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With almost 150 million people, the world’s 12th largest economy, and just handful of smart buildings, Russia represents a sleeping giant in the smart technology sector. The country’s economy has also taken an upward turn recently, after years of relative stagnation. Economic Development Minister Maksim Oreshkin upgraded his growth forecast to 2% for 2017.

“We have some recovery growth, and the period of crisis is ending. Uncertainty in the economy has also fallen considerably,” Oreshkin said during the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi. “We currently expect about two percent growth by the end of 2017. That is, we expect very good dynamics in the economy. We see that investment activity has increased,” he added.

Russia is rarely mentioned in international smart building media but announced its intention to smarten up its power grid in 2014. As the world’s third largest consumer of energy, Russia is expanding its use of the smart grid electrical framework to make its energy transmission more efficient and less wasteful.

Russia’s Federal Grid Company CEO Oleg Budargin said, “We haven’t missed the smart grid train yet,” and suggested that the grid’s upgrade could reduce electricity losses by 25% and save as much as 35 billion kWh of power. The modernization plan includes smart meters and upgraded transmission infrastructure.

Smart grid development is often the first step in the road towards greater efficiency that includes smart buildings and cities – the gateway smart technology perhaps. After learning the value of efficiency, nations typically follow grid upgrades with smart building and city initiatives and accelerators, which then grow based on the value added by other smart tech benefits; health, comfort, productivity and security.

New technology and innovation for the integration of the smart grid with smart buildings is unleashing a new level of efficiency that makes the smart step from grids to buildings even more attractive. “Energy and buildings markets are beginning the tricky process of harmonization as major global firms look to capitalise on opportunities surrounding smart grids and distributed energy,” explains our report entitled Smart Buildings Meet the Smart Grid.

The smartification of the grid also facilitates greater adoption of renewable energy, whose fluctuating supply can be balanced by demand response and energy storage systems. Clean efficient energy is a major driving force for smart technology but Russia’s abundant gas supplies and relatively cheap electricity has and will continue to reduce the power of this motivation.

Indeed the energy efficiency benefits of smart technology may not represent the same priority as it would to a nation with more limited natural resources and higher electricity rates. Russia will have to rely, to a greater degree, on the other advantages that smart technology brings. So is the Russian bear a sleeping smart building giant or is it content with its life in the wilderness?

One strong sign that smart buildings will soon take off in the Eurasian nation is the increased activity surrounding implementation of building information modelling (BIM). BIM offers superior design, engineering and construction of buildings; using parametric 3D-modeling it reduces the number of mistakes during these phases and allows for the development of more sophisticated buildings and smarter building systems.

BIM is being described as a game-changing information and communications technology (ICT) and cultural process for the construction and smart buildings sector. BIM enables greater collaboration between different stakeholders in the building process using cloud computing. It also supports the incorporation of other disruptive technologies such as 3D printing and virtual or augmented reality.

BIM has become commonplace for building industries in developed markets around the world. The UK government, for example, is already developing digital standards for BIM level 3, which is expected to be mandatory on public sector projects, as level 2 is now. In Russia, BIM adoption is still being led by the private sector but its use is rapidly increasing. Many Russian BIM products, such as Revit, Nanosoft, Askon, Indoorsoft, Bentley, Graphysoft, Tekla and Nemetschek, are also being noticed on the international stage.

What is missing, compared to more developed BIM markets, is strong support and clear guidelines from the government. In December 2014, the Russian Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities took a decision to encourage BIM, but were not able to develop adequate standards. The Construction Scientific Research Center was then given the responsibility of developing a code of regulations for BIM, but they also did not really find a suitable approach.

The vital next step for the development of BIM in Russia must come from its government, in terms of creating standards, incentives and for fostering skills development in the workforce. With these steps taken, BIM can then do more to encourage smart building construction, in what could be smart Russian cities, connected to their increasingly smart grid. The sleeping giant Russian bear still lives in a cave but it could soon be living in a smart building.

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