Smart Buildings: Catalysts for a Second Term White House Agenda

Climate change remains one of the most contentious policy battlegrounds as we look into the second term of President Barack Obama. Nods in his inauguration speech and the recent publication of the National Climate Change Assessment (draft) provide fodder to argue Smart Buildings can be the face of mitigation that simultaneously boosts businesses’ bottom lines.

The President underscored the challenge of climate change and the opportunities embedded with new technology in the inauguration speech:

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations…The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise.”

Just over one week earlier, on January 11th , the White House announced the publication of the first draft of the National Climate Assessment – this “scientific document [which] makes no policy recommendations” is intended to provide the public with  the facts around climate change and the implications for our ” health and livelihoods and the ecosystems that sustain us.”

“Responses to climate change fall into two broad categories. The first involves “mitigation” measures to reduce climate change by reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles, or increasing removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere…More effective mitigation measures can reduce the amount of climate change, and therefore the need for adaptation in the future.”

What does all of this mean for buildings?  Smart building technologies can be effective tools of climate change mitigation because the advanced controls and automation that define these solutions shave the overall energy demands and associated GHG emissions while, at the same time, generating significant business value.

The EPA’s Energy Star program has long focused on facility energy consumption; and, targeted awareness, technology and innovation to reduce buildings’ environmental impact.  Energy Star Fast Facts conclude that in the US, 45% of GHGs are generated by building energy consumption.  If building operators could achieved energy efficiency improvements of just 10%, national energy costs would shrink by $20 billion – or envision removing 30 million vehicles off the streets from a climate change perspective.

A smart building incorporates information from occupancy and daylight sensors, equipment meters and the insight of building operators to adapt in real time to internal policies and external signals to reduce the energy needed to operate the facility while still meeting crucial occupant requirements.

IDC Energy Insights has identified six technology segments in the smart building ecosystem – the most mature of these systems provide decision makers with integrated automation and information technology tools to reduce energy consumption and achieve a wide array of business objectives.  Smart building technologies are particularly valuable in the climate change debate because their utilization effectively reduces energy consumption and thereby GHG emissions, but at the same time generate significant economic and business value.

Smart building technologies help businesses’ manage energy costs, streamline operations & maintenance, differentiate their facilities to attract and retain tenants, achieve sustainability and corporate social responsibility goals and comply with emerging energy codes and mandates.  Smart building solutions can generate new awareness and acceptance of energy conservation measures and showcase the benefits they generate.

As we look ahead to the uphill battle to combat climate change, it is imperative policies address building energy consumption – a source of nearly half of the country’s GHG footprint.  Smart building technologies hold real promise for climate mitigation as the market becomes increasingly aware of their wide reaching economic, environmental, and strategic business benefits.   A wave of incentives and policies to promote building efficiency through truly smart building technologies would be an effective accelerator to solution adoption, and successful new mechanism for climate change mitigation.  The Better Buildings Initiative is a successful illustration of the kind of opportunity President Obama can harness again in his second term to motivate the private sector toward smart building investments.  Now in term two, smart buildings could extend beyond a showcase for efficiency into climate change mitigation.

Casey Talon is a research analyst with IDC Energy Insights.

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