Recent Advancements in Green Building and Energy Sustainability

Are you among the many supporters of renewable energy who wonder why our country can’t make a faster transition to reliance on wind and solar power, rather than continuing to fall back on traditional energy sources? That brings us to one of our most pressing challenges: how can we optimize the system we have to make it become the system we want? Bryan Hannegan, the co-chairman of the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium, explains:

[W]e require a “fundamentally different” power grid that is “flexible and operates more like a mesh then the grid’s current hub-and-spoke system that delivers power from the center… If we don’t control this variability and the grid’s not ready for it, then it snaps. For kids coming out of engineering school, this is where it’s at.”

We will only get to that ideal place if the next generation utilizes coursework and knowledge about electrical engineering and applies it to problems such as how to optimize our current grid for renewable energy sources. The good news is that we have the capacity; now we need the will and the people power to make it happen.

In Rutland, Vermont, a local electrical utility company called Green Mountain Power is attempting to make progress on this front. The CEO, Mary Powell, has invested heavily in solar energy panels—despite the fact that Vermont isn’t necessarily the sunniest state in the union. That’s where the storage capacity of a separate microgrid comes into play: “Microgrids can benefit utilities by feeding excess electricity they generate into the larger grid for the utility to use. And unlike the old-fashioned grid, which typically stores relatively little energy, they can use that excess energy to charge banks of batteries to draw on later.”

Moreover, the smart grid utilizes Internet of Things technology to add data-informed intelligence that aids the distribution system operator in knowing how much energy to feed into the distribution grid. David Bank argues that renewables are no longer ‘alternative,’ but rather that fossil fuels are ‘legacy.’ This position, of course, flies in the face of the Trump administration’s attempt to re-legitimize coal mining and de-legitimize renewable energy. Clean energy is becoming more and more affordable. In fact, Bank cites a Bloomberg article that predicts solar power will become the lowest-cost energy option worldwide within a decade.

One can’t help but speculate that naysayers are merely clinging desperately to a once-viable way of life based on their own biased beliefs—rather than based on technological reality. Electric vehicles are another factor altering the demand for oil. In the above-mentioned article, Bank also cites a Goldman Sachs report from last year that forecast solar and wind as generating more new energy capacity within the next five years than shale-oil did within the last five years. It would follow that as the production scale of solar power technology continues to grow, the price of solar panels and smart grid connectivity will, in turn, become more affordable. Moreover, the increasing popularity of electric cars is likely to weaken the traditional demand for oil.

Therefore, the future trend for car preference leans toward electric and hybrid vehicles. One of the main reasons for lingering consumer reticence is the lack of a substantial recharging infrastructure. Charging locations are not yet as widely available as they could be, and recharging time could stand to become faster in order to attract more potential hybrid vehicle owners. Last year’s $4.5 billion dollars in loan guarantees for EV charging stations probably didn’t hurt, however.

One area in which sustainability is becoming streamlined is in commercial real estate. But what’s driving the demand for green building elements? One incentive for sustainable concepts in commercial building designs stems from the needs of commercial tenants. Since many corporate and government commercial tenants are required to comply with minimum LEED or other green building standards, now, buildings that comply with these standards can afford to charge higher rents, since they’re projected to retain a high market value.

Another sustainability incentive for commercial builders is the long list of income tax credits, rebates, grants, and property tax abatements that are available at the federal, state, and/or local levels for sustainable building projects. Some of the latest green building trends—aside from LEED building standards—include net zero energy buildings, grey water-saving technologies, sustainable landscaping, low-chemical building designs, and new federal and state incentives and laws to help maximize transparency for sustainable building standards.

If homeowners were required to do half as much as commercial real estate owners, we would likely emit a great deal less in harmful emissions. Because of these environmental benefits as well as the long-term financial saving potential, it’s worthwhile for homeowners to at least conduct a home energy audit. If citizens collectively put pressure on politicians and utility companies to offer more sustainable energy options, we might have options comparable to commercial real estate owners.

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What are some of the most promising electrical and energy sustainability trends you’ve heard of that you think will take off, in the near future? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below.

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