2017 saw a lot of new technology and brought about a host of engaging conversations that redefined the direction of sustainability and environmental issues. From Tesla’s solar roof shingles to Living Product Certification, the past year was dynamic for the sustainability industry. 2018 will undoubtedly be no different as technology and science continue to shape the way humans interact with the natural world.
While we may not know what’s to come this year, we went to the Southface Leadership team for their opinions on what’s in store for 2018. We asked: As we head into 2018, what new technology, science, or developments do you see playing a key role in the sustainability and energy industries? What shifts in trends do you see impacting the work that we do and how we do it? Below are their responses, edited for clarity:
In terms of technology, advancements in above property analytics and systems will continue to drive the buildings industry allowing for more real-time efforts for efficiency and operations. Health & wellness will continue to be a mega-sustainability trend in addition to of course, resiliency. In terms of health & wellness, we can no longer look at energy, water or carbon in isolation. How the built environment affects people including their health & wellbeing will continue to drive a thoughtful approach to our work in 2018 and beyond. One final thought is that sustainability (& resiliency) are much more integrated into common language and decision-making than even five years ago. At Southface, we will continue to work with governments, the private sector and other nonprofits to work towards a better planet, which in turn is better for the people who live on it.
I am incredibly interested in the role of emerging technologies as they relate to mobility. From autonomous vehicles to EVs, the possibilities are endless for carbon reduction, new and regenerative economies and the future of urban mobility. What’s even more exciting is how these new technologies will impact local communities, especially in the context of Atlanta roadways and public transportation. This advancement in bringing people together has a lot of potential in providing sustained growth to the region.
Advances in building and portfolio automation will become a more prominent development, as more intelligent building systems are capable of producing not only high performance operations but also optimized conditions for human health and well-being. As with any new technology, though, the challenges of reliable system programming can undermine the reputation of such systems. Responses to the effects of climate change and efforts to prevent further decline will also have to be achieved at scale, especially when thinking about the built environment. Buildings consume up to half of electricity generated in the United States, and we must understand that green buildings aren’t going to have regional or global impact when they represent 1% of the existing building stock (U.S.). Instead, we must devote attention to the remaining 99% in order to make a substantial impact regarding the role of buildings in climate change related issues.
The idea of the Internet of Things has really taken the world by storm. I predict that increased direct data capture, performance reporting and analysis, and an automated response of components (i.e. HVAC systems or lighting) will bring a level of customized performance to both buildings and occupants. The business and valuation of healthy homes is also something that will continue to rise in 2018, as increased understanding will bring an increase in market demand. Finally, I see the development of adaptive communities being encouraged, especially in high-risk ecological areas like floodplains. Intentional growth and knowledge of development’s impact on ecosystems will remain critical this year.
I foresee that the push for Green Infrastructure by regulatory, regional, and national entities will expose a shortage in skilled labor for installation, operation and maintenance. There has been a positive drive for increased Green Infrastructure projects, especially in the Atlanta area, but organizations will need to actively monitor and assess the success of these installations for years to come. Public Relations work, a focus not often talked about within the context of sustainability, will also need to stay ahead of potential bad press from failed installations.
I believe that energy storage remains well-positioned as the next disruptive technology in the power sector. We’ll see installed capacity continue to grow as costs continue to drop. The utility business model will also continue to evolve as load growth and energy demand remain flat while consumer needs change and market pressures increase (e.g., ancillary and behind the meter services). All of these factors will create new challenges and opportunities for us and our partners in our advocacy and programmatic work. I’m also encouraged by the rapid adoption rates of electric vehicles (EVs). As cities, states and regions move forward in their efforts to decarbonize and utilities continue to innovate and explore opportunities such as "beneficial electrification” (the idea of electrification of energy end uses traditionally powered by fossil fuels), it will no doubt be an interesting year ahead!