The combination of urbanization and population growth has given rise to a different level of smart city development in Asia-Pacific. It is a key area where intelligent solutions can increase productivity, reduce inefficiency, and revolutionize the way people live. Titus Yu, Managing Director (Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Guam), UTC Climate, Controls & Security, explains how technology can make cities more sustainable, people more secure and travel more efficient

By Kenny Lau

One of the most significant demographic shifts in the past century has been the historic urbanization of the global population – a continuing trend signified not only by the sheer number of people living in the city but also the remarkable development of infrastructure fueled by growing demand. Of the world’s population in 1950, only 30 percent lived in urban areas; today, it is 54 percent; and by 2050, it will be 66 percent, according to UN data and projections.

The fact that urbanization is poised to continue, however, is only part of the story; whether urbanization can continue sustainably remains a challenge – it is a global issue which will require innovative solutions.

What underlies the current model of urbanization is the growing demand for the adoption of technology in driving sustainable development. Residential, commercial and industrial buildings alike are a key area where intelligent solutions can increase productivity, reduce inefficiency, and revolutionize the way people live.

“The combination of urbanization and population growth has given rise to a different level of smart city development in Asia-Pacific, which presents opportunities for sustainable urbanization through innovative building technologies,” notes Titus Yu, Managing Director (Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Guam), UTC Climate, Controls & Security, which creates “smart” solutions to “make cities more sustainable, people more secure and travel more efficient.”

“Climate, Controls & Security” covers technology in heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) systems, fire safety and security systems, intelligent building management systems and services – all under a combination of brands focusing on specific areas of expertise. The idea is to create an environment conducive to higher efficiency in a building, Yu points out.

“For instance, we combine cutting-edge HVAC products with intuitive software,” he explains. “We merge entry control solutions with building automation systems, all to minimize energy consumption, maximize comfort and enhance productivity.”

The business case

In Asia, UTC Climate, Controls & Security has played a critical role in facilitating urbanization, implementing intelligent and integrated solutions in many iconic buildings, and providing energy-saving retrofits across the region. The company has 39 research and development centers worldwide, four of which are located in Asia where it also has nine manufacturing facilities to meet domestic demand and to serve customers around the world.

Chubb eConnect Monitoring Solution

Here in Hong Kong, an integrated solution for a single data center of a financial institution by combining 3,000 Edwards’ fire detectors and 400 Chubb’s CCTV cameras for a surveillance system based on Automated Logic’s platform is a capability few can match. “The live camera feed is provided to the facility managers within eight seconds of a fire alarm being triggered. It significantly enhances the response and protection levels of a critical facility,” Yu explains.

In many of Asia’s developed cities including Hong Kong, there are tremendous opportunities for modernization and energy-efficient retrofits following decades of rapid development and urbanization, Yu believes. “We see growing demand from building owners or facility managers for a single platform to manage multiple building systems – in order to keep occupants comfortable, manage energy conservation measures, identify key operational problems, and validate the results.”

“There is a strong synergy when seamlessly combining products and technologies under the UTC family that enable all critical building systems talk to each other and work together,” he says. “It creates added value to building performance and tenant/visitor experience; it redefines what’s possible with a new level of integration on a larger scale; and it’s driving the future of the intelligent building movement.”

iSQUARE, a 31-story shopping mall centrally located in one of Hong Kong’s busiest districts, is indicative of an integrated building management solution to optimize performance and to realize operational cost savings through reduction in energy utilization. A control system is in place to define chiller plant algorithm to match varying cooling demand, create video analytics for optimized dispatch of lifts by synchronizing CCTV and lift systems, and provide customized energy management report and early diagnoses of potential issues.

“In general, the average energy savings achieved for similar type of improvement projects like the above is around 15 – 20 percent,” Yu says of the optimization efforts. “This project was a milestone for us in that it illustrates the synergies available among different UTC building systems and technologies and how our customers can be better served with more integrated and sustainable solutions.”

“Generally speaking, we have seen growing demand for intelligent solutions from both the public and private sectors,” he adds. “The Hong Kong government’s commitment to infrastructure investment and commercial land supply has given rise to a strong need for new, efficient equipment, while landlords are increasingly looking for energy-efficient solutions to reduce their operating costs and enhance value throughout the building lifecycle.”

