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The Nation's Quest for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Adoptions in Net Zero Energy Buildings
Chairman, EMerge Alliance
The nation’s quest for Net Zero Energy Buildings is likely to change a great deal about the way we approach designing and constructing buildings in the future. From the use of a broadened integration team in early planning and the heightened use of BIM tools, to the consideration of a diverse pallet of energy efficient building solutions and site-based power generation and storage, the days of incremental improvement of older technologies may not meet the challenge.
Although 2030 or 2050 seem like a long way off, the building industry does not move at breakneck speed when it comes to change, so if we don’t get started soon, the daunting task of meeting our future energy and environment challenges will be made all the more onerous. We need to start changing the way we fundamentally look at power, and we need to do it now.
Traditionally, we have had a very generation centric view of electrical power. We take what we get from Federal and State regulated public utilities. The current strain on these systems collectively has resulted in an ever increasing number of critical supply mishaps. Although utilities are working hard to “fix” our problem, an effort we call the “Smart Grid”, nobody predicts this will solve the underlying and growing shortage of electrical energy supply.
Some of that burden can be borne by being ‘smarter’ about how we use energy in buildings. It’s not rocket science to understand that replacing incandescent and T12 fluorescent lighting with T8, T5 and LED lighting, and adding a few controls like dimmers and automatic thermostats can help. But we’re bleeding at the speed of light. Energy consumption, like population, is growing faster than conservation alone will satisfy.
It’s time to take a more responsible “User” centered view of the issue, a view that will lead us to some fundamentally new conclusions. We need a power system that will:
grow, shrink, rearrange and otherwise change dynamically,
self-organize as a network as well as reconfigure/respond to user needs and complement needs of the existing grid structure,
and most of all, avoid the negative nonlinear dynamic that dominates the current macro power system, albeit having acquired new brains.
Sound familiar? It should. We just built a system just like this and called it the Internet. So now what we need is the Internet on steroids, maybe we could call it the Energy Net or Enernet?
Sound impossible? It’s not. Given the lessons learned from the Internet experience, it should be remarkably easier to accomplish. Who would ever have thought we could essentially connect every personal computer in the world together in one information network, with dozens of languages, peta bits of information, and a 24/7/365 operating time domain and get it all right? But we did, and in less than 30 years.
The secret was to let it develop virally, that is, in independent layers. We can borrow this learning and apply it to the EnerNet. Personal power domains, room-level nanogrids, building- and campus-level microgrids, and even community-level grids can be added to complement the existing levels of grids managed by our public utilities. If we set a few basic standards, we can do it. And in less time than it took to create the Internet.
But now is the time to act. Our current 100-year-old electrical power system is full of mismatches. New, distributed sources of power generation and storage are natively direct-current (DC), while the legacy infrastructure is almost entirely alternating-current (AC). Today’s digital world needs DC power on the user side, which currently requires most power be converted from AC to DC. If storage is a factor, this means multiple conversions of the same original power. Could we find a better way of wasting power?