July/August 2021 | Vol. 26 No. 4
Our lives unfold in buildings—Americans spend nearly 90 percent of their time indoors. So it’s fitting to focus this issue of electroindustry on buildings—how do we make them healthier and more people-centric? More resilient and efficient? More sustainable?
There’s significant progress being made in these areas, and it’s urgently needed. Buildings account for 39 percent of total global carbon emissions.1 And yet 30 percent of energy in buildings is wasted.2 It’s not just wasted energy, it’s wasted human potential: JLL found that improving ventilation and thermal comfort boosts productivity by 5 percent.3 One way or another, the U.S. must get to net-zero emissions by 2050. It’s hard to imagine reaching net-zero emissions without net-zero buildings. And there’s no way to realize net-zero buildings without transforming how buildings use electricity. The simple formula for a net-zero energy building is to add the energy a building consumes and subtract the energy it generates on-site. If the building generates more energy than it consumes, it’s net-zero.
Today, the equation for many buildings doesn’t add up. There’s too little on-site generation, and there’s not enough passive or active energy management. It doesn’t have to be this way—the technology exists to make the net-zero math work.
On the electricity generation side, microgrids make it possible for all kinds of buildings to generate enough clean electricity to power not just one but dozens of buildings. That alone can bring many buildings to net-zero energy—but we shouldn’t stop there.
On the consumption side, there are many ways to shrink the total. Passive options, like high-efficiency lighting and HVAC systems, certainly improve the math. But another significant opportunity is to attack that 30 percent energy waste figure with active energy management. Internet of Things–enabled building management systems are instrumental to this objective. They detect and eliminate previously invisible energy waste: leaky valves, lights left on all night, heating and cooling systems fighting each other. But that’s not the whole story. When our buildings are infused with digital intelligence, they can anticipate our needs. They empower us to control our environmental conditions while keeping us informed of indoor air quality and occupancy status in real time. Simply stated, digitalization enables healthier, safer buildings. Ultimately, these digital buildings meet more of our needs—for our health, our desire for connection (and connectivity), and our comfort. And they do so while meeting the needs of our planet.
This is why I’m bullish on the future of buildings. Technology exists today—all we need is a change of mentality. And this issue will drive the conversations to make that change happen. ei
Chair, NEMA Board of Governors
1 U.S. Green Building Council, 2017
2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
3 JLL, 2016