Navigant Research Blog

Can Technology Solve the Dysfunction of Sustainability?

— November 30, 2017

Sustainability is a term that, by itself, can be meaningless. The downfall of “green” into “greenwashing” is a cautionary tale for sustainability champions. In a recent Triple Pundit article, “The 8 Dysfunctions of Sustainability,” a Penn State University professor articulated the problem: “[My critique] is meant to both reclaim the original fullness of ‘sustainable development’ but even more to point to the baggage we must leave behind. In a word, sustainability has to grow up.” Professor Erik Foley’s criticism is sound and defensible. The question then becomes: How can we course correct and make sustainability a relevant and impactful metric?

It is important to define a scope of action to make the concept of sustainability concrete. Let’s look at the commercial buildings sector as an ecosystem of business, economics, and people that can provide structure to the analysis of sustainability. Technology can be deployed to alter how we operate and assess the value of buildings against the environmental, social, and governance lenses of sustainability. To be specific, data, analytics, and automation can represent three pillars of a mature solution for the buildings sector that ensure continuous and ongoing improvements in the buildings sector from a sustainability perspective. Let’s examine two dysfunctions from Professor Foley’s article to highlight how technology can be the pathway forward.

#2: We measure what we can manage even if it doesn’t matter.

The bottom line here is action. We have tracked the evolution of the intelligent buildings market for years at Navigant, and it is evident the technology can make significant impacts on sustainability metrics. We have tracked the transformation from traditional building automation solutions that improved scheduling and reduced hot and cold calls in the biggest buildings to software as a service (SaaS) applications that provide enterprisewide insight on building operations—the key shift is action. Effective intelligent building solutions provide an end-to-end solution for gathering, communicating, and analyzing data that is translated into meaningful information with integrated automation and controls that enable continuous improvement in operations. What that means that customers can utilize technology to reduce costs, improve experience, and lower environmental impact through a systems-based strategy.

#4: Efficiency ≠ sustainability.

Foley’s fourth dysfunction sets up a further explanation of the sustainability improvement opportunities tied to the systems-based approach to building operations made possible by intelligent building solutions as described above. The smarts of the data-driven approach to intelligent buildings are rooted in the idea of holistic insight and operational improvement. This approach is a perfect counter to dysfunction #4. Take, for example, our historic approach to energy efficiency and demand management—these two objectives were seen as isolated strategies for energy management that delivered different and possibly competing benefits. The real-time insight and continuous operational changes made possible by integrated automation and controls with analytics enable reduced costs, lower environmental impacts, and increased comfort. One side does not have to take precedent over another but can be prioritized at different times to meet a larger goal. From a sustainability perspective, an intelligent building solution can support overall energy use reduction, but also optimize equipment operations so energy is used at peak time if there is onsite solar, for example, or reduce energy during peak if reliant only on grid power.

Today, there is a real opportunity to re-envision sustainability to deliver operational changes that provide sustained social, environmental, and governance improvements. Interested in more of Navigant Research’s point of view on sustainability? Check out our recent report, Intelligent Building Technologies for Sustainability.

 

Google Aims to Create a Blueprint for Smart City Development in Toronto

— October 19, 2017

The proliferation of fast growing, high density cities has created major challenges around energy and water infrastructure, traffic congestion, air quality, and the efficient management of resources for large numbers of people. Google’s Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of parent company Alphabet Inc., is attempting to solve these complex urban problems through a public-private partnership with Waterfront Toronto. Sidewalk Labs will invest an initial $50 million to deploy automated vehicles (AVs), smart buildings, intelligent traffic signals, and a myriad of other digital technology solutions for Quayside, a neighborhood on Toronto’s waterfront. This is the first project of its kind for Alphabet, and it aims to create a smart city blueprint for 21st century urban neighborhoods. While the first phase of the project will be deployed in Quayside, Sidewalk Labs intends to expand the pilot across Toronto’s entire Eastern Waterfront district—transforming the city into a global hub for urban innovation.

Connectivity and Mobility Key Focus Areas

Sidewalk Labs has released a 200-page document on its vision for smart city development in Toronto. Although the plans are yet to be finalized, the company is aiming to build the neighborhood “from the internet up”—making ubiquitous connectivity a significant hallmark of the project. As seen in other smart cities under development, such as in San Diego, a number of communication networks will be needed to execute on ambitious smart city visions. In Toronto, Sidewalk Labs will be deploying high speed wired communications over fiber and copper, high bandwidth wireless over Wi-Fi and cellular, and long-range low bandwidth connectivity using low power wide-area networks (LPWANs). The wide range of communication networks will enable an array of applications to be deployed, ranging from low power technologies such as air quality sensors all the way to high capacity networks for AVs.

