With intense focus on improving energy efficiency (among other focus areas like the smart grid and new materials for energy), as well as developing new, clean, affordable and sustainable energy sources at the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), we are very interested in developing partnerships across the world where such expertise exists. This, coupled with Carnegie Mellon’s growing Silicon Valley campus, created a natural opportunity for the Institute’s recent collaborations with Prospect Silicon Valley (PSV), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and the City of Fremont on a recent event focused on energy efficiency in the built environment.

Against the backdrop of Delta Electronics’ glimmering, LEED Platinum U.S. headquarter facility in Fremont, PSV Executive Director Ruth Cox introduced the topic and described their role in incubating these technologies. Cox was then followed by a distinguished panel of experts, who held an engaging conversation about trends and some ‘big ideas’ in green building technology.

Moderator Amul Sathe of Navigant framed the discussion by citing how policy and regulatory leadership (i.e. energy code updates, R&D incentives, etc.) have helped California achieve ambitious goals in decreasing energy consumption. While this is encouraging, other panelists who operate elsewhere in the U.S. were quick to point out that the policy environment differs wildly in other states. Therefore, we need to do more to articulate the value of energy efficiency directly to consumers through holistic systems, argued our very own Dr. Burcu Akinci, Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at CMU’s College of Engineering. It’s the aggregated system that is key — one single technology is not enough when pursuing real changes in efficiency.

It’s a similar story when tackling the topic of commercial real estate, echoed CBRE’s Zach Brown.  Institutional landlords have long been skeptical about the cost of implementing energy efficiency upgrades. However, Brown’s strategy of starting with ‘low hanging fruit’ and publicizing successful case studies has been effective and he sees consideration of the global real estate sustainability benchmarks as a growing trend. LBNL’s Rich Brown believes that simulating the performance of holistic systems, at facilities like their Flex Lab, are helping to move the bar with investors and other decision makers.

Perhaps most thought-provoking were the concluding comments by each panelist, when asked what they are most excited by in the green building space.

  • Zach Brown sees a generational shift and associated culture change on the horizon in commercial real estate. This includes building engineers who embrace sustainability and are more likely to adopt new technology.
  • Rich Brown believes that sustainable green buildings will have a dramatic impact on the elusive “duck curve problem,” an energy-insider reference to the graph of power production over the course of a day showing the timing imbalance between peak demand and renewable energy production.
  • And saving the best for last — Dr. Akinci is excited by the prospect of autonomous, robotic buildings, which she believes will be possible sooner than most expect.

We look forward to continuing this dialogue in Silicon Valley and elsewhere to collectively advance the mission of a more sustainable future that we all share.

Read more about the panelists from this event.


Panel Discussion


Post-event tour of Delta Electronics’ LEED Platinum U.S. headquarters