Management Magazine
Special Report

The pivotal role of ICT in green buildings

Ensuring that progress in real estate is in tandem with environmental sustainability

By JOHN OREDO

The real estate market in Kenya has manifested a remarkable growth in the last two decades. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Economic Survey 2017, the real estate sector contributed 13.8 per cent to the Kenya’s GDP which was second only to the Agricultural sector. The Economic Survey 2019 reported that the construction sector expanded by 6.3 per cent in 2018 from a revised growth of 8.5per cent recorded in 2018. The expansion in the real estate sector has been attributed to a growing population especially that of the middle class and the high demand for affordable housing. The real estate market in Kenya is quite diverse in terms of income, geography and types. The main real estate property types in Kenya include retail, offices, residential, industrial and special properties which are mainly found in urban areas.

The sector in Kenya is expected to continue its growth trajectory given that affordable housing is one of the government’s big four agenda. With the government’s allocation of KSh29 billion to finance its housing flagship projects, the real estate sector is likely to be more vibrant in the coming years. While the growth of real estate is good for both social and economic reasons, it must progress in a sustainable manner. As the sector grows, we will be faced with sustainability issues such as clean water, energy, clean air, disappearance of green areas and degradation of land. The real estate developments should therefore be environmentally conscious. The growing concern for sustainability has pervaded every sector of human endeavour. In construction, the demand for sustainability has led to the concept of green buildings.

The green buildings concept

The green building concept is based on a life-cycle perspective driving a building’s site, design, construction, operation, maintenance and removal so that its negative impact on natural environment and human health is minimised. In the last decade, the building sector has witnessed a green building revolution aimed at driving design and construction toward sustainability. One of the most significant parts of this revolution has been the launch of a series of green building rating systems, standards, guidelines and certifications.

According to ‘Construction Kenya’ a publication on architecture and construction, published on 27th, November 2016, the reluctance to go green by Kenyan developers is due to lack of uniform green building standards and the high cost of building eco-friendly structures. As a way of encouraging Kenyan real estate developers to embrace green building, efforts have been made towards educating professionals in that sector through the Promoting Energy Efficiency in Buildings in East Africa Programme. In an effort to address the high cost of constructing eco-friendly buildings, interested parties have been negotiating with the government to offer tax subsidies and incentives to importers of materials used in the construction of green buildings. In addition to the on-going efforts, stakeholders in the building sector should also explore the possibilities of employing ICTs in enabling green buildings. In order to intelligently apply ICTs in green building, the real estate sector needs to take advantage of the many initiatives falling under the ambit of green computing.

Energy saving as a best practice

One of the main areas of green buildings best practices is energy saving. One way of managing energy efficiency is through smart grid, a solution with both hardware and software tools that can route electricity more efficiently and detect and react to local changes in power usage. 

For example, while the classical electrical grid only allows one-way communication of the energy distribution from the provider to the consumer, smart grids through an energy management and trading applications (apps), enables consumers to trade surplus energy. This peer-to-peer trading can be enhanced through a local block chain.

Utilising Internet of Things and big data 

The GreenMark tool requires that green buildings be able to monitor energy use through energy management systems (EMS). The EMS should be able to collect data generated by various devices within a building by use of the Internet of Things (IoT) and further subject this to big data analytics tools to generate further insights through categorisation and segmentation of energy use and users to establish and predict power demands and trends. 

Knowledge sharing through ICT

In order to facilitate the use of green ICT in delivering green buildings, the real estate development players should engage in knowledge sharing as a means of developing relevant local standards and also capacity building. As a means of cutting the cost of eco-buildings, real estate developers should explore locally innovated green ICTs. The construction sector in Kenya is already making good progress in this; the 9th Africa Property Investment Summit Expo 2018 ranked Kenya amongst the top leaders in green buildings development. 

Dr. John Oredo is an Information Systems expert and a Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, University of Nairobi. Email: john.oredo@uonbi.ac.ke

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