News: 8 Things We Learned About Smart Cities at The Asia Real Estate Summit

Nov 30, 2017

Everyday, cities across the world are seeing an influx of over 180,000 inhabitants. It has never been more important to build smart, sustainable cities that can rise to the occasion and be safe, healthy places to live for years to come.

Singapore, which placed second on this year’s ranking of Smart Cities worldwide, was the fitting venue for the first PropertyGuru Asia Real Estate Summit. The conference, held 7-8 November at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre, convened some of the brightest pundits in the smartening of the world’s urban agglomerations.

Here are the key takeaways from the summit in the ongoing saga toward eco-friendly, human-centric, technocratic cities:

1. Climate realities are sinking in

“Part of the reason for the global trend of cities wanting to become smarter and more sustainable is to address the global needs for climate action on the built environment and reduce greenhouse gases,” explained Chungha Cha, co-founder of the South Korea-based Re-Imagining Cities Foundation. Cities emit a whopping 80 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, but the grim statistics somehow have an undercurrent of hope. Sixty percent of the buildings that will make up the world’s fastest-growing cities by 2050 have not been built yet. “That’s a very good opportunity for us to get the buildings correct,” Cha said.

2. Leading from the top is a must

Seen through the lens of the “three Ps” — people, planet, profit — smart cities hinge on an eight-pillar framework, namely smart government; green building; smart energy; eco-mobility; smart infrastructure; smart economy; smart citizen & community; and convergence technology in real estate. Of these, smart government must take precedence. The Singaporean government is a global exemplar in this case, propagating some of their best practices in would-be smart cities around Asia. “I’m from Korea. When we look at Singapore from the outside, it seems to be leading on the smart, sustainable cities front,” says Cha.
3. Going green is rewarding…

It is no secret that green building has strong business case, a fact made apparent to leading Singaporean developer City Developments Limited (CDL) as early as 1995 when it started its sustainability journey. “When I came to Singapore 20 years ago, I could really see the wisdom of the clean & green city model,” recounted Esther An, chief sustainability officer at CDL. “It has proven to be a major selling point for Singapore, attracting businesses and investment. The same applies to property companies like us. It can enhance our branding and differentiate our product.”

4.… yet some developers are still hesitant

Most developers will find that they can achieve payback from their initial investment within five years or so of building green. However, many companies still cling to traditional building methods — despite the Singapore government’s best propositions. “Some developers and vendors still resist the idea of sustainability, so we have to offer some incentives to encourage green standards” said Ang Kian Seng, group director of environmental sustainability at Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority.

5. The future is in prefab technology

Construction labour can be very cost-prohibitive, especially for cities like Singapore, which are highly reliant on foreign workers. CDL has begun using prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction (PPVC) in the development of a large-scale residential project. The 636-unit project, an executive condominium on Canberra Drive in Singapore, was practically assembled like Lego blocks, with 4,600 building modules “stitched together,” according to An. The use of prefabricated modules saved the company 55,000 man days and raised productivity by as much as 40 percent. “It’s really a game-changing technology that makes the building industry a lot cleaner and smarter,” said An. “Most importantly, it enhances the safety of the people because there is less major building work required onsite.”


6. Democratisation of sensors is a good thing

Sensors are the building blocks of any great smart city: They essentially power the Internet of Things (IoT) networks that typify smart homes around the world. Adoption of sensors could be approaching critical mass very soon. “As the cost of sensors and bandwidth processors go down; you have more and more start-ups in the space of IoT and AI,” noted Vicknesh Pillay, founding partner at TNB Ventures. A single new sensor was able to reduce overall energy consumption in six buildings in Singapore’s Fusionopolis district by 15 percent year-on-year while decreasing its dependency on chilled water by 13 percent. “For the first time you’re able to use digital technologies to keep track of exactly what each piece of equipment is doing,” said Ani Bhalekar, IoT & Mobility Practice Lead for Southeast Asia at Accenture, which installed the sensor with property developer JTC. “Through this conditions-based monitoring, you’re basically giving your crew the ability to do what they do best but work on different schedules. You’re basically saying only fix the machines that need fixing.”

7. More freedom of information is necessary

A smart city is one that pushes out information on its buildings for the greater good of the community. For instance, the Building and Construction Authority is currently persuading Singaporean landlords to share energy summation data with the public domain. “Surprisingly, 76 percent of them are willing to do so,” said Ang Kian Seng. “We are trying to put in legislation to make the data disclosure mandatory for all buildings, so that information would then be available for industry, for landlords to pull some benchmarking.”

8. Green financiers should focus on the numbers, not PR stunts

The challenge today for developers in green financing and impact investing lies in the disclosure of more quantitative data, coupled with more transparency, in sustainability reporting. Developers must somehow square green efforts with financial impact. “We are all living in a transparent world,” said An. “Analysts make investment decisions based on your performance. It can’t just be like a PR report. Analysts and investors look at the numbers. You have to really present environmental, social and governance research through a financial lens.”

This story originally appeared in Property Report.

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