Increasingly, across the United States and abroad, building owners are implementing comprehensive Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programs. ESG programs provide a framework for assessing and managing risks stemming from a range of environmental, social and governance factors. This trend is fueled in part by an increasing understanding of the looming danger of climate change across a range of potential outcomes from financial risk to human health and wellbeing. In many jurisdictions, the push for ESG reporting is also coming from the regulations that are being imposed on buildings, largely driven by the urgency around climate mitigation actions. It is widely accepted that climate warming stops when Greenhouse Gas emissions stop. In the US and elsewhere, this is leading policymakers to focus on greenhouse gas mitigation through regulation of emissions. By far, the two largest sources of emissions in the United States are transportation and buildings. If we are to stop or even slow climate change, we need to lower emissions from cars and buildings.
Policies aimed at buildings take two different approaches. The first is to target buildings directly through regulation of building site emissions, such as the forthcoming commercial building performance standard from the City of Seattle. The second approach targets the energy system that provides buildings with electricity, space and water heating. Policies aimed at decarbonizing the energy system ultimately affect the availability and pricing of electricity and other energy fuels, and often come in the form of policies that regulate power sources. In Washington State, the legislature passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act, which seeks to eliminate carbon from electricity requiring electric utilities to shift to carbon free power sources. Given this plan to decarbonize electricity in Washington State, the state energy strategy recommends an overall electrification pathway (for buildings and transportation alike) as the least cost pathway to meeting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions targets. The authors of the strategy point out that such a pathway will increase the electrical load by roughly 92% over the 2020 level. You hear similar estimates from other states and even national calculations. In the climate space, there is widespread agreement that to stop climate change, we need to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and that “clean electricity” fueling our buildings and transportation is essential to success, but it will require a groundswell of innovation and new technologies to get there.
What does this mean for buildings? What role do smart buildings play in the clean energy transition? Will this all amount to increased costs in building ownership or are there financial benefits and opportunities for building owners who convert to smart technologies to support the transition? At the Smart Buildings Center (SBC), these are questions we have been asking industry leaders and will continue to explore in our programming. We believe smart buildings have an essential role to play in the transition to a carbon free economy and we believe there is great economic potential for building owners who lead this transition with grid-interactive technologies, systems that align with grid needs and clean power production, onsite battery storage, onsite EV charging and innovations around how those technologies are leveraged, and more smart technologies, approaches, and practices that will recruit high tenancy and support the social and economic goals of the community in which they reside.
We plan to continue to push these discussions through the SBC programming, stay tuned for more to come along these lines, and in the meantime, check out the recordings from some of the discussions that have already taken place—and don’t miss this blog post from our partner organization, NEEC.
- Smart Buildings Week – Grid-Enabled Efficient Buildings
- Smart Buildings Exchange 2021 – Opening Plenary Panel – Smarter Buildings and a Changing Utility – a Vision of the New World of Energy
- Smart Buildings Exchange 2021 – Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings
- Smart Buildings Exchange 2021 – Buildings and Carbon
- Smart Buildings Exchange 2021 – Deriving Value from Smart, Interactive Buildings
- SBC Executive Forum – Electrification & Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings, part 1
- SBC Executive Forum – Electrification & Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings, part 2
- Smart Buildings Exchange 2022 – Senior Executives Discuss the Future of Energy Services and the Built Environment
- Smart Buildings Exchange 2022 – Building Performance Reporting – How Smart Technology Can Help
- Smart Buildings Exchange 2022 – Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings
- Smart Buildings Exchange 2022 – the Role of Smart Buildings in Reducing Carbon Emissions