Cognitive benefits

In addition to the long-term environmental benefits as a result of improved energy efficiency, “green” buildings have been scientifically proven to have a direct effect on human cognitive function and behavior. A recent study conducted by Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University finds a profound impact of the indoor environment on human decision-making, which is a known indicator of worker performance and productivity.

“First, the result suggested that the levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds that we commonly encounter in conventional office buildings are associated with decreases in worker performance compared to when those same workers are in green building environments,” explains Dr. Joseph Allen, Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science and Director of Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment.

“Second, when we enhance ventilation and optimize indoor environmental conditions, we see improvements in the cognitive function of workers,” says Dr. Allen who served as Principal Investigator for the study, The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function (The COGfx Study), which was also supported by UTC. “And third, these results fill important knowledge gaps in existing research about the relationship between green buildings and occupant health.”

The research was based on a six-day study at the Total Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory of Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems in Syracuse, New York, examining the impact of green buildings on cognitive function and decision-making performance among 24 professional employees who conducted their normal work activities in conditions designed to simulate those found in 1) conventional buildings, 2) green buildings, and 3) green buildings with enhanced ventilation, also known as “enhanced green.”

Participants completed a daily, 1.5-hour cognitive assessment of nine key cognitive domains using a validated, computer-based test known as the Strategic Management Simulation in a controlled environment where levels of carbon dioxide, volatile organic compound (VOC) and ventilation rates were adjusted in a double-blind study put in place to avoid biased results. The findings show a staggering impact of air quality within an indoor environment on human cognitive function.

The results: overall cognitive performance scores in green buildings with enhanced ventilation averaged 101 percent higher compared to those in conventional buildings; crisis response scores in green and enhanced green environments were 97 percent and 131 percent higher, respectively, than in conventional buildings; information usage scores were 172 percent and 299 percent higher; and scores of strategy were 183 percent and 288 percent higher.

It was also found in a follow-up study that doubling the ventilation rate in typical office buildings can be reached at an energy cost of between US$14 and US$40 per person per year, with a result of US$6,500 equivalent in improved productivity per person per year – a return on investment exceeding 150 times. And the cost of additional ventilation is only between US$1 and US$18 per person per year when energy-efficient technologies are applied.

“The results of this study have tremendous implications for major cities such as Hong Kong, where workers spend an average of 50 hours per week in their offices,” says Yu. “Building owners and employers should evaluate the quality of the indoor environment they provide to their staff, primarily related to indoor ventilation, as this study proves there are measurable benefits to worker productivity from optimized air quality.”

Demand for sustainability

Decades ago, there was limited awareness and understanding of the benefits of investing in green buildings. The world, however, is changing, Yu stresses. “Trends in urbanization and population growth continue to require more sustainable products and behaviors. For this, sustainability means we need to do good for the planet, while we also do good for our employees, communities, customers and stakeholders. Sustainability is not an option – it’s an imperative.”

“Today, building owners and tenants are demanding sustainability. They want to live and work in spaces that offer natural lighting, use fewer resources and provide better air quality. Green buildings are no longer a luxury and have become a necessity,” he says, noting the World Green Building Trends 2016 report in which green building-related activity is projected to double every three years. “Real, tangible economic value is a key driver for investment decisions in buildings, and decision makers are seeing the economic value in green buildings.”

For nearly 200 years, UTC Climate, Controls & Security and its brands have redefined what’s possible by developing innovative control systems, Yu emphasizes. “Innovation and service excellence is in our DNA. Here in Hong Kong, we have built a legacy of industry and company milestones, including Hong Kong’s first centrifugal chiller at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in 1962, a social alarm monitoring service in 1994 and a mobile social alarm service in 2009.”

“We are also a sustainability leader, and we don’t just talk about sustainability, we walk the talk,” he says. “We have been reducing our environmental impact and improving sustainability in our operations, products and engaging environmental stakeholders for nearly 30 years. We are among the early leaders to launch factory energy reduction goals in 1988, and to expand to broader global environment, health and safety metrics in 1997, in addition to the world’s first HVAC factory certified as LEED® Gold.”

In Hong Kong, 90 percent of the energy is consumed by buildings, Yu further notes. “Making our buildings greener will go a long way to create a better and more sustainable environment. That’s why we are committed to investing in our technical capabilities as well as talent and providing technology and environmentally responsible products to accelerate the sustainable development and implementation of new energy-efficient building system solutions.”