Smarter Buildings: The Executive View, Part 1

"What I've seen dramatic market change in people's awareness or people's willingness to make a change, most of that gets driven when there's a regulatory requirement that says you have to do something. If you want to wait for things like sustainability plans to drive that, it'll happen, but it won't happen in a market-transformational way.

"I saw an application at Greenbuild that goes on an iPad that lets everyone in London walk down the street and see the energy performance of any building, and how that building is doing, in red, green or yellow. And the public has access to this information -- that all comes about because the government requires you to report this information.

"Once we have requirements to report information from this building, and that building has to report the same information, and two different companies own those buildings, there's going to be some really keen attention paid to doing something about the problem. But my experience is that customers are generally reluctant to make those purchases unless they're being mandated, even if it's a mandate within the company, especially in lean times, because it's more critical to maintain jobs. But until it gets pushed that way, that's how it is.

"In new buildings we're already doing this; ASHRAE's standards are good for new construction -- if youre doing something new, it's going to be more energy efficient. For existing buildings, very little is done to get energy efficiency going on a broad scale. Until we get some regulatory push, we're not going to see transformational change on the level that you're seeing at the Empire State Building.

"We have customers around the world who get 30 to 60 savings on their energy efficiency projects. Those savings levels are achievable in almost any building I've been in in my life, it's just a matter of figuring out how to make it happen, and putting it in place.

"We have a long way to go on energy efficiency, and the challenge I see is that it's not sexy, it's not visible. We don't want to the meters, we don't show you that yesterday the building did a good job or not so great a job. That's the kind of stuff that makes efficiency visible. If we made it a little more sexy, and more visible, we could get a little more traction."

Schneider Electric's Widdowson echoed Davenport's point, saying that his company sees the same kinds of savings possible -- and the same challenges to making efficiency visible -- in almost every building they approach, new or old.

Although there is a long way to go in building energy efficiency to levels where real impacts will be felt around the world, all the session's panelists had some optimism about making progress.

Bartlett explained that the technology is out in the world today to build the building of the future, and that IBM and other companies are creating dashboards that give easy visibility to events in smart buildings that would otherwise be lost in a data storm. "The technology is there, it's just a matter of applying it."

And Nesler said: "There's a lot of people still around the world looking at monthly utility bills. I mean, we [JCI] are in the business, and we're just installing meters now. We've even got one of the companies that makes the meters and they're just installing the meters now. So there's a large base of building owners around the world and in the U.S. that aren't taking advantage of this. They get the bill, someone pays it, and someone might look at it. There's a tremendous opportunity here."

Photos by Goodwin Ogbuehi