“We are in the process of making history, with the big bang of energy efficiency”

4 minutes of reading

Meet Emmanuel François, Chairman of the Smart Building Alliance (SBA).

What is the main message that the Smart Building Alliance is going to send out during the Summer Universities ?

We are going to underline the power and the impact of digital technology in our society, how it changes our lifestyles, our actions, etc. We will be talking about health, education, movement (…), and this forces us to reimagine the places where we live – our cities and buildings. There are, implicitly, two imperatives. On the one hand, our actions must be more sustainable for the planet, which entails optimising how we use space and goods. On the other hand, these actions must solve the problems in our society, particularly the growing social inequalities we are witnessing, which are not sustainable in the long term.

How can smart buildings and smart cities help reduce this social divide?

By facilitating the transition from a stock economy to a flow economy and by providing services for use: a greater number of services to a greater number of people. For example, in the city, many people no longer have the means to buy and maintain a car. Making shared multimodal mobility more widespread creates lower-cost mobility. Digital technology allows this as it optimises the use of an asset, whether it is a car or a location. We therefore have to fundamentally rethink spaces so that they are much more flexible and have multiple uses. This idea is in the pipeline among developers in France and internationally.

Are you talking about reversible buildings that can be quickly transformed or about buildings that can be used for a variety of purposes?

Both! Flexibility over time, as well as the concept of reversibility and flexibility within a short period of time – such as a day – by modifying the space, such as by using movable walls. These two cases can only really work if we are connected in order to reconfigure the spaces and functions, and to bill for the usage (goods, energy, etc.) in real time. Digital technology, once again, allows this.


Is this not going to exclude those who are not tech-savvy and create a new divide?

For me, that question is no longer relevant. We are going to connect buildings, cars (…). It is as if in the 20th century people were opposed to the electrical grid being established. Nowadays, we have to integrate digital technology, and the question is more how are we going to do it as quickly and cheaply as possible? This is where the SBA (Smart Building Alliance) comes in.

So, let’s ask the question: how will we do it?

By pooling resources and with digital infrastructure shared by the building and the land. It is a complicated task, because it is so technical, but we have to start here before we start rolling out services. But whether at a city or a building level, we tend to cut corners, and this is not the right way to go.

So what is the right way to go?

We need to match connectivity as closely as possible to needs, whether in terms of fibre optics or 5G. The latter, in certain places, will cost a lot less than fibre optics. So there is the digital infrastructure, and then everything that goes with that: connectivity, fittings, a communication gateway or network nodes that are going to communicate through a wired or wireless network, which will allow the closest connectivity possible between the equipment. The next step is securing data, which must stay at a building or a city level, and not head off in the wrong direction entirely. At the SBA, we talk about operating systems, similar to what is found in a computer. This operating system and network node are essential for managing data locally.

At the same time, you talk about a big bang in energy reform. Why?

We are in the process of making history, as all of this concerns not just one service, but all services. Hence the term big bang in energy efficiency. We are relying on the expansion of open and interoperable energy-saving systems in order for this infrastructure to be put in place. Given that it is the energy savings over a given period that will allow us to finance this infrastructure.
It is a good way to finance it. We are guaranteed to make savings and have a return on our investment in three to seven years.

What is interesting in this transition is that cities and buildings are getting on board not only with digital technology but also with new technologies: digital models with BIM, artificial intelligence, robots, etc. All of this is heading in the same direction.