The creation of a high tech and flexible mobility system is expected to be another major area of focus for the project. Sidewalk Labs plans on restricting all non-emergency conventional vehicles from a large portion of the neighborhood while providing robust walking and bicycling infrastructure, an expansion of streetcar lines, and self-driving transit shuttles. Additionally, smart parking systems, an adaptive traffic light pilot (which prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists), and a mobility as a service platform (which will help residents assess all mobility options) are expected to be deployed. Commercial freight will also be transformed into a tech-driven urban system by using robots to make deliveries. Together, these initiatives should make Quayside one of the most technologically advanced mobility (and least car-dependent) neighborhoods in North America.

Local Project, Global Implications?

The vision for the ambitious smart city project in Toronto goes far beyond the city itself. Sidewalk Labs is hoping the results and lessons learned in Toronto will be replicable for the thousands of other global cities struggling with similar urbanization and sustainability challenges. Finding the right business models, stimulating interdepartmental coordination within government, and quelling citizen concerns about privacy and security are all barriers that Sidewalk Labs must overcome if this project is to be successfully scaled and exported to other cities. Both leading and aspiring smart cities should keep a close eye on the developments on Toronto’s waterfront. It is one of the most ambitious projects to date in terms of testing integrated systems and innovations and could serve as a blueprint for optimal efficiency, sustainability, and improved quality of life for 21st century cities.

 

Customers Hold Keys to Growth of Turnkey Energy as a Service Solution Providers

— August 15, 2017

A recent Navigant Research blog highlights how corporate commercial and industrial (C&I) energy and sustainability managers are choosing to apply new technology and business model innovations to meet their energy management and sustainability needs. These new customer choices are giving rise to the growth of energy as a service (EaaS) solutions. Navigant Research’s recently released report on the evolution of EaaS defines specific solutions that make up a comprehensive EaaS solution offering:

  • Energy portfolio advisory solutions: Comprehensive, enterprisewide strategic guidance to help customers navigate their unique procurement, energy management, financing, business model, and technology opportunities across all energy management and sustainability needs
  • Onsite energy supply: Distributed generation solutions like solar PV, combined heat and power, diesel and natural gas gensets, microturbines, and fuel cells that improve energy supply
  • Offsite energy supply: Including electricity procurement options from offsite sources in retail choice deregulated electricity and gas markets and from emerging large-scale, offsite renewable energy procurement business models
  • Energy efficiency and building optimization solutions: Comprehensive energy efficiency assessment, business case analysis, financing, implementation, monitoring and verification, and building commissioning services to reduce energy spend and use
  • Load management and optimization solutions: Comprehensive, end-to-end energy management solutions to optimize energy supply, demand, and load at the site and enterprisewide, including demand response (DR), distributed energy storage, microgrid controls, electric vehicle charging equipment, and building energy management and building automation systems and software controls

Turnkey Solutions to Drive Growth

C&I customers that begin to take advantage of these new solutions will increasingly look to turnkey solutions providers that can provide not only strategic advice across their property portfolios, but execution expertise as well. The key driver to enabling the growth of turnkey EaaS solutions vendors will be the ability to deliver comprehensive financing solutions to help customers avoid spending capital on energy projects. However, there are two additional drivers that vendors who are considering creating and delivering turnkey EaaS solutions will need to consider:

  • Historically, C&I customers have needed multiple regional partners to manage even a portion of their energy management needs. Turnkey EaaS vendors seeking to address C&I customers’ portfolio-wide needs for EaaS will require widely trained and deeply experienced advisory capabilities to address their customers’ complex energy procurement, financing, and technology deployment needs. For example, in the United States, a turnkey provider will need to have the depth of regional expertise under one roof necessary to address customer strategic needs in diverse energy markets and climate zones like Texas, California, New York, the Southeast, or the Midwest.
  • Experienced C&I energy and sustainability managers have endured years of disappointment from energy use and cost reduction claims that never materialized. Moreover, many of these managers have still not yet even tried to reduce energy spend. What C&I customers truly want is guaranteed lower energy costs, whether from solar PV, energy storage, energy efficiency, or DR. Vendors that blend execution expertise across all EaaS solutions with financing tools to guarantee cost savings through a single point of sale will be best positioned.

To date, with customer-sited distributed energy resources, too much emphasis has been placed on trying to figure out where to sell technology outside of a focus on solving customer problems. For turnkey EaaS vendors, market growth will not necessarily be led on a technology-first basis. For at-scale revenue generation, these vendors should start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. Navigant Research anticipates that vendors that place a keen eye on how to bring turnkey, customer-focused EaaS solutions into the market through a trusted, single point of contact with a financed savings guarantee will be at a competitive advantage.

 

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