5 ways clean tech is making commercial real estate more energy efficient

New innovations are helping to reduce carbon emissions and cut energy use

April 20, 2021

As corporate commitments to net-zero targets gain momentum, there’s a growing focus on the energy efficiency of buildings – and the technology that can make a difference.

Major real estate companies, developers and investors are increasingly aligning projects with energy-efficient building standards. The International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank, predicts that green buildings will be one of the largest global investment opportunities in the coming decade. And as today’s workforce evolves, the values of younger generations are driving demand for sustainable buildings.

“There’s a massive push for companies to comply with global sustainability commitments,” says Ramya Ravichandar, Vice President, Product Management at JLL. “Clean tech will play a big role, from providing insight into daily use of assets, to modelling demand cycles to lower consumption – and ultimately, to change how we source and use energy.”

There are hurdles to implementation, from greater government regulation needed for wider adoption to the costs of retrofitting older buildings. But the clean tech sector is developing around these demands.

“Investment in clean tech infrastructure makes financial sense – it reduces operational costs in the long-term, while a sustainability strategy is now correlated with a forward-thinking, proactive approach. That wins business,” says Kyle Goehring, Executive Vice President, Clean Energy Solutions at JLL.

Here are five ways clean tech is helping make buildings more sustainable.

1. Energy storage

From large lithium-ion batteries to generating power with gravity, energy storage is becoming a vital feature of sustainable buildings.

Coupled with renewable energy generation, this not only helps stabilize electrical grids, but provides clean energy at lower costs. Take property developer Wasatch Group and its 600 residential units with solar arrays and batteries connected in a distributed storage system that can also sell energy back to the grid.

The possibilities for energy storage are still emerging. As electric vehicles gain traction, charging infrastructure could also be integrated into building energy systems, enabling parked vehicles to be used as battery storage.

“Energy storage is a huge opportunity for building owners and investors to increase overall efficiency and the shift to renewable energy, while saving money on energy costs,” Goehring says.

2. Smart sensors

With more people working remotely – or returning to offices in socially-distanced shifts – smart sensors that detect office occupancy can make a critical difference to energy efficiency by optimising lighting and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC).

“In the post-pandemic workplace where hybrid work models will be much more prevalent, you can’t predict when people will come in,” Ravichandar says. “Efficient energy management needs to be about live, intelligent, and actionable monitoring.”

Sensors in equipment are also helping maintenance teams by triggering alerts before issues require more resources to repair. Facilities managers can track and adjust building systems remotely, ensuring that critical aspects don’t overuse energy, but still run sufficiently to meet compliance standards.

3. AI-powered windows

Energy-efficient building design often makes use of natural light – and smart glass in the windowpanes enables greater control over daylight, heat and glare. 

For instance, internet-connected glass from View Inc. uses artificial intelligence to automatically tint glass for a more comfortable indoor environment while reducing reliance on lighting and air-conditioning. Smart glass from Hailo is similarly cloud-based, responding to user commands or the time of day to darken or lighten, maximizing natural light.

4. Automation-driven HVAC

AI-based solutions for managing buildings fitted out with sensors can significantly improve one of the greatest potential sources of energy inefficiency – the HVAC system.

Companies like 75F, and others are enabling remote monitoring to maintain indoor air quality while reducing energy consumption. With more data and sophisticated algorithms, buildings are now becoming more dynamic in how they respond to real-time factors.

“In buildings with multiple tenants who have different businesses and operations, smart systems that can interact effectively are vital for optimising energy consumption throughout the space,” Ravichandar says. “This is especially important in our post COVID-19 world where healthy buildings are core to creating comfortable environments.”

5. Sensor-based motors

The motors that run systems such as air-conditioning, fridges, fans and elevators are responsible for large amounts of wasted energy, as well as higher costs.

Turntide Technologies’ next-generation motors could transform the vast numbers of machines that keep buildings running. The internet-enabled motors contain sensors that monitor operations to ensure motors run efficiently, slashing energy usage to not only reduce costs but also emissions, contributing to a building’s shift to net-zero carbon.

“Whether you can see it or not, the technology in buildings is transformative not just for the industry, but the planet as well,” Ravichandar says.

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