Smart buildings as part of smart cities and societies

In order to reach clean and low-carbon future in cities, buildings need to become a proactive part of the urban environment. What this means is that they need to be highly efficient and allow for flexibility in their operations. All this requires new level of integration and smartness in the buildings themselves, and in their physical and digital connections with the rest of the urban environment.

Can I make my building smart with a mobile app?

Our smart phones already have all the necessary computing power needed to operate any smart home device. With them, it is possible to control, for example, lighting, heating and cooling, monitor your energy consumption, and detect leaks in water lines. All this can help you to manage and customize the conditions in your home and improve safety. However, a set of apps and gadgets do not equal to a smart building or ease of living. A smart building integrates all the building systems work seamlessly together in an optimal way and provides you your preferred living conditions without the need of apps. There are already examples of companies, who have entered the market by providing fully integrated service solutions. You can already buy desired indoor air conditions as a service, whilst enjoying cost and energy savings.

Will smart buildings result in smart cities?

Building-level integration and intelligence can enable significant building-level savings, while improving indoor conditions. However, the biggest benefits are found on the district or city-level, when two or more buildings are connected together with smart technologies. A simple example is connecting buildings with cooling needs, such as ice hockey rinks or server centers with buildings with heating needs, like swimming halls. These types of simple pairings have shown to bring energy savings of up to 40% with relatively simple technologies. On a district-scale, there are already projects in planning, where office and residential buildings are connected together through two-way district heating and cooling networks for even greater efficiencies.

What’s the demand-side management all about?

Buildings can store heating and cooling energy in their structures and systems, enabling them to operate without external supply of energy over short time periods without sacrificing their indoor conditions. When large enough heating or cooling masses are grouped and managed together, energy demand can be spread out more evenly, resulting in significantly lower peak demand. What this means for cities and energy companies is that once fully rolled out, demand side management can help to remove the need of some of the inefficient peak power plants. Ideally, this equals to lower emissions and lower cost throughout the value chain from the energy producer to the consumers.

Virtual power plants, today?

On electricity side there are already first commercial examples of large buildings operating in the electricity markets as virtual power plants. These types of examples are possible through a combination of integrated and automated building systems, combined with electricity storage and flexible loads inside the building. When such buildings are integrated to the grid, they can operate in the flexibility market. Likewise, aggregator business models, where geographically distributed smaller flexible loads combined together and connected to the flexibility market, are emerging.

What next?

Buildings can transform from consumers of resources, energy and services to active prosumers of all of these. This is where it all starts to make sense for the building owners, as there’s untapped revenue streams and savings that the new level of integration can bring. The examples are already many and the pace of change through roll-out of new business models is only accelerating.

If you want to read more about VTT’s vision regarding smart and sustainable cities, read our new white paper: Let’s turn your Smart City vision into reality.

Antti Ruuska VTT
Antti Ruuska
Business Development Manager, VTT
Twitter: @antti_ruuska


Smart City development is inherently multi-technological and cross-disciplinary, and as an application-oriented research organisation VTT is an ideal partner. We work with the public sector and private companies as well as technology providers in research and innovation activities that expedites the development of smarter cities.  We can guide you from the early phases of vision-creation and concept development to practical implementations of smart outcomes.

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