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Smart Cities Are Taking Notes from Smart Buildings

By Mary Kate McGowan, Associate Editor, News

Systems and devices with the same networking and communications capabilities used inside a building such as presence detection and environmental sensors are now being used outside in smart city applications.

Sensors used inside a building to determine occupancy are now being used outside to monitor for open parking spots and local air quality, said Ron Bernstein, Member ASHRAE.

Similar to a building management system, a smart city typically has a central management system to monitor energy use, collect data, and report outages, said Bernstein.

One city in particular, San Diego, is in the process of becoming a smarter city as it is focusing on reducing energy use by 50% by 2030. 

But the city does not know exactly how much and where the energy is being used, said Joseph Kilcoyne, P.E., Member ASHRAE. 

To determine where and how much energy is used, San Diego started with smart street lights and parking meters, said Kilcoyne, who is secretary of TC 1.4, Control Theory and Application.

The street lights—that use LED lights—have sensors and cameras that can communicate wirelessly, and the street light poles have sensors that can track pedestrian traffic, outdoor air quality measurement, and, eventually, will be able to report sounds of gunshots to the police, he said.

Energy costs for the city’s street lights have dropped 60%. A total of 3,200 smart sensors will be deployed in San Diego by fall 2018, making it the largest city-based “Internet of Things” (IOT) platform in the world, according to the city’s website.



Smart city managers are looking to improve their ability to gather information, make decisions, improve reliability, reduce maintenance costs, and improve resident services, said Bernstein, a member of TC 1.4.

“A lot of that follows the same model of what we do in a building: improving infrastructure, enabling interoperable systems, and providing greater integration of systems and services,” he said.

For example, both smart cities and buildings need better integration; higher levels of communication; better data throughput, access and reliability; and improved reporting capabilities and ability to share information between different subsystems and managers, Bernstein said.

Smart cities can take notes from how facility engineers solved challenges when first developing smart buildings, he said.

Enabling a smart outdoor environmental sensor network—such as one with air quality, light level, and sound level—gives city managers access to data that can improve city services. For example, data can help determine when to pick up trash, when to route traffic to less congested areas, or when to dim or brighten lights based upon localized conditions.

Much like in a smart, integrated building, the HVAC systems, lighting system, and energy management system can work together to optimize comfort, safety, and energy costs. Without good integration this is very difficult to achieve.

Bernstein’s advice for smart cities is to take a holistic view from the top-down rather than purchasing a single, closed system from a vendor for a narrowly defined, specific purpose that does not have the capability to expand to other areas.

He said smart building technology struggled with the same issue until open protocols such as BACnet and LonWorks entered the market.

When an open infrastructure was designed and specified, each subsystem can integrate into the common infrastructure. The same model is occurring in outdoor systems such as the open street lighting profile model for interoperable devices, according to Bernstein.

One challenge smart city managers face is the communication, or lack of, among departments, much like in the buildings market where mechanical, electrical, and information technology professionals do not often come together to embrace a holistic system architecture. Getting people across departments to work together is the largest challenge, and those that do find the greatest benefits, Bernstein said.

Another lesson smart cities are repurposing from building automation system experts is the multi-tiered model layout for the enterprise, infrastructure, and equipment and device levels found in ASHRAE Guideline 13, Specifying Building Automation Systems, Bernstein said.

This model enables vendors, integrators, and owners to competitively enable smarter systems, while retaining value for all.



Of particular concern to city managers and politicians is the availability and use of data that might be deemed private or invasive.

This is an issue within buildings such as card access systems that log personnel movement or video camera systems that log motion and can identify individuals that might be deemed inappropriate or used against someone, according to Bernstein.

The same is true in a smart city environment with systems that can identify personal information such as license plates, facial recognition, and even credit card information. Care must be taken to manage the value of these system versus the potential harm from unauthorized access, he said.

Cybersecurity in buildings, data centers, and now smart cities is rising to the top of every system designer’s task list. This is becoming a philosophical issue, balancing value and risk. In the buildings market, efforts are underway to not only identify the key issues but to develop the design guidelines to help protect systems, information, and people.

ASHRAE’s Guideline 13 committee is tasked with creating the base specification support to help designers address these concerns. Efforts taken by the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, the Instrumentation Society of America, and the Army Corps of Engineers, are helping define a data and system privacy and security structure for buildings, he said.

The same must be done for smart city applications, with even more scrutiny due to the broad potential risk. Smart city data models must employ strict access and usage rights. Using IoT technologies opens up a can of worms that must be dealt with. Data is valuable for both the intended user and the not-so-intended hacker. Balancing restrictions and value is critical.



San Diego’s ultimate goal is to tie everything indoor and outdoor into a smart city with less energy use, and facility managers can help by sharing their knowledge, Kilcoyne said.

“As facility engineers, we need to be aware that this movement is happening. We should really embrace it… (and) not just focus on our inside-the-box, inside-the-building approach, which we’ve done,” Kilcoyne said. “We as ASHRAE engineers need to either get into this industry and see what’s happening and how we might be able to apply our open protocols to them or else the vendors are going to kind of implement their own version of outdoor smart city controls.”

The same products used inside buildings have value in the smart city environment. With different packaging for the elements, the same types of sensors and actuators, controllers, and infrastructure used inside can be used outside and enable vast new markets suppliers, said Bernstein. Integrator experience with controls and networking can be directly applied to smart city systems.

“Our challenge, and opportunity, lies in education and promotion of the value and lessons we have learned as smart city managers embrace the concepts we have been promoting for several decades: focus on the big picture, use a common open infrastructure, and ensure a high level of integration and interoperability,” Bernstein said.


Ron Bernstein, Member ASHRAE and CEO of RBCG Consulting, contributed to this report.