KAUST's "Smart Home" Project Achieves Platinum Rank in the LEED Rating System

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), as one of the leading centers of scientific research in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, continues to push the boundaries of innovation and transfer it from ideas in the lab to promising applications in the real world. Among the important tools that help the university achieve this ambitious vision are; KAUST Smart Technology Lab (KAUST Smart) and its efforts in establishing the concepts of a “smart city” within the university campus and activating the unique talents and experiences in the university community of researchers and innovators until KAUST became a living laboratory that has international recognition in the field of smart cities.

In this context, the KAUST smart home project was recently awarded a platinum rank in the LEED system for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, achieving second place in the global ranking with a score of 94. This is an important achievement in itself, especially that this smart home was developed from an existing ordinary home. Compared to the first place holder in the rating with a score of 95 built from scratch with a compact design. But the KAUST smart home was much larger and had been retrofitted by the university and its building partners, a living testament to KAUST’s ability to develop existing infrastructures to meet future sustainability goals. This is the second time that the university has achieved the platinum rank in the LEED system classification for leadership in energy and environmental designs in the world.

Notably, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, KAUST worked with UK-based innovative consultancy Treehouse to consult with the university community about its intention to build a smart home system on campus. More than 100 community members were interviewed as part of an extensive and specific research process to develop future homes in partnership with the Saudi Building Contracting Company “Bytor”, and these efforts culminated in a successful “smart home” construction project.

Requirements to obtain LEED recognition depend on several key factors such as total energy consumption, construction methods, materials and items used. These requirements were met in the KAUST smart home where it was connected to a total of 120 solar panels distributed evenly throughout, a set of hydro-solar panels that provide 7 to 10 liters of drinking water per day extracted from atmospheric moisture, and a leak detection system for instant reporting of Accidents in which the residents of the house are exposed.

The project is a collaboration between KAUST Smart, Facilities Management and Community Services with the aim of enriching people’s living experience and addressing sustainability challenges. It will serve as the building block for smart cities that put sustainability, energy conservation and people’s well-being at the fore.

live lab

The benefit of the KAUST smart home project comes not only from being an innovative project that promotes concepts of smart cities, but also as a living laboratory to enable the technologies being developed at the university. In pursuit of this goal, home technology innovations from 8 KAUST start-ups have been integrated focusing on 4 main areas: solar energy, geothermal energy, smart technology, and architecture.

Matthew Early, Vice President of Facilities Management at KAUST, said: “As a University of Science and Technology, KAUST has significant research expertise represented by international faculty and researchers, whose collaborative projects and research partnerships we have benefited greatly from in implementing 8 emerging technologies that use our smart home project as a laboratory for its various systems. This makes our smart home a living laboratory that will continue to evolve as technology advances.”

3 KAUST start-ups provide the technologies needed to support the smart home network of solar panels, which power the home’s battery. KAUST startup Iyris, which has now merged with Red Sea Farms, is providing Onyx Solar technology, Mirai Solar is providing photovoltaic awnings and foldable solar panels, and startup Nomad is providing a cleaning solution Solar panels from dirt and dust without water.

One characteristic that can be immediately noticed when visiting a KAUST smart home is how quiet it is inside its rooms compared to ordinary air-conditioned homes. This is due to the geothermal system used to cool the house. The construction team dug 18 wells around the house building, 80m underground. A closed network of underground pipes pushes water from the house down into the ground, where it absorbs excess heat and then returns the cooled water to the HVAC system. The air circulates at a depth of 2.5 m in 6 underground tubes distributed around the house with an approximate length of 40 m before entering the fresh air unit.

KAUST startup SaNoor provided fiber-optic cabling solutions and sensor modules throughout the home to power the home’s leak detection system. Of course, one of the essential aspects of a smart home is the collection of these smart technologies that help ease the lives of users. This also includes motion sensors for lighting, smart access control, automated blinds, and a drone landing system from KAUST startup Firnas Aero.

The architectural design of the smart home was a central issue that was discussed in the initial consultation phase with the university community. Six directions were adopted for the strategic design of the house, which included the users’ need to connect with nature, provide a customizable living space to adapt to changing needs over time, as well as the effective management of resources.

3 KAUST startups also provided solutions to improve the impact of the smart home on its immediate natural environment. The waterproof sand developed by SandX plays a vital role in preventing water evaporation from the roots of native plants in the home garden. The Darwin21 team introduced a bio-compound that was added to vegetation to make it more resistant to arid conditions. Edamah Organic Solutions develops organic waste recycling solutions for desert environments and reducing the amount of water used for irrigation.

Some new technologies are also being explored in the smart home, including testing the use of small drones to clean the surfaces of solar panels installed on fragile structures around the home, such as balconies and small greenhouses. KAUST-based startup Ovira is using UV technology to reduce food waste-related spoilage and increase environmental awareness and sustainability.

Zero Emissions

KAUST’s smart home is designed to reduce its carbon footprint by improving energy efficiency and integrating it with renewable energy. The house has zero emissions during the day, which means it produces the same amount of energy it uses. “Our goal is for the KAUST smart home to reach zero emissions,” says Syed Al-Badr, Director of Construction Projects Management at KAUST. We are currently achieving this during the day, thanks to sunlight and innovative technologies built into the home, but the challenge remains to achieve zero emissions at night. A smart home runs on a single battery, which cannot currently meet all the home’s electrical requirements at night. But the goal is to develop new technologies, in partnership with researchers, start-ups and external vendors, to achieve global zero emissions in the future.”

Among the energy-saving features that help the smart home to reach zero emissions during the day, is to equip it with self-control systems for the home such as sensors to detect the presence of people in the room and adjust the lighting and temperature accordingly. Carefully selected exterior home insulation also helps prevent cold air from escaping and keep rooms cool. Even waste water from showers used for washing is recycled through a circulating water system that returns treated water for use in toilet and garden irrigation systems. This saves about 40% of water consumption compared to similar conventional homes.

KAUST’s platinum rank for the LEED Smart Home Project for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design in the world confirms its entitlement to be a role model for the region and beyond, and demonstrates KAUST’s collaborative thinking and future vision and its great commitment to building a more sustainable future in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

It is noteworthy that the full details of the smart home project were presented in an extensive report broadcast by MBC last month.

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