Pushing Green Building and Smart Grid Innovation

Pushing Green Building and Smart Grid Innovation

Spare theme, anyone got a theme to spare. Sadly, everyone was out of pocket in the theme department, so you-all will have to suffer from a straight-up synopsis of this lineup of recent coverage.

We'll start with a new $200 million challenge fund, half of which was put up by GE, with the balance by four venture capital firms, seeking the best new ideas for the smart grid.

Although the term means many things to many people, it appears that this consortium is taking a very catholic approach by hanging out six prizes -- five $100,000 prizes, plus investment, for the best ideas picked by an expert panel, as well as a "people's choice" prize of $50,000 for the idea that receives the most online votes. The challenge fund is focusing on three categories: Create-Renewable Energy; Connect-Grid Efficiency; Use-Eco Homes/Eco Buildings.

We also have a couple of healthcare related pieces, one from Nick Fassler, one of EDF's 50 Climate Corps fellows, who is working with HCA Healthcare to reduce energy use in their 160 hospitals and 100 surgical centers. Given that healthcare is about two-and-a-half times more energy intensive than the commercial sector in general, I'd hate to see their energy bill.

HCA has already identified measures to reduce its annual energy bill by nearly $5 million and, as a new report from Johnson Controls indicates, the firm is not alone in its efforts to save energy. Johnson Control's Institute for Building Efficiency found that nearly 60 percent of decision makers in healthcare said energy efficiency is very important to their organization, compared with just over half the respondents responsible for other types of buildings. In addition, more healthcare facilities are intending to make investments in energy efficiency over the next 12 months compared with other industries.

What do the General Services Administration and the government of Wales and the city of Las Vegas have in common? Though I'm sure there's a devastatingly funny joke in there somewhere, the answer is that all of them are looking to buildings as a major source of greenhouse gas reductions.

It's no surprise to readers of GreenerBuildings.com that GSA is a long-standing leader in the green and efficiency space, and its likely to be even more so since it received about $5.5 billion in Recovery Act funds to green its buildings. Adding to its procurement clout, GSA also will be incentivizing the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from its suppliers, which will have significant ripple effects throughout the supply chain.

Meanwhile, Wales will begin flexing its newfound regulatory muscle in the buildings sector by adopting new green building standards expected to take effect by 2013. Hard to believe it took so long to get to that place.

Finally, Las Vegas has a three-pronged approach for reducing its carbon footprint in city operations, implementing a 30 percent increase in building code stringency in its 2011 code compared with the 2008 code and a solar rebate program and other community-oriented activities.

The Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you-said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to Kraft Foods for its stellar efforts to reduce waste at its food processing factories. Kraft originally set a 15 percent waste reduction target for 2011, but has found ways already to reduce its waste by 30 percent. Innovative ideas being used include the use of left-over biomass, such as whey from cheese making, to create biogas that's used to supply heat for processes and the plant. Source separation has increased across its manufacturing plants and non-recyclable materials are often supplied to waste-to-energy plants.

Rob Watson is the executive editor of GreenerBuildings.com. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kilrwat.

Image -- The
EPA's Region 8 headquarters in Denver, Colo., certified to LEED-Gold standards for new construction (LEED-NC, 2.1). Courtesy of Zimmer, Gunsul, Frasca Architects LLP.