Navigant Research Blog

Business, Buildings, and Tackling Climate Change

— October 23, 2015

On October 19, the White House announced expansive commitments from corporate America to continue the battle against climate change. This announcement underscores the hope for effective global policy development at the United Nations Climate Convention in Paris, or COP21, at the end of November. The signatories represent 81 companies operating in all 50 states, employing over 9 million people, and generating more than $3 trillion in annual revenue. These companies also span industries, representing a spectrum from heavy industry to high tech, as well as service businesses. An independent consortium of long-term investors has also announced a commitment to invest $1.2 billion in clean energy development.

The growing corporate commitments reflect an understanding of customer demand. Alex Gorsky, chief executive of Johnson & Johnson, explained to the Financial Times, “Just as the opinion of customers, and in our case patients, around the world are more sensitized to this issue … they are demanding more from the companies from which they purchase their products.”

The Role of Buildings

There is an opportunity to focus major efforts for climate change adaptation and mitigation in buildings. From siting renewables and clean energy to major improvements in energy efficiency (EE), better operations and use of commercial and industrial facilities can have a major impact on countries’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions profiles. In fact, in preparation for COP21, the UN has prioritized EE as a major mechanism to reach GHG emissions reductions goals: “According to the International Energy Agency, increasing EE accounts globally for 49% of the measures needed to achieve the emission peak and meet the +2 degrees target. EE is also relevant for sustainable economic development and offers multiple benefits including local job creation, increased productivity and competitiveness for companies, reduction of pollution, improvements in health, energy access and energy security. A significant scaling up of global investment in EE is urgently needed.”

Intelligent building solutions could be the cornerstone of EE strategy for tackling climate change. In a recent report, Navigant Research detailed how building energy management systems can provide the analytics and software tools for measuring efficiency improvements, tracking return on investment (ROI), and ensuring ongoing performance. Intelligent lighting and advanced heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) solutions can optimize system performance and at the same time improve the occupant experience in buildings while improving EE. The list goes on and on when the benefits of IT-enabled building solutions are considered. These innovations in building technologies hold the promise of EE, cost savings, tenant satisfaction, and even climate resiliency. Navigant Research will be watching the events that unfold at COP21 and tracking developments on even broader commitments to intelligent buildings and EE for tackling climate change.


We’re Asking the Wrong Question about Electrification

— September 1, 2015

At the recent Fleet Technology Expo in Long Beach, California, Tesla Motors’ co-founder and founder of Wrightspeed, Ian Wright, delivered a keynote to the gathering of fleet managers, suppliers, and consultants that turned the conventional wisdom of vehicle electrification on its ear. While mandates like the California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program and various federal and state tax incentives seek to displace millions of fossil fuel-burning vehicles with electric equivalents, Wright says we’re asking entirely the wrong question. Rather than asking how to maximize the efficiency of the mass of vehicles, Wright said we should be asking: “How do we save the most fuel per vehicle per year?”

On the surface, those might seem like the same question. However, when you actually start doing the math, the resulting answer is quite different. Vehicle emissions, including CO2, are directly related to how much fuel is consumed. Unfortunately, most people tend to think of efficiency in miles per gallon (mpg). When we plot fuel consumed versus mpg, the consumption curve asymptotically approaches zero as mileage goes up. In fact, the curve of incremental fuel savings flattens out dramatically at about 35–40 mpg. Beyond that, increasing mileage comes at a very high cost with little to actually show for it in terms of reductions in total energy use and emissions.

The big gains come when you start from very low mpg, where each incremental improvement yields much larger reductions in fuel consumption. That’s where Wright has focused his efforts in recent years. Wright joined Tesla co-founders Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning and financial backer Elon Musk early on in 2003 to help the tech entrepreneurs with the technical aspects of actually building a car. While Wright left Tesla long before the Roadster finally went to customers in 2008, he continued working on electrification.

Different Solutions for Different Applications

Wrightspeed has developed a micro-turbine, range-extended powertrain system for medium and heavy duty trucks, the vehicles with the biggest potential for fuel savings because they use the most fuel. These big trucks typically only achieve 3–4 mpg running on diesel and even less on natural gas. While the Nissan LEAF or Chevrolet Volt can save individual owners hundreds of dollars a year in fuel compared to similar gasoline-fueled models, the actual amount of fuel saved is relatively small.

A refuse truck is an ideal application for hybridization since it operates at relatively low speeds and makes hundreds of stops and starts per day. In order to get the 130–150-mile range needed for its daily rounds, a fully electric version would need to carry so many batteries it would consume more than half its payload; however, a plug-in hybrid with 30 miles of electric range is entirely viable. Wrightspeed developed its geared traction drive, a 250 hp unit that integrates a traction motor, two-speed gearbox, and inverter, to provide propulsion and regenerative braking. In combination with a small 80 kW turbine range extender sized to run at its optimal efficiency, Wright claims the system delivers a 50% reduction in fuel consumption, saving $35,000 in fuel and $20,000 in maintenance per vehicle annually with a 3–4-year payback time.

Navigant Research’s Automotive Fuel Efficiency Technologies report projects that a wide variety of solutions will be required to meet future efficiency and emissions targets. In order to get the maximum overall benefit, we need to ask Wright’s question and pick the best solution for each application—not one solution for every application.


