Navigant Research Blog

Are Corporate Clean Energy Initiatives Real?

— December 10, 2014

In November, Amazon made a commitment to power its infrastructure with 100% renewable energy over the long term.  Among tech companies, Amazon is late to the game in announcing its sustainability goal; Apple, Google, and Facebook had already released similar pledges over the past few years.  Although cloud computing is more environmentally friendly than previous computing technologies, according to Amazon, a “significant amount of unused server capacity and wasted energy consumption” still occurs when powering data center infrastructure.

Since 2008, businesses and corporations around the world have begun to more actively pursue sustainability initiatives.  Between 1992 and 2012, the number of corporations worldwide issuing corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports jumped from 26 to around 7,500.

Fortune 500 Leads the Way

Many of the leaders in corporate sustainability are part of the Fortune 500.  In 2013, 43% of Fortune 500 companies had established goals for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, energy efficiency, renewable energy, or some combination of the three, and 60% of Fortune 100 companies had set sustainability targets.  Although large corporations have made progress in establishing sustainability initiatives, only 75 of the Fortune 500 had specific energy efficiency targets in place by 2013.  GHG reduction targets made up the greatest share of climate and energy initiatives.

Companies with long-standing commitments to reducing energy use have already seen energy and dollar savings from these initiatives.  Walmart, for example, laid out plans in 2013 to save $1 billion globally per year through energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.  The company has a long-term aspirational goal to achieve 100% renewable energy.  In the shorter term, by the end of 2020, Walmart aims to reduce emissions intensity by 30% from 2010 levels and produce or procure 7 billion kWh of renewable energy worldwide.

The Trouble with Long Term

Kohl’s is another leader in corporate sustainability efforts.  It has been implementing green building methods since 2005, and it had 432 LEED-certified stores as of June 2014, representing a full 37% of the company’s 1,160 stores across the United States.  The 432 stores represent a total floor space of 35,616,240 square feet.  Kohl’s plans to reduce absolute emissions and emissions intensity on a per-square-foot basis by 20%, both by 2020, compared to 2010 levels.

Although the growing prevalence of CSR and sustainability goals is encouraging, broad long-term goals have raised concern from some environmental groups.  Setting goals without defined milestones makes it more difficult to hold companies accountable for the clean energy initiatives they have in place.  Many companies, Amazon included, have not specified a roadmap to achieve their energy goals – an obvious next step to ensure those goals are achieved.  Publicly committing to a clean energy future is only a first step.

 

Open Source Opens Doors for Building Automation

— October 23, 2014

Earlier this month, ARM launched a free operating system to drive the uptake of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.  The announcement reflects the growing trend toward open-source protocols across many technology fields.  The building automation space is no exception.

Several efforts exist to develop open-source platforms for various aspects of building automation.  Traditionally, controls communications for building automation systems (BASs) have been based on proprietary languages and protocols that were developed by individual companies and only compatible with certain software or hardware solutions.  Demand for interoperability from building owners and operators has begun to drive the development of open protocols for BASs.  Open protocols provide customers greater flexibility to select equipment from a number of vendors as well as other benefits, including higher robustness, lower cost, and the opportunity for more innovation and collaboration.

First Steps

There are three main efforts behind the drive toward open-source protocols in buildings: Project Haystack, Open BAS, and ASHRAE’s RP 1455.

Project Haystack is an initiative to streamline the process of working with data from the IoT.  Founded in 2011 by a group of member companies, including Airmaster, J2 Innovations, Lynxspring, Siemens, SkyFoundry, WattStopper, and Yardi, Project Haystack became a non-profit organization in July 2014.  With more than 500 members today, Project Haystack is involved in creating a library of naming conventions for items on a BAS.

The goal of Open BAS is to help facilitate the programming of systems in medium-sized commercial buildings (i.e., less than 50,000 square feet).  The Open BAS project is being run by an Information Technology for Energy (I4Energy) team of experts and innovators striving to find IT solutions for global energy issues.  The primary goal of the Open BAS project is to develop, refine, and formalize an open-source, user-friendly software platform that will bring energy efficiency to smaller commercial buildings.

The Security Hurdle

Finally, ASHRAE’s Research Project (RP) 1455 aims to provide a library of control sequences that integrators can use directly with HVAC equipment.  One goal is to establish more standardized control sequences for design engineers and controls contractors.  The 1455 project will specify best-in-class sequences for ASHRAE-compliant air systems in high-performance buildings.

Although these open protocol projects are good first steps, they have not yet provided interoperability to the extent that they promise.  As building owners and operators continue to demand greater interoperability and more flexibility with protocols, additional efforts to open up the programming of devices and allow deeper access will likely arise.  At the same time, security concerns highlighted by recent high-profile hacking attacks could limit the spread of open-source protocols.

