What’s Next in Sustainable Construction?
There was once a time when we didn’t worry about energy, trash or sprawl. We left the lights on just to be safe; we threw it in the trash to get it out of our house, and we built our home away from the city to give us a sense of privacy. Now, the growing scarcity of energy resources and land has made us think a bit more about our impact on this earth. We’ve learned to harness the sun’s energy, build energy-efficient buildings, reduce our waste stream and increase urban density. So what’s next?
In the building design and construction industry, The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system has become ubiquitous—or at least talking about it has. Not every client or project team jumps on the LEED bandwagon, but even in this economy, the number of LEED-certified projects continues to grow.We see this growth because tenants, employees, buyers and shareholders are requesting it. Jurisdictions are also starting to mandate, or incentivize, LEED within their boundaries. However, the question, “So what happens when code catches up with LEED?” continues to arise. USGBC continues to make LEED more stringent to recognize those projects that excel well above the legal minimums.
For many years, those of us in the energy business have just accepted plug loads—energy to power computers, copy machines, coffee makers, etc.—as fixed. As building energy use has come down and electronics have become more pervasive, plug loads have become a larger percentage of a building’s energy use. The U.S. government’s Energy Star program has helped promote reductions in equipment energy use, but there are still many challenges, not the least of which is “phantom” energy use when we think the equipment is turned off (e.g. HDTVs).
Plug load management will become an important issue in the near future. Many large organizations are implementing mandatory “hibernation” settings on monitors and computers, as well as an organization-wide conversions to laptop computers, which use less energy than traditional desktops. Another innovative approach is the use of a “power tower,” which monitors the use of the devices plugged into it and provides power only when necessary, eliminating the phantom energy from cell phone chargers and other equipment.
Many companies in the design and construction industry are already embracing BIM, but the full realization of its potential has yet to be seen. The industry has not yet embraced the full potential of technology as other industries have. The integration of BIM models with analysis tools for energy, daylight and structural modeling have been slow to develop but are starting to show promise. Soon, the technology and integration of tools will mature, allowing designers and builders to more quickly and easily analyze the performance of their designs and make informed decisions while the project is still “on the drawing board.”
The pervasiveness of the Internet in everything we do will soon find its way into sustainability. As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Energy-monitoring systems have been available for many years; from basic monthly data to real-time, graphical interfaces. Being able to collect and manage energy and operational data, not to mention having it real-time and on mobile devices, will help building users and operators make informed decisions about energy use.
Renewable energy has often been an afterthought to building designs. Future building design will incorporate renewable energy, or, at a minimum, plan for future implementation via orientation, roof design and electrical systems. Incentives and policy changes will continue to stimulate the development of renewable energy projects at all levels; from residential rooftop photovoltaic systems to gigawatt wind farms. Solar cells, now a novelty on consumer products such as shoulder bags and cars, will become the norm.
Automakers are poised to deploy their fleet of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids over the next five years. Not only will this change the way we think about fuel economy, it will change how we think about our buildings. In addition to being consumers of energy, EVs and PHEVs will also be a storage and transport source of electricity. The ability for EVs and PHEVs to charge at home overnight and then plug in to power the office during the day will affect how building electrical infrastructure is designed.
While none of these changes is earth shattering, they will continue to affect all aspects of our lives, and each will have a profound impact on the way we think about our built environment.