Industry Focus: Construction and Renovation
Smart buildings are an integral part of the smart city vision. Considering the amount of time we spend indoors, smart buildings also have the potential to impact on our lives and on our planet. While smart home devices such as smart locks and smart light switches are becoming increasingly commonplace, a more expansive view of this revolution shows a complete revamp of how our modern buildings will be constructed and maintained in the near future. Moreover, given the huge construction and renovation market and dearth of professionals well versed in smart sustainable design, the time is ripe to build up a skillset and obtain appropriate qualifications to make the most of this paradigm shift in our modern lives.
The European construction market is a giant, accounting for 9% of the EU’s GDP and providing 18 million people with direct employment as per the European Commision’s report. Moreover, market predictions going into the future are highly positive with a 4.2% growth going into 2020 according to an analysis by Building Radar thanks to a recovering economy, signalling to a growing job market for this niche. All these strong indicators are also accompanied by legislation aiming to coerce the construction industry into shifting to sustainable construction practices and materials.
Together, these factors are all forcing innovations in the construction and renovation industry to make buildings more efficient and ergonomic. The European Union itself is heavily funding projects as there is a dearth of research and competent professionals in the area. Lastly, with going green helping to cut down the upkeep costs for a building significantly, we are seeing a new emerging market of old buildings being retrofitted and renovated with modern materials and systems to improve their efficiency.
So how exactly do you define a smart building? The term itself is quite ambiguous but refers to buildings with an increasing focus on sustainability, efficiency and improving the quality of life of its occupants. Smart buildings of the future will be achieving this through drastic innovations in the processes and materials used in construction and maintenance of buildings. In addition to this, we will see a greater focus on using intelligent control systems coupled with sensors and data analytics that will improve the efficacy with which these buildings consume energy.
One of the most profound innovations in the construction industry is the shift to minimizing the use of concrete or shifting to more eco-friendly alternates. Companies such as EcoFoundationSystem are making great headway in this department, using ground screws in place of concrete footing, significantly reducing the carbon footprint in the construction process. We also have companies such as WarmMixAsphalt changing how traditional construction materials are manufactured and transported. Their asphalt can be mixed at lower temperatures, helping to reduce carbon emissions during transportation and in the paving process. Last but not least, we have Bubbledeck, using an innovative approach of coupling steel and plastic balls with the concrete to reduce its use by up to 35%. Considering concrete’s massive carbon footprint, such innovations are really paving the way for a more sustainable future.
In addition to innovations in materials, many companies are completely revamping the way buildings are constructed. Modular homes are slowly making their way into the mainstream, replacing the traditional construction model of bringing building materials on site for the construction process. Pocketliving is one such European venture, specializing in modular homes for urban cities. Not only do modular or prefabricated buildings cut down on costs, the controlled factory environment and the use of sustainable materials such as wood and bamboo, better insulation and higher recycling rate also means they are more environmentally friendly.
For interiors, we are also seeing greater innovation with companies such as Emagispace introducing modular walls that can be easily used to redefine our home interiors. Not only do these help cut down on the costs and environmental impact on traditional walls, their higher thermal efficiency and recyclability ensures that they are a far more sustainable alternative.
Renovation and Smart Controls
In our increasingly connected cities, all manner of devices will be easily accessible via the internet. This Internet of Things revolution is also revolutionizing smart building tech, giving us increasingly smarter sensors and control systems that help improve the efficiency of modern buildings. Netatmo is one of thousands of companies with smart temperature control systems, using sensors and intelligent decision making, to cut energy for heating by 37%. Then we have a myriad of smart lighting solutions such as Lifx that use low energy, smart LED bulbs to cut down on lighting costs for your home. Sense takes a simpler approach, plugging directly into your home electrical system and providing you with important information about your energy consumption. The advantage with these systems is that they do not require any full-scale renovation and can be plug and play devices in most cases, helping make your regular home smart.
Qualifications and skills
So what kind of skills and qualifications will help ensure employers come running to you to capitalize on this rapidly emerging market? As with all things “Smart”, smart buildings require well rounded individuals with a variety of skills:
A number of universities are offering degrees in Sustainable design practices for modern cities. These mix socio-economics as well as engineering and sciences to provide a berth of information that is necessary for this vast field.
- Technical University of Denmark, Masters in Innovative Sustainable Energy Engineering (N5T)
- Aalto University, Masters in Advanced Energy Solutions – Sustainable Energy in Buildings and Built Environment
- Technical University of Munich, Masters in Energy Efficient and Sustainable Building, Master of Science
Individuals to research and develop sustainable materials for construction are always in high demand. Some universities offer focused degrees in material sciences that emphasize sustainable material design.
- University of Leuven Belgium, Masters in Sustainable Materials (SUMA)
- Université Côte d’Azur, MSc Engineers for Smart Cities
Renewable energy systems
There is increasing focus on using renewable energy sources as a replacement for fossil fuels. At the large scale we have entire solar power plants and wind farms, but in the context of the urban environment, more and more home and business owners are employing renewable energy sources into the construction of their homes. This opens up opportunities for individuals to design, install and maintain renewable energy systems.
- Technische Universität Dresden, Diploma in Renewable Energy Systems
- University of Leeds, Masters in Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy Systems
- University of Strathclyde, Masters in Sustainable Engineering: Renewable Energy Systems & the Environment
Electronics and Control systems
With high demand for smarter control systems, sensors and appliances, electronics engineers are in high demand. Several universities offer a myriad of degrees catering to this niche:
- University of Porto, Masters in Electronics and Technological Entrepreneurship
- University of Bristol, Masters in Advanced Microelectronic Systems Engineering
- Politécnica de Madrid, Double Masters in Industrial Engineering and in Industrial Electronics
Computer Science, Artificial intelligence and application development
A recurrent skillset for all our smart cities related articles, machine learning, artificial intelligence and data analytics will be invaluable skills to make sense of all the data produced by sensors. Front-end and back-end application developers for the web and mobile platforms will also be in high demand to provide quality user interfaces to the myriad of applications used to control our modern environments.
- University of Birmingham, Masters in Human Computer Interaction
- University of Surrey, Masters in Computer Vision, Robotics and Machine Learning
- Aalto University, Masters in Computer, Communication and Information Sciences – Machine Learning and Data Mining
Outlook on the Future of Construction and Renovation
All in all, as we shift from traditional brick and mortar to sustainable and environmentally friendly buildings, we not only help ensure our planet’s longevity but also cut down on costs. Focusing on the proper skills that are in demand and expected to be increasingly valuable in the future can ensure that you are ready for a ripe job market as we move towards a greener planet.