 

Low and Zero Energy Buildings Driven by Policy Measures

— October 7, 2014

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced an ambitious plan to tackle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by retrofitting public and private buildings throughout the state.  De Blasio’s plan strives for 80% reduction of GHGs by 2050, a target that, as The New York Times put it, “would be a truly impressive feat if he were actually able to make good on that promise.”

With this plan, New York is continuing its efforts to become a leader in energy efficiency and GHG emissions reductions efforts across the United States.  Other states with similar GHG reduction targets include Massachusetts and California.  One emerging strategy employed by states with emissions reduction targets is the zero energy building.  Zero energy buildings (ZEBs) produce enough energy to offset their annual consumption, typically through the use of renewable installations.  ZEBs are built using highly efficient building materials and technologies and often rely on methods such as daylighting to reduce energy consumption.

Policy-Driven Change

According to the recent Navigant Research report Zero Energy Buildings, growth in the market for energy efficiency in buildings is expected to be driven by regional and local policies.  This is true both in the United States and internationally, where the European Union leads the way with the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).  The EPBD requires new public construction to be zero energy after 2018 and all new construction to be zero energy by 2020.  In addition, the EPBD requires individual member states to develop national plans for increasing the number of ZEBs.

California’s Title 24 building code aims to achieve all new residential construction as zero net energy (ZNE) by 2020, with all new commercial buildings achieving ZNE by 2030.  In Massachusetts, utility- and state-funded pilots have helped to drive building energy efficiency.  The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources launched the Pathways to Zero Net Energy Program in 2014, designed to support ZNE building construction and facilitate market development.

Federal Legislation

With technology improvements and the growing availability of energy efficient building materials, policy has become the most important driver in prompting energy efficient retrofits and new construction.  Although several states have adopted targets for building energy efficiency, the most relevant federal legislation is Executive Order 13541.  The Order mandated that by 2015, 15% of existing federal buildings conform to energy efficiency standards and by 2030, 100% of all new federal buildings achieve zero net energy.  Although sweeping national legislation requiring ZEBs for commercial or residential construction seems unlikely in the immediate future, federal incentives could prompt builders to pursue more efficient building and strive to make zero energy more common in the United States.

 

From Commonplace Materials, Shigeru Ban Creates Uncommon Shelters

— September 8, 2014

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban’s first museum in the United States opened last month in Aspen, Colorado.  An internationally renowned architect and the recipient of the 2014 Pritzker Prize, which is often referred to as architecture’s Nobel Prize, Ban is distinguished from his peers by his commitment to humanitarian work and sustainability.

Since 1994, Ban and a team of volunteers have responded to a number of disasters worldwide with innovative architectural solutions.  They constructed relief housing in response to the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Ban uses inexpensive, often recycled materials to construct innovative shelters in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.  These structures dispel preconceived notions of the aesthetics of disaster relief shelters with their simple, clean designs.

In Onagawa, Japan, Ban converted old shipping containers into housing for people who lost their homes in the 2011 disaster.  The earthquake and flooding left little flat land, which Ban addressed by stacking the shipping containers to make three level multi-family units.   One of Ban’s earliest projects was in response to the 1994 civil war in Rwanda that left millions homeless.  Ban worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to develop refugee shelters, using low-cost paper tubes as an alternative to wood in an area that had suffered rapid deforestation.

Minimalism in a Time of Excess

What makes Ban’s work particularly interesting from an energy standpoint is his dedication to using locally and sustainably sourced materials.  The new Aspen Art Museum is constructed from materials ranging from paper tubes to beer crates, and all the wood involved in the project was sustainably sourced.  Fellow architects have called Ban a “socially responsible” or “socially conscious” architect who prizes sustainability above all.  But despite Ban’s focus on reusing materials and minimizing waste, he rejects labels such as green and eco-friendly.

Although Ban is the best-known philanthropic architect, lesser-known builders and organizations are working in a similar capacity, creating a small but growing movement.  For example, the U.K. charity Architecture Sans Frontières, emulating the model pioneered by Doctors without Borders, is spreading sustainable architecture and responsibly built environments to marginalized or impoverished communities around the world.  In the United States, the organization Make it Right, created after Hurricane Katrina, enlists architects who donate their time to create cradle to cradle homes that produce more energy than they consume.  Natural disasters, political turmoil, and war will continue to displace people from their homes, and the innovative architectural designs by Ban and others can help keep them from crowded and unsanitary refugee camps.

 

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