Top 16 Trends for 2016

Each year at NBI, we get together to discuss the most significant and potentially impactful or disruptive trends we see coming in the commercial building and energy sectors and actions individuals can take to get ahead of what’s to come. With palpable enthusiasm stemming from the success and promise of COP21, we are thrilled to share our insights. While we typically share our Top 10 Trends, this year, we are happy to announce our Top 16 for 2016! Happy reading and, as always, please feel free share with us other key trends you think we missed. From all of us at NBI to all of you, who are working to reshape our energy and building future, Happy New Year!

Ralph DiNola, CEO

16. Advancing Professional Leadership and Innovation

The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is changing their zero net energy game – In 2015, the USDOE and NIBS released a common definition for Zero Energy Buildings 
J. Craig Venter Institute | La Jolla, CA
that helps narrow the broad array of definitions being used in the market. There is a growing buzz about getting to zero in the AEC community. Designers, engineers, contractors and manufacturers need to be ready for that RFP/RFQ or project interview that will ask – “How are you approaching zero net energy (ZNE)?”, “How have your past projects performed?”, “Is ZNE possible for my project?”, and “Have you done any projects like this?”.  How you answer may make or break your chance to get a leg up on the competition and secure that client or project. How to prepare: First, make sure your staff (and your marketing team!) have the ZNE communication tools, the technical resources, the trainings, and then put them to use on your projects. Next, educate your clients about the possibilities early, get them excited about leadership, innovation, cost savings, environmental benefits, marketing potential, etc. Whether the client has asked for it or not, consider setting internal goals for ultra-low energy and high performance building delivery. But the client is always right, so if the project you are working on isn’t going there, make sure you are leading in areas you can control like performance tracking of your past projects (consider using NBI’s FirstView tool). Walk the talk with your own zero energy or ultra-low office. Increase your staff’s knowledge by joining NBI at our Getting to Zero Forum in 2016.

15. Engaging and Connecting People with Information and Their Buildings

In 2016, just about every piece of information will find its way to the internet and people will use their various mobile devices to access that data. Content is exploding but people have less time and attention for the information. They will prioritize their sources, unsubscribe from extraneous email lists and schedule breaks from technology. Advice is coming in to help individuals reduce information overload for greater well-being; even technology executives and venture capitalists strictly limit their children’s screen time. Organizations will need to focus on clearly communicating their highest value, to avoid being just another distraction. Unique value propositions will need to be given succinctly at the beginning of every message. A picture can covey thousand words, but images need to add to the information readily without getting in the way of the message. Personalized outreach and relationships will become even more important to stand above all the noise. Technologies that give individuals more control over their comfort in buildings will gain ground in the coming year.

14. Making the Business Case…Again

Focus on Financials: If you have been in the building industry for more than a decade, you might recall a lot of discussion and even angst about the cost and benefit of LEED buildings. Many professionals dedicated years of effort to making the business case for green buildings and demonstrating a solid ROI. With the growing trend of ZNE, we are back at it again. “How much more do they cost?”, “What’s the ROI?”. While research shows in the Integral, Davis Langdon ZNE Cost Study that ZNE buildings can be built at a similar cost as conventional buildings, we at NBI continue to strive to make the business case. We are working to shift the discussion from “how can we do this effectively” (technological feasibility), as documented in the 2014 Getting to Zero National Status Update, to “how can we do this cost effectively” (financial feasibility). The experience of some building owners in achieving high performance and even ZNE buildings at minimal or no increased cost should be shared widely so that ZNE and high performance can scale up. Do you have examples you can share? If so, please send them our way!

13. New Business Models Will Reshape Our Energy Future

With EPA promoting the Clean Power Plan and new disruptive innovations in the building technology and business models, there is a geographically-spreading reformation in the utility industry involving new entrants/markets for services previously provided by traditional utilities. Companies are providing “Savings as a Service,” allowing building owners to upgrade their systems with little to no required upfront costs. Enlighted’s Global Energy Optimization (GEO) is an industry-leading example. Energy Service Performance Contracts (ESPCs) are gaining momentum by providing technical know-how, service and financing for owners who prefer turn-key efficiency. Broadly speaking, with growing emphasis on corporate tracking and reductions in CO2 emissions, customer preferences for low-carbon solutions for services provided by energy are gaining ground.