In a Connected World, Cars Talk to Buildings

— August 20, 2015

It wasn’t so very long ago that communications were largely limited to living beings, whether it was birds, whales, dogs, or people. Our devices were largely mute, performing functions when requested by a button or switch, but otherwise isolated from each other. The development of high-bandwidth wired and wireless communications over the past 2 decades has led to a corresponding transformation with the development of devices that communicate and often act without human intervention. While we are still a long way from Skynet, ubiquitous connectivity is enabling a wide range of possibilities that can help reduce our energy demands in the coming years.

Connected Thermostats, Cars, and More

The old-fashioned set it and forget and even the newer programmable thermostats are being supplanted by wireless, cloud-connected versions like the Nest. In place of a simple mechanical thermocouple, these newer units include sensors to detect motion, light, and humidity, as well as Wi-Fi connections, to the Nest servers to take advantage of big data machine learning and remote control from smartphone apps. By tracking usage patterns and local weather conditions, these thermostats automatically create custom control profiles to provide optimum comfort and minimize energy use.

Ever since the advent of the modern plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) at the turn of the last decade, many of these vehicles have been able to connect to remote servers to get localized electric utility rates. When plugged in at night, they can delay charging until off-peak rates begin, reducing the load on the grid and saving costs for owners. Beginning in 2016, the first cars will start rolling out with vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems that enable cars to broadcast safety-related messages to other nearby vehicles. According to Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report, about 80%–90% of new light duty vehicles in North America and Western Europe are expected to be using the technology by 2025.

Researchers, including those at the Detroit technology incubator, NextEnergy Center, are working on new ways to connect these and many other disparate systems to leverage even more information and harness the energy storage in idle PEVs for additional savings. Among the numerous projects at NextEnergy are studies of vehicle-to-building (V2B) and microgrid systems. A small house at the center has been equipped with a direct current wiring system and appliances that enable easier and more efficient energy transfer between the rooftop solar panels, the interior of the house, and the battery electric vehicle parked outside. Another study is developing a model for how many PEVs would be needed to get an optimum balance between vehicle cost and energy cost savings from reducing peak demand for commercial buildings.

The NextEnergy Center will host a 1-day conference on September 9, 2015 called the V2B Mashup. The event includes panels and presentations with speakers from Cisco, General Motors, Visteon, the U.S. Department of Energy, DTE Energy, and more. Seating is limited and online registration is available at


High-Accuracy Mapping: An Opportunity for the Post Office?

— June 23, 2015

Telescopers_webSynergy is one of the most overused and abused words in business. Whenever this word is uttered, it’s time to break out a big hunk of salt. However, at the recent TU-Automotive Detroit conference in Detroit, an actual synergistic opportunity popped up in the course of discussion. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS)—and by extension, other postal services globally—could play an important role in the future of automated driving. According to Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report, nearly 95 million vehicles with some autonomous capability will be on the world’s roads by 2035.

High-Resolution and High-Accuracy Mapping

One of the most common topics to arise during the 2-day gathering of people involved in automated driving and connectivity was the need for high-resolution and high-accuracy mapping data. Alain De Taeye, management board member at TomTom, gave a keynote presentation on the requirements for highly automated driving systems. While sensors including a global positioning system (GPS) that can detect the immediate surroundings are clearly a critical component, they are insufficient for robust automated control. Maps can help extend visibility well beyond the line of sight of either the driver or sensor system.

More importantly, the combination of high-definition 3D maps and sensors enables greater capability than either on its own. For example, GPS sensors are notoriously unreliable in the urban canyons where automated vehicles offer some of their most important potential benefits. As satellite signals bounce around off tall buildings set closely together, a GPS-only system often places the user far from their actual location. On the other hand, cameras and LIDAR sensors can contribute to a fused real-time map of the surroundings that can be correlated with stored maps for validation and provide more accurate and precise location information.

De Taeye discussed the sources of data used by TomTom and other map providers, including HERE and Google. By blending data from satellite imagery, government data, real-time crowdsourced information, and fleets of vehicles that traverse the actual roads, maps are constantly updated. De Taeye emphasized the need for continuous updates on road information to ensure accuracy as well as precision, which is where the USPS could come to the rescue. Even companies as large as Google have practical limits on how frequently they can drive down each road.

Capturing Data with Future USPS Vehicles

Ryan Simpson, an electrical engineer with the USPS, attended the conference to learn about some of the new technologies that could potentially be put to use in future service vehicles. With more than 150,000 daily delivery vehicles and another 100,000 vehicles of various form factors, the USPS has the largest commercial vehicle fleet in the world. Those 150,000 delivery vehicles traverse a huge proportion of the roads in the United States 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. The USPS is currently in the process of defining a next-generation delivery vehicle to replace its rapidly aging fleet. If the new vehicles were equipped with some cameras and sensors, they could capture data with much higher frequency than any of the existing mapping companies. Real world data about everything, including road construction, bridge problems, and even potholes, could be updated daily.

Given the persistent financial difficulties of the USPS, providing fresh and reliable navigational data to mapping companies could provide a significant revenue stream that helps support a very important service to the U.S. population. At the same time, such data would also help to enable automated driving systems. This would be genuine synergy.


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