Commercial buildings are being designed with sustainability in mind

Managing the energy consumption of commercial buildings is critical to reducing the country’s carbon emissions. While it’s common to associate these emissions with transportation and industry, statistics have shown the subject is more complicated than eco-friendly cars and EPA regulations on companies.

As context, commercial buildings account for almost 20 percent of U.S. energy consumption and 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. More than that, inefficient processes and management waste nearly 30 percent of that energy use. The country is clearly in desperate need of a solution.

Fortunately, architects and design professionals have a diverse range of solutions to limit the impact of commercial buildings. They’ve started to adapt architecture to meet today’s standards of sustainability, innovating on outdated models and practices to incredible effect.

So what do these innovations look like? What should entrepreneurs and executives expect from commercial buildings in 2019 and beyond? Here’s what’s being done to make the country a cleaner, greener place to live.

Energy Storage Solutions

Business owners are often hesitant to integrate renewable solutions for fear of outages and performance issues. These problems would leave them vulnerable, and they feel far more comfortable with traditional sources of energy that aren’t as prone to failure. This thinking is rational to a certain degree.

Solar power had limited large-scale commercial viability for quite a long time, and the costs of installation and pressures of maintenance weren’t in its favor. The responsibilities of owning and operating panels were unattractive to those who relied on conventional sources of power. Things have changed since then.

New technology now allows organizations to transition to renewables while ensuring access to adequate power whenever they need it. Energy storage systems connect to the existing electrical infrastructure and save excess energy for later use. They accommodate wind and solar power, as well as cogeneration.

These storage systems account for some of the problems involved with renewable energy, making it more reliable and predictable. Concerning matters like grid resiliency, demand management, and energy savings, storage is one of the most promising solutions for those who feel uncertain about renewables.

Energy Management Systems

Specialized software like building energy management systems — otherwise known as BEMS — can continually monitor and analyze a structure’s energy use. After installation, the BEMS inform the building owner or manager on their energy expenditure in lighting, heating, cooling, and other areas.

In terms of implementation, a BEMS often connects to components already in the building. These components include the physical systems and sensors associated with elevators, fire-safety and security, as well as other existing infrastructure. Beyond these smaller details, two types of building software exist.

Building management systems software makes it simple to control various building components from a single application. Building automation systems software is similar but shifts the focus toward automating building processes and management. A BEMS can connect to one or both of these systems as needed.

As building owners or managers view their energy use with complete transparency, they’re able to improve and optimize their processes. Concerning its value for savings, a BEMS is indispensable. A study found that energy savings declined by as much as 8 percent every year without monitoring and maintenance.

On-Site Energy Generation

As far back as 2003, cities like Auburn, New York, have embraced the potential of clean energy. Its choice to install a geothermal system to heat and cool city hall was an enormous stride in the transition toward sustainability. More than that, the project was successful, leading to similar initiatives in the city.

At the time, the cost of geothermal systems on that scale was around $1 million, comparable to the price of conventional heating and cooling systems. Auburn’s investment helped to preserve the environment and reduce expenses, with expected savings of approximately $19,000 each year over the system’s lifetime.

On-site energy generation is possible and plausible, as proven by Auburn’s project. Beyond methods like geothermal systems, common strategies include photovoltaics, solar water heating and wind turbines. The use of biomass like wood, agricultural waste and similar products is also viable.

Other examples of on-site energy generation and net-zero energy buildings show the power of renewables. Through a performance-based design and build process, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory achieved its net-zero site energy goal. It used advanced heat recovery technologies and photovoltaic power, among other features, which enabled it to manage its energy consumption.

Cleaner Commercial Buildings

As the country continues its transition toward sustainability, commercial buildings will have to change and adapt. The systems and technologies detailed above are only several examples on an ever-expanding list of green energy solutions. Given time, these solutions will see greater adoption.

While progress is slow and somewhat troubled, maintaining a sense of optimism is important. It’s best to remain positive, comfortable in the knowledge that renewable energy is more accessible with each passing year.