12. Getting Closer to the Grid Edge: From the Internet of Things (IoT) to the Grid of Things (GoT)

I know, I know, we have all heard much about the Internet of Things (IoT) and despite all the flash there has not been much substance. However, we see a bright future where buildings and the grid converge. Significant changes in policy and accelerated technology trends enabling reduced costs for energy efficiency and distributed generation. Folks like Peter Turnbull of Pacific Gas & Electric Company have been drawing connections between the IoT and the future of our energy grid as we see the lines blurring between energy and IT. This is a convergence issue where the proliferation of imbedded sensors, the development of new applications and the influx of (largely venture) capital is driving this topic faster than anyone expected.

Buildings are becoming more intelligent and connected, adoption of building-scale renewables is accelerating, and new technologies and services are disrupting the traditional electric utility business model. The price of solar panels has dropped so much that in some markets solar energy can be cheaper than grid-supplied energy. Distributed energy storage is now a reality. Two-way, transactive energy flowing across grid nodes will become much more common. Issues that were once masked by rarity will get greater attention: load shape management, energy storage, grid interconnections, renewable power “cleanliness” as it enters the grid, the internet of things, and more. These factors will drive utilities, building owners, service providers, and manufacturers to create – not just talk about – smarter buildings operating intelligently at the grid edge.

11. Shifting to Occupant-centric Energy

Trends in building utilization are for a class of knowledge workers that have work styles, schedules and needs that don’t fit traditional delivery of space and services. Today, energy systems need to be controllable at smaller zones, adaptive to changing patterns of use, and accessible to occupants for personalization and controllability. These changes result not only in meeting a changing demographic but also offer extensive energy savings as use mirrors activity and occupancy more closely. An example of this is “Task Conditioning,” and the Hyperchair by Comfort Systems. New products that provide Task Conditioning are providing more options, products and design strategies that allow office occupants the opportunity to control their personal environment allowing central systems to be downsized and set point to float more broadly for additional energy savings.

10. Cities: Where the Rubber Hits the Road

West Berkeley Library Branch | Mark Luthringer
West Berkeley Library Branch | Mark Luthringer

Cities will be where the rubber hits the road. Local governments are stepping up energy leadership by developing real, practical solutions that address resiliency, climate change, sustainability, leadership, resource efficiency, cost savings and responsible government. The value messages are all there to support it and local governments are starting to set new targets for their own public buildings to achieve ZNE. Santa Barbara County was the first to do it, now cities around the country are starting to add these goals for new demonstration facilities. The City of Hayward is building a new ZNE City Hall. The City of Berkeley just built the first net positive International Living Future Institute certified net zero library. It’s an exciting time and ZNE is an important step towards achieving climate action plan goals.

9. Every Community, a Resilient Community

Passive features such as thermal mass, natural ventilation and daylighting make for a resilient building. Buildings with these features stay habitable much longer in a power outage situation. People may not realize when they install solar panels that they won’t work if the grid goes down, but more people are demanding installation methods that allow the building to be operated off-grid, if needed. Expect to see more focus on the resilient aspects of high-performance buildings.

8. Broadening the Discussion to Appropriate Scale

As ZNE becomes less aspirational and more of a reality, the unintended consequences of ZNE-based policies will continue to raise concerns about urban density, solar access, the consequences for an economically stratified society and building re-use. Some building types are very hard to get to ZNE, even if their energy performance is exemplary, such as high-rises, hospitals, retail, data centers, and other energy intensive facilities. With community solar, building owners can make agreements with surrounding building and land owners to co-finance and/or co-locate solar panels and pool their resources to reach ZNE at the community scale. Wind and bio-fuels will also have a growing role to play in larger scales of ZNE districts and communities. Ultimately, ZNE policies will need to address this question of appropriate scale and codes and standards will need to find a path to ZNE beyond the building and building site. Stay tuned for more on appropriate scale in 2016.

