Thoughts On Building Science, The Grid, & Society
By Kristof Irwin & Michael Walker
A Starting Place
The traditional building science perspective sees all aspects of a building or home as as system of coupled systems - namely the coupling or interaction of the enclosure system and the mechanical system. These systems interact with one another in such a way that complimentary or integrated result that is either positive or negative. If it's good, we call it positive and it means that the building itself, whether a home or commercial building, is good for the occupants - it's healthy and comfortable.
This is absolutely a good approach to building science and can certainly stand on its own to affect a very positive societal change. It reduces the discomfort people feel in their homes. It reduces the waste that buildings ultimately produce. It lends itself to better building practices and creates durable, lasting structures.
But There's Got To Be More To This Picture
The macro view of building science also looks in the other direction. Collectively, buildings and grid infrastructures form the largest integrated, system on the planet, impacting our daily lives in every way. Changes on the grid side are accelerating rapidly. Note the recent Tesla Powerwall battery release. This is just a single, influential company that is helping consumers understand that - yes, it's absolutely possible to change the way you receive/use energy in your home. And really, the Tesla battery release is a small blip to the regulatory and business-model innovations already occurring.
This particular piece of the battery storage narrative is just an easy-to-understand piece of the puzzle. Federal and state regulation and statues move the world. But it does give us a key-shape to unlocking the huge potential for energy savings in the building side represents a potent enabling technology for the clean energy economy and a future that actually deals with pollution, famine, drought, war and poverty. These are all in some way fueled by energy and resource scarcity (1).
We do not need to rely on climate change to find a good reason to pay attention to energy efficiency and high performance buildings! The need clearly expresses itself in an explicit, human way every single day. You just have to know where to look.
Let's Talk About The Grid
There are a lot of questions in hot debate around the role of the grid in our lives and society. It's currently a massive industry that is heavily reliant on petroleum, coal, etc.
What else is possible though? Is grid defection inevitable? Will micro-grids and commercial defection to CHP and Renewables/Storage be the first steps? Could be that we are seeing the clouds gathering for a utility death spiral? Or will the consumer benefits of integrated grid technologies provide stimulus for a reinvented grid?
These are big questions coming at a pivotal time.
Two trillion dollars of grid investment are needed to simply update aging equipment and these costs are coming at times of unpredictable, possibly declining revenues for utilities. The business case for central generation, transmission and vertically integrated utilities is declining due to load losses while solar and storage numbers become compelling. With new storage capabilities and ever decreasing PV costs, it's not unreasonably expensive to install solar systems on your home any longer.
The folks at Greentech Media (2) have been talking about this change and when you think about it, the notion seems both logical and inevitable. There are economic studies (3) that show it's more than just a "green washed" driven trend. It's got real economic potential to empower homeowners to save money and participate in a global energy revolution. And it's going to change the way we all live.
So What's Going To Happen?
Well, that's a misleading question. These changes are not issues of debate that may or may not occur in the distant future. They are already underway, with inexorable impacts for us all. This is one of the most exciting societal transitions and industries to watch - aside from the ever evolving high tech industry. When we think about the place we're leaving behind for our children, our legacy will be determined by the kind of thought we put into using, sustaining, and preserving our planet.
Since we all need places to live and we can clearly see that these places don't have to produce harmful waste, it's so clear to us at Positive Energy that we are here to facilitate this transition. It's no longer an acceptable excuse to claim ignorance or cite industry blockages. The information is out there and the industry is changing. We couldn't be more excited to be a part of it.
(1) "If [we] invest resources in a smart, practical, and sensible way -- fighting disease, unsafe water, lack of access to electricity and the like -- the MDGs are still achievable around the world." -Jeffrey Sachs