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Where is Energy-Efficient Construction Headed?

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These days, the topic of global energy consumption is frequently on the minds of builders and other industry leaders. As the world’s population continues to rise, greater and greater demands are being put on electricity grids around the globe. Construction is an industry making a considerable impact on the drive to integrate renewable energy into projects, it’s also profitable as more new buildings than ever are being done with energy efficiency in mind and demand is soaring.

According to Fortune, 18% of all US electricity was generated by alternative sources like wind, solar and hydroelectric in 2017, a 15% increase over 2016. As the cost of solar and wind power generation systems continue their decline, more such projects are popping up, creating a boom time for employment in those industries. Fortune reports that approximately 62% of new power construction projects last year were solar- and wind-based.

The ultimate goal in energy-efficient construction is so-called net-zero buildings. 

Construction is underway in Queensland, Australia on a $125 million Kennedy Park Energy hybrid wind/solar storage plant, which will be connected to the national grid when construction is completed later this year, spearheaded by Australian developer Windlab.

“This is an industry first that will produce and feed clean renewable energy into the grid with much greater consistency and reliability from a combination of solar, wind and battery storage. It’s also an important and valuable demonstration of how renewable energy can be used to cost-effectively meet most network demand for power – day and night,” Roger Price, Executive Chairman and Chief Executive of Windlab told Energy Storage News.

The ultimate goal in energy-efficient construction is so-called net-zero buildings. That is buildings that generate enough electricity on their own to entirely cover their energy needs. This is achieved by outfitting roofs and even facades and windows with photovoltaic solar cells, thin, unobtrusive solar collection panels that can even be made transparent, collecting energy and feeding it into on-site storage systems or directly into the power grid. The CIS Tower in Manchester, England uses such technology, which generates 180,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, coupled with 24 wind turbines that produce nearly a tenth of its required energy, according to the European Patent Office.

Renewable energy pioneer, Tesla has developed glass solar tiles indistinguishable from regular roof shingles and promise to outlast their non-solar counterparts, a far cry from the previous generation of home-based rooftop solar collection technology requiring large, clearly visible installations. The tiles are available in a variety of styles and finishes, designed to complement any home. Tesla founder Elon Musk has long championed the technology and urged greater usage of solar in the United States.

“If you wanted to power the entire U.S. with solar panels it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada, Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels,” Musk said at the National Governors Association Summer meeting last July.

Over time, the upfront investment of wind or solar collection systems can reduce the long-term cost of building maintenance. 

Over time, the upfront investment of wind or solar collection systems can reduce the long-term cost of building maintenance. Corporate headquarters, universities, housing developments and manufacturing plants are among some of the buildings including large-scale solar and wind collection in their designs, Christopher Alt, principal and technical leader of Studio Ma, a Phoenix-based architectural and design firm, told Construction Dive.

“The incremental costs of the renewable energy systems may be offset by the reduced operational costs, especially for long-term building owners,” he said.

Renewable energy sources being integrated into building projects of all sizes have moved beyond the trend phase and into the mainstream. As materials costs continue to decline and the demand for energy-efficient construction continues to rise, expect more homes, offices and other building types to be outfitted with their own versions of the technology.

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