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This installation is a collection of 15 blue, 18- to 24-foot-tall flower-shaped sculptures with solar panels in the Mueller community’s retail center in Austin, Texas. (Thomas McConnell Photography)

Industry leaders with experience in North America, Europe, and Asia share the latest on building energy efficiency. What are you doing to promote energy efficiency? Add your responses below.

Sharing their experiences are David DeVos, vice president and global director of sustainability for Prudential Real Estate Investors; Jonathan F.P. Rose, president, and Michael Catalano, green initiatives project manager, of Jonathan Rose Companies; Philippa Gill, Tishman Speyer’s director of sustainability and operations systems across Europe; and Gregory J. Weaver, executive vice president of Catellus Development Corporation, who is based in Austin, Texas.

What innovative efforts do you have underway to make your buildings more energy efficient?

DeVos: Some of the most basic energy technologies often prove the most efficient. It may not sound innovative, but we rely on plenty of proven, low-risk opportunities, such as operational best practices, lighting, controls, and variable-frequency drives. For example, at a number of buildings we replaced pneumatic HVAC controls with digital controls. After less than a year, we reduced our energy consumption from 14.5 percent to more than 22 percent. Additionally, we have more control of the HVAC systems, which improves the tenant experience, resulting in fewer hot and cold calls. Tenants, management, and ownership all win.

Gill: The in-house technical and property management expertise within Tishman Speyer is the key to our ability to manage and reduce consumption across our operating portfolio. In order to support them in this critical work, we have embarked on a strategy to install smart meters across our portfolio to provide real-time consumption data. This provides additional insights on the ground, enabling us to combine experience with technology to deliver substantial emissions and costs savings.

Depending on the building, savings range between 3 and 30 percent. In this latter case, by combining on-the-ground expertise, focus, and a small capital investment, the property team achieved total consumption savings of over 30 percent within three years of purchasing the building.

Rose/Catalano: We pay the tenant energy bills at our Nevada Street property in Newark, New Jersey, a property owned by Jonathan Rose Companies in a joint venture with Goldman Sachs’s Urban Investment Fund. We have set a goal to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent. Ten percent of the reduction comes from hardware upgrades such as AC covers and Energy Star–certified refrigerators, and another 10 percent from residents taking action to reduce their individual consumption. Projected annual savings are roughly around $40,000–$50,000. We anticipate a 20 percent buildings carbon-footprint reduction as well.

Our residents are reducing their electricity consumption through a building-wide competition. The property is 306 units of seniors’ housing located in a 19-story master-metered building, so there is inherently a split incentive between owner and resident when it comes to utility consumption and conservation. Residents will receive monthly energy reports with unit and floor-by-floor comparison data. In addition, online access to their data creates a feedback loop, supported by monthly green educational sessions.

To address the energy consumption of the central heating system, we installed programmable thermostats in each apartment and upgraded the valves in the baseboard heat. This allowed us to reduce the horsepower and rpm speed on our hot-water circulator pumps, which alone will bring a $4,000 annual savings in electricity costs to the project.

They also collect enough solar energy to light the sculptures at night and provide excess energy back to the grid.

The “SunFlowers” collect enough solar energy to light up the sculpture and provide excess energy back to the grid. (Thomas McConnell Photography)

Weaver: Mueller is a 700-acre [283 ha] mixed-use development on the former site of Austin’s municipal airport. Based on Austin Energy’s Green Building program rating projections, we estimate Mueller’s currently constructed offices, homes, and apartments save on average 15 million kilowatt-hours per year. In many cases, our focus has been on making sure the energy-efficient resources that are put into the buildings are done well and done often. This means, for example, adding energy-efficient windows with shade structures to reduce lighting costs while not increasing cooling costs, or adding LED lighting all over the community, even the parking garages and holiday lights.

Establishing an overall green community like Mueller inspires innovation. For instance, the new H-E-B grocery store at Mueller is now the greenest among the Texas-based chain’s 300-plus stores. To manage our hot Texas sun, the building’s iconic sloping roof is made from a ceramic coating that was used on the space shuttle, and shoppers enter through a Texas-sized vestibule with a single entrance/exit and a large shaded overhang. The chilled-water HVAC system pumps cool water into the flooring and refrigerated cases, which house 90 percent of all refrigerated items. A large collection of solar panels generate more than 200,000 kilowatt-hours per year.

Even public art incorporates innovative energy efficiency. SunFlowers is a collection of 15 blue, 18- to 24-foot-tall flower-shaped sculptures that serve as the gateway into the community’s power retail center. They also collect enough solar energy to light the sculptures at night and provide excess energy back to the grid.

What do you think the industry can do to continue moving the needle on energy efficiency?

Gill: Design buildings from the inside out, ensuring operational efficiency and impact are understood from the beginning of any project. This will ensure that efficiency measures are embedded in the project from the start. Density of occupation, moreover, is fundamentally important. Recent research is showing that more densely occupied buildings and cities offer the greatest potential for operational efficiency and value creation, as well as allowing greater emissions savings when combined with the right design features to ensure that these new, dense spaces remain attractive places to live and work.

Weaver: First and foremost, the industry needs to continue educating end users of the long-term cost savings associated with going green. Although costs continue to generally decline, there are still challenges convincing commercial occupants to pay the considerable upfront costs to install green and energy-efficient features.

