Navigant Research Blog

Will COP21 Help Keep a Spotlight on Buildings?

— December 11, 2015

Buildings have been given a place in the spotlight, or at least they were for a day on December 3 at the world’s convention on climate change, COP21, in Paris. The emissions estimates make a statement: one-third of the global carbon footprint stems from energy use in buildings. If left unfettered, these emissions could triple by 2050. It is evident this reality has sunk in, for buildings are a necessary target for emissions reductions and the actions required for these reductions can make good business sense.

Registering Commitment

Inspired by the efforts of COP21, the U.K. Green Building Council (GBC) is leading the buildings industry in targeting emissions reductions. In a recent article highlighting the goals, CEO Julie Hirigoyen explained, “The eyes of the world are on Paris, but it is not just down to the politicians to make it a success. There is a clear business case for the construction and real estate sector to cut carbon emissions from buildings. The climate pledge commitments from our members demonstrate the widespread industry support for urgent action, and point to a market that is transforming itself.” The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) made similar commitments to support the aims of COP21, as well. In all, 25 GBCs worldwide joined the effort with goals for climate change mitigation.

In advance of the conference, USGBC and Ceres launched the Building and Real Estate Climate Declaration. These companies (125 and counting) have made a call for national climate policies and support of the Clean Power Plan. The voluntary registration of green buildings is an important step in bringing transparency and accountability to corporate climate commitments for commercial buildings.

The Business Impact

Tackling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is good for sustainability reporting, and it also delivers economic and business value. Navigant Research suggests intelligent building solutions are effective tools for supporting these corporate commitments to emissions reductions. Beyond reducing a building’s carbon impact, the benefits of investing in intelligent building solutions include reduced energy and operational costs.

Intelligent lighting and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning controls, for example, can coordinate system performance to reduce energy consumption while improving the occupant experience. A building energy management system can direct automated system improvements through automation and controls or manual improvements, and the benefits are wide reaching. The operational improvements can not only deliver energy savings for GHG emissions reductions, but can also generate the business intelligence that brings benefits to the bottom line.

In the end, even if national policy continues to wane in the political winds of the Capitol, there is hope for targeting buildings in the fight against climate change. The demands of business leaders—like those signing onto programs at the COP21 Buildings Day—are being heard at the local level. More momentum in city policy can lead the way. As explained in the newest C40 report, “Globally, the greatest opportunity for mayors to reduce GHG emissions is in urban building energy use.”


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


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