In the State of the Union address President Obama made three specific comments on climate and energy that signify real opportunity for innovation in the approach to some of our biggest economic challenges. Energy efficiency, and more specific smart building technologies, can be the tools to drive the change in how we consume energy and reroute our path on climate change.
First off, President Obama acknowledged our obligation to address climate change: “But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change…Now, the good news is we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change…”
Successful climate mitigation policy must address building efficiency for two reasons: first, because commercial and industrial facilities in the US contribute nearly half of the country’s total greenhouse gas footprint; and second, because smart building technologies take energy efficiency to the next level and effectively combat energy waste while generating economic value – a critical benefit for political and business acceptance.
The President further elaborated on his vision for climate change action stating, “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy…”
Energy efficiency is the most sustainable source of energy, and smart building technologies bring a new sophistication to energy management that can elevate efficiency to the appeal of alternative energy like solar and wind that so often dominate the conversation. Energy efficiency is about eliminating the waste in how we operate our buildings, but the nuts and bolts of engineering improvements often push the topic off the public palette for energy policy debate. Smart building technologies can bring new viability to energy efficiency priorities by leveraging leading edge information technology to deliver a combination of energy and cost savings that resonate with a broad spectrum of stakeholders from the c-suite to operators to sustainability advocates.
Finally, the President made one final, and pivotal, comment on energy the address when he stated, “I’m also issuing a new goal for America: Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. We’ll work with the states to do it. Those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen.”
Again, smart building technologies can be primary enablers to meet this goal. EPA energy star estimates that 30 percent of all energy used in commercial and industrial buildings in the US is wasted. That suggests that incorporating time tested efficiency strategies and technologies will get us a long way toward this goal, but something more will still be needed. This is where smart building technologies come into play. These next generation energy management solutions utilize information technology and building automation to bring unprecedented coordination to building operations. The kind of integrated energy management of a smart building redefines a facility – these technologies allow building systems to respond in real time to external signals or internal policies. This means that buildings can elevate from simply operating optimally without energy waste, but in a future vision, even become resources that interact with the grid responding to demand response or price signals of grid stress and shedding load by changing how equipment operates such as dimming lights or raising the temperature by a degree or two. This kind of dynamic operations of the smart building can push efficiency over the threshold to meet the 50% goal outlined by the President.
In the end, energy policy is hotly debated and politicized, but energy efficiency and smart buildings can bridge the gap to promote real climate change mitigation through investments that make both economic and environmental sense.