Rose/Catalano: Industry leaders will need to focus more on the building envelope. Stable interior thermal comfort can be accomplished by constructing tighter, well-insulated envelopes and by supplying smaller, more energy-efficient HVAC solutions. This process should be guided by a full-building energy model that takes into account solar radiation and other thermal loads. Better building construction details is one of the first places to start as it does not necessarily have to cost more money, just a little more detail-oriented time. After construction is complete, a blower door test and thermal imaging can verify its performance as intended in design.

We also think that changing the attitudes and behavior of building staff and residents can reduce consumption by 10 percent. Savings are not only related to energy use, but also water use and waste production. Ultimately the goal is to reduce the bulk of the building’s basic loads and if possible move toward a renewable source of energy to handle at least a portion of energy consumption. If done right, this will make your building more resilient during power outages as well.

DeVos: To move the needle on energy efficiency, we need to start thinking about doing more, rather than simply being “less bad.” While reducing energy consumption is a necessary step, buildings can become a community asset if they produce more resources than needed to operate. Thinking through a more holistic, long-term approach to energy and real estate, whether with existing or new construction, can help to ensure all stakeholders win. We can do it, or the regulators will do it for us.

What does an energy-efficient building look like in five years?

Weaver: I think more buildings will go to 100 percent LED lighting in the not-so-distant future. I predict there will be much more and easier-to-use automation for lighting and temperature controls. I also think we’ll continue to see an increase in more daylight usage, with more energy-efficient windows plus more use of manmade and natural shade structures, especially in places like Austin and the fast-growing American Sunbelt.

Gill: Technological advances in energy monitoring and efficiency are developing at speed now. Within five years, most buildings will be “hooked up” and monitored in the way we are when we go to hospital. This will allow remote monitoring, management, and analysis in a way that we are only beginning to understand. Qualified professionals who understand what the machines are telling us, however, will remain paramount.

Rose/Catalano: In five years, many older buildings will have undergone some sort of energy efficiency upgrade, but many owners will not have invested in insulation and air tightness. This is where new policies and incentive programs, either through a refinance, grant, or tax rebate program, should focus their efforts to help building owners make deeper investments.

DeVos: In five years, energy-efficient buildings will need to include tenant participation. When the physical building reaches high levels of efficiency, tenant consumption increases as a percent of total building energy consumption. From plug-load management to smart devices (such as the Nest thermostat), more and more technology is being specifically designed for tenants to better control and understand their energy consumption. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Tenant Star program for commercial tenants may be a harbinger of things to come.

What can public policy leaders do to support energy-efficient buildings and communities?

Gill: Clarity in government and regulatory frameworks is critical. This allows industry and manufacturers to design their processes and tools over the long term, enabling the industry to move forward coherently. Given the lengthy planning time scales for real estate and infrastructure projects, long-term policy and program consistency across government departments, as well as across parliamentary cycles, is important.

Rose/Catalano: PACE, PACE, PACE! We need Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to allow property-assessed clean energy [PACE] financing.We’d also like to see building codes amended to significantly increase the levels of airtight construction supported by measurement and verification and to further bump up the R-value on roofs and walls. Many of the public funding programs focus solely on mechanical upgrades, which leaves the major issue of envelope untouched.More retrofit funding needs to be specifically focused on building-envelope improvements.

Gill: More effective planning frameworks would help support the increasingly dense urban lives we live. And in order to support the de-carbonization of an increasingly urban planet, mass transit should be combined with better long-term integration of residential and commercial areas. The current funding schemes [in Europe], which are open to city and regional bodies to enable access to large-scale, regional renewable and public energy networks, have been a good start. They should be expanded upon and woven into longer-term policy planning.

DeVos: One great example of where a government is having a significant impact is in Singapore, an island city-state with limited natural resources that knows it is in its best interest (national security, resource availability, and employment) to green its buildings and operate them efficiently. By 2030, using energy efficiency/certification regulations and a suite of incentives, 80 percent of buildings in Singapore will be Building and Construction Authority [BCA] Green Mark certified. One study calculated BCA Green Mark–certified buildings saved 11.6 percent in operating costs and increased the building value by 2.3 percent. To date, more than 20 percent of Singapore’s building floor area has been BCA certified. Additionally, the move to green Singapore has evolved past energy efficiency to it becoming a green building innovation incubator creating thousands of new jobs.

Weaver: Mueller is a city of Austin project, so having access to the insights from Austin Energy—a municipally owned utility preeminent in green building—is a huge opportunity for us. Austin Energy has partnered with the University of Texas and others to establish the Pecan Street Research Institute, which is focused on developing and testing advanced technologies, business models, and customer behavior surrounding advanced energy management systems. The Mueller community is the pilot neighborhood for Pecan Street’s smart-grid demonstration research project, which has resulted in Mueller having one of the highest concentrations of residential rooftop solar panels in the country and one of the highest concentrations of electric vehicles in the world. By pooling resources, Pecan Street’s public and private partners have found creative ways to incentivize people to take a more responsible role in making their homes and offices more energy efficient.

DeVos: Historically, local jurisdictions have had control over buildings, from planning to building codes to building operations, and now energy reporting. A carrot-and-stick approach can create more energy-efficient buildings and communities.

Interviews conducted and consolidated by Sarah Jo Peterson and Molly Simpson.