COP21, One Month Later: Tech Innovations for Buildings and Cities

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By Dan Probst

The COP21 agreement, signed one month ago today, is great news for building technology innovators and their customers. The consensus is that the global agreement will accelerate research, development and investment in green technology and sustainability gains for a range of sectors, including commercial property.

The landmark climate change conference in Paris included the launch of the first Buildings Day on Dec. 3 and the launch of a new Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, an initiative designed to spur widespread adoption of today’s best policies and most efficient building materials, designs and technologies around the world.

The implications were obvious to anyone who toured The Gallery, a three-day COP21 showcase for new technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the real estate, industrial and transportation sectors. Clearly, private investment in clean energy and other core sectors in terms of both infrastructure and related technologies will continue to be absolutely essential to meeting global 2030 ambitions. The exhibition included a long roster of companies in the building and construction sectors.

One product that caught my eye is a packaged unit that maintains a continuous supply of electricity from intermittent renewable sources (such as wind and solar) though a combination of batteries and a hydrogen fuel cell. Other interesting finds involved using tree leaves to harness wind power, a turnkey solar building and new kinds of building insulation. Other technologies on display include new smart-building and smart-city technologies, advanced lighting controls, and solar power integrated into roofing materials, windows and curtain walls.

During the exhibition, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said that innovation and new technology advancements enabled countries to come to Paris with strong commitments for emission reductions that were inconceivable just a few years ago. Recognition of the role that technology and innovation can play has also led to investment commitments from Bill Gates and others.

These commitments rolled in, despite estimates from the U.N. Environmental Program that the annual corporate cost of climate adaptation will be in $150 billion to $300 billion range by 2030. In fact, the role of business in combatting climate change was undeniable at COP21.

For instance, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry characterized COP21 in Paris as “the most extraordinary market opportunity in our history that will stimulate huge investments in clean energy technology.” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, pointed out that renewable energy is quickly becoming a viable alternative, with 50 percent of all of new power capacity added globally in the past year coming from renewable energy. He also observed that energy efficiency is part of the solution, a particularly relevant point for buildings — and corporations seeking to reduce costs.

Buildings are only part of the solution, of course, but improving building energy efficiency and access to renewable energy will make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The hope is that the COP21 agreement will spark continued investment in building technologies to further this goal.

Image credit: Flickr/COP21

Dan Probst is Global Chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services at JLL. In this role, Probst and his team develop and deliver products and services that help clients reduce energy costs and their real estate-related environmental footprints through innovative portfolio and occupancy strategies, workplace standards, and operating practices. Probst is a founding and current member of JLL’s Global Environmental Sustainability Board.

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