There are about 45 million smart buildings globally, but they will reach 115 million by 2026, says Juniper Research. This growth of over 150% reflects increasing demand for energy efficiency, as energy costs spike and calls for sustainability get stronger.

Smart buildings – specifically buildings that use smart technologies to monitor and control key equipment for lighting, heating, cooling, video surveillance, etc. – are designed to create a safer and more comfortable environment for occupants, while minimizing the environmental impact and the consumption of natural resources such as energy and water.

Non-residential smart buildings are projected to account for 90% of smart buildings’ global spend in 2026. According to analysts, this is due to the inferior complexity and the larger economies of scale in managing government or commercial premises. Smart technologies are increasingly implemented in schools and universities, hospitals and care houses, airports and shopping malls.

In the US, the Biden-Harris Administration has just announced the new Climate Smart Buildings Initiative, which will leverage public-private partnerships to modernize federal facilities through energy savings performance contracts and achieve up to 2.8 million metric tons of GHG reductions annually by 2030. The overall investments are also expected to support nearly 80,000 jobs.

In addition to the installation of smart sensors and related intelligent management platforms for energy efficiency purposes, smart buildings can contribute to the mitigation of urban heat islands. We know that temperatures tend to be higher in cities than in surrounding areas due to the heat absorption and retention of materials like asphalt and concrete. The replacement of tar and other dark-colored materials used in roofing for several decades is nowadays recommended, but “green roofs” filled with plants and greenery are becoming popular to fight the extreme city heat.

Architectural formats are popping out in many cities around the world – see for instance the Vertical Forest by Stefano Boeri in Milan, Italy, or the about 700 green roofs mapped in London, UK.

But not all green roofs are equally effective: their success in reducing temperatures depends on the diversity of the plants used, location and other factors. Climate scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies monitored and compared different green roof sites in Chicago, US, and found that sites with larger, intensive green roofs accompanied by diverse plant species have greater cooling benefits than the extensive, monoculture ones.

Nevertheless, as global heating and urban heat islands intensify, green roofs will become all the more important, and turning existing buildings into smart buildings will also be greatly beneficial for carbon neutral and climate resilient cities.