Embracing Energy Efficiency in the Green Cities Movement
If existing commercial buildings were a country, they would cost more than $1 trillion to operate globally and be the third largest consumer of energy after the U.S. and China. In the U.S., commercial buildings waste about 30 percent of the energy they consume, contributing unnecessary greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In this negative feedback loop, no one wins.
With the apparent lack of efficiency, many building managers consider major retrocommissioning to make an impact on energy consumption. While replacing outdated equipment every 10 years seems like a good idea, the extensive process is incredibly costly and time-consuming. Even with the best intentions, managers don’t upgrade all the inefficient machinery in their buildings.
What most of the general population — including building managers — don’t realize is that innovative solutions are available that allow for better understanding and management of energy consumption without wasting money and time. Greener, more sustainable cities are within reach.
Flipping the Equation With Energy Management
Many buildings can reduce their energy consumption by 10 to 20 percent with simple operational changes – no capital investments or upgrades required. Targeted retrofits of inefficient equipment — where only specific equipment is updated instead of a whole building machinery upgrade — can be the fastest way to accelerate improvements and prevent future problems. Targeted retrofits are easy to implement and often have a 6-12 month return on investment.
Recently, building managers have begun to turn to energy management systems to help reduce consumption. However, according to a recent survey, 70 percent of building managers who thought they had energy management systems actually had building management systems, which perform different functions and do not offer energy-use insights.
Energy management systems provide key information about a building’s consumption by streaming real-time data to a centralized platform for managers to see when and where the building is consuming energy. The data also serve to measure and verify that each step toward energy efficiency yields sufficient results.
New Green Standards and Regulatory Tailwinds
Building policies and codes are also raising energy efficiency standards.
At the state level, California Title 24 has been the pioneer of stringent building codes, including the establishment of water consumption guidelines for all commercial real estate buildings. With the goal of achieving net zero energy — where a building runs efficiently and produces enough onsite renewable energy to meet its needs — in all new buildings by 2030, California will be the state to watch. These policies will both encourage and mandate retrofits in existing buildings to achieve better energy efficiency.
The United States Green Building Council developed its LEED Program to encourage building owners, operators, and managers to lead energy efficiency and sustainability efforts in cities across the U.S. The LEED Existing Buildings Operations and Management rating system rewards points for upgrading existing buildings’ systems because these are often the most outdated and therefore, most inefficient. Other benchmarking standards, such as Energy Star and GRESB, are pushing more property managers to improve their buildings’ efficiency and sustainability.
Globally, the Paris Climate Agreement will require all 195 signing countries to report emissions, track their sources, and provide evidence of efforts to curb consumption. As buildings are major sources of inefficient consumption, the policies, codes, and standards to require retrofits and other building upgrades will soon arrive.
As the intersection of innovation and policy expands, government and regulatory actions will help create more advanced, efficient solutions for our existing problems. Simultaneously, the Breakthrough Energy Fund will help clean energy startups with their funding to develop their solutions and get the products to market faster.
Startups Solving Energy Inefficiency
Many startups are working to find flexible, new solutions to close the gaps in operational effectiveness and resolve the egregious inefficiencies of our current systems.
My company, Aquicore, is one of many organizations trying to make cities more efficient. With advanced energy management software and wireless meters, Aquicore provides actionable energy consumption transparency in real time so that users can make necessary adjustments for more efficient, effective buildings.
Other solutions provide insights into building use with a variety of tools. Lightsense utilizes infrared technology in its sensors and optics to assess and analyze consumption information for energy-smart buildings. As Lightsense continues its research, more advanced sensor solutions will allow even greater assessment of spaces and buildings.
Data collection and analysis is a concrete way to prove that sustainability efforts are working. Even if a building already focuses on efficiency — often measured by Energy Star scores that “rank” a building compared to other buildings of similar size and use — there’s always room for improvement. For example, a building with an Energy Star Score of 91 was able to reduce its annual energy costs by 9 percent after installing submeters and energy management software.
Building greener cities with the help of data is not only good for the environment; it helps your business, too. Sustainability features actually increase building desirability and can raise tenant satisfaction. Often, tenants are willing to pay more for green office space. Plus, reducing energy consumption can help your bottom line by saving you thousands of dollars on your annual energy bill.
For startups, these aggressive policies and goals signal a huge push for better innovation and faster deployment of tech solutions. Policies are beginning to support research and development of tech solutions, too.
We have the resources, technology, and power to achieve our efficiency goals and continue improving. It’s time to put these tools to work to usher in greener cities across the world.