it is estimated that around a third of the energy consumed in this way in non-domestic buildings could be saved by utilising technology that automatically turns off lights when space is unoccupied. In addition, air conditioning can increase a building’s energy consumption and associated carbon emissions by up to 100 per cent, making it imperative that its use is tightly controlled.

So why isn’t the design and installation of a BEMS happening in the initial stages of a construction project? I’m afraid that the answer comes down to a combination of cost and lack of foresight. However, to fully understand why these two factors are proving so prohibitive to BEMS implementation, we need to understand a little more about the mind-set of the developer.

Developers tend to fall into two broad groups – there are those that configure buildings for others to inhabit and others who design and build premises for their own use.

When it comes to the former, the main driver is to save costs at the construction phase and little thought is given to the building’s future occupants and how they use the building. As there are no regulations stating that a BEMS must be installed, there’s a strong possibility that it won’t be. However, this lack of forward thinking leads to future occupants having to cope with inadequate visibility and control of their energy usage and, therefore, higher overheads and a larger carbon footprint.

Regarding the second group, it often comes down to the failure of owners to specify the need for a BEMS at procurement stage and make sure that they have systems in place that will maximise the energy saving potential of the building. While this type of developer will also have one eye on the cost of the project, the increased capital costs of installing BEMS is easily countered by the return on investment (ROI), with an average payback of just three and a half years.

Whichever way you look at it, the fact is that on a ROI basis early stage BEMS implementation makes sound economic sense. It can form less than one per cent of the total construction expenditure and energy savings of 10-20 per cent can be achieved when compared to controlling each aspect of a building’s infrastructure separately. The benefits don’t stop there either, as if it is incorporated with smart metering, tariff changes can be used to offer a strategic approach to energy management and control, and the data produced gives clear signposts for potential improvements.

I firmly believe that in the current business climate to construct a new build property without a comprehensive BEMS borders on foolhardiness. Organisations are faced with growing pressure to demonstrate carbon reduction policies and do all they can to lower their energy use.

Despite the controversy surrounding the introduction of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, it is here to stay and is likely to extend its scope to incorporate more businesses in the future. In addition, The Climate Change Levy (CCL), Display Energy Certificates (DECs) and Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) also affect businesses, while compliance with certification standards such as ISO 50001 put the onus on companies to demonstrate continual improvement in this area.

It should also be remembered that building occupiers are demanding greater visibility and transparency of their energy consumption and need access to data. A failure to meet this demand could mean that prospective tenants decide to go elsewhere.

Standardisation is playing an ever more prominent role and the most significant is EN 15232, which describes methods for evaluating the influence of building automation and technical building management on the energy consumption of buildings. It enables building owners and energy users to assess the present degree of efficiency of a BEMS and provides a good overview of the benefits to be expected from a control system upgrade. The use of efficiency factors means that the expected profitability of an investment can be accurately calculated and I’m pleased that a growing number of organisations are reviewing this document and implementing some of the best practice guidance it offers.

There are those who feel that regulation is the only way to make sure that BEMS are installed at the point of initial construction, although others are reluctant to see the introduction of more onerous legislation on an already pressured construction sector. At this stage I think that regulation shouldn’t be necessary if a long-term approach to energy efficiency is factored in and the benefits of a BEMS are recognised by more developers in the initial stages of a project.

Trend_RGB SMALLFor further information please call Trend Marketing on 01403 211888 or email marketing@trendcontrols.com. Trend are the main sponsors of this year’s BSRIA Briefing – Smarter ways to better buildings.

You can read more BSRIA blogs about BEMS here.  BSRIA’s WMI team also produce a BEMS market report – Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) in Europe and the USA – which is available to buy from the BSRIA website. 

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