7. The 99%…Getting Existing Buildings to Zero

The path to ZNE has been mapped for many buildings by trailblazing projects . . . for new construction. Like shiny objects, new buildings seem to get a lot of attention, but with 99% of the building stock already in place (new construction adds a little more than 1% to the building stock annually), we need to redouble our efforts on existing buildings. Back in 2014, we shared that about a quarter of the ZNE buildings we are tracking are existing building retrofits. California’s Big Bold Goals strive for half of the existing buildings in the state achieving ZNE by 2030. In 2015, the California investor-owned utilities launched the Proposition 39 ZNE School Retrofit Pilot Program. With projects being selected and getting underway in 2016, it will be an exciting year for existing buildings. With this existing building impetrative, New Buildings Institute will prioritize our program activities to help make every building a New building.

6. A Focus on Low-Energy Buildings and Why Efficiency First

Most of us have seen the growth of Passive House firsthand but this has been a hot topic for many in the design community that we have spoken with recently. It seems with the launch of Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) the messaging and range of benefits has been better articulated and folks are really seeing this as a stepping stone to ZNE. Many of the ZNE buildings being design and built are using Passive House principals to get to ultra-low energy use. We are excited about this approach, especially in extreme climates. And while the price of PVs continues to decline, making renewable energy production more affordable, we support the loading order of efficiency first, then renewables. Low-energy buildings have the potential to be more grid-friendly and more resilient with the right design moves.

5. Benchmarking and Disclosure Gains Ground

Cities and other governments across North America are enacting disclosure ordinances requiring building owners to track and report the energy usage of their buildings. At least 16 cities and counties, and two states, covering five billion square feet of floor space, have adopted energy benchmarking and disclosure laws, and more are coming this year. It is more important than ever that building owners track and report the energy usage of buildings in their portfolios – and reap the benefits of those efforts. Energy Star Portfolio Manager is the most common tool used to track and report this data. Expect to see further focus on tracking energy usage and reporting key performance indicators to meet these requirements and get concrete results from that effort.

4. Micro-Benchmarking: Understanding Building Performance at a Portfolio Scale

Building portfolios at scales smaller than citywide are emerging as an approach to realize how the power of portfolio-wide data can be leveraged for taking action. For many years, building owners have conducted voluntary benchmarking with Energy Star Portfolio Manager. These owners are well prepared for mandatory benchmarking rules as they are adopted across the country. Municipal, institutional and commercial building owners will find the usefulness in benchmarking data from Portfolio Manager and deploy tools like FirstView for making strategic choices about how best to prioritize their capital investments in energy efficiency across their portfolio.

3. Getting Control of Controls…and Your BuildingCABAZNEControls_sm

Yeah, you designed a ZNE building, but it’s not working out that way. Attempting ZNE achievement can often highlight the continuing issues with getting controls to function as intended to get to zero. As evidenced by our collaboration with CABA, there are ample opportunities to learn from the early adopters of ZNE and advance the design, installation and operation of building controls. As a result of the study, we anticipate increased focus on advancing controls technologies and the professional disciplines that support the installation and operation of advanced control systems. Wireless technologies will gain in market share as inexpensive sensors and web-enabled applications rapidly evolve to support human comfort and wellbeing in high performance and ZNE buildings.

2. Learning by Example and Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

School districts are saving money through ZNE. They are leading the charge in zero energy buildings as a way to put money back into classrooms, demonstrate innovative climate-responsive and resilient strategies. In addition, they gain hands-on experience through an innovative curriculum that builds on the design to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM programs). NBI is helping support 10 trainings in California for ZNE school retrofits. We anticipate a significant expansion of ZNE school activity across the U.S., as school districts learn about ZNE schools that are built and operating; creating vibrant learning environments, that can be within the cost of a conventional school in their community.

1. The COP Effect

With increased political and policy momentum among governments, corporations and institutions following COP-21 to meet the agreed upon limit on global temperature rise, 2016 will be a year of dramatic, if not revolutionary changes. Consensus in Paris will likely result in providing the impetus to move industry and our society to the needed tipping point. Corporations will demonstrate leadership and innovation, addressing carbon emissions with greater intensity and purpose. Leading states and municipalities will redouble their efforts to align their codes and policies with 2030 and 2050 goals and demonstrate leadership by walking the talk with their own buildings. Institutions will pilot project and address their long range plans for carbon emissions and getting to zero. Throughout the year, look out for signs of the COP Effect and ask yourself, what role will I play in this revolution?

Heads of delegations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Heads of delegations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.