Cleanweb and the City: Connecting the Built Environment and Mobility to Enable Resilience

Will Van Eaton

Thumbnail_Cleanweb and the City 2Last month, Cleantech Group hosted our second annual Cleanweb and the City Executive Summit in New York City along with our Anchor Partner NYSERDA. Together we assembled a leading group of entrepreneurs, corporates, investors, and government agencies to explore how a city’s major challenges can be addressed through emerging cleanweb business models, and what barriers need to be broken to reach scale.

Cleanweb is a broad concept, but can generally be summarized as the convergence of data, analytics, connectivity, and resource sharing that address energy and resource challenges. Within that context, the Summit explored several key themes, including the built environment, resiliency and reliability, and urban mobility. Each presents interesting opportunities and challenges, and our Summit was focused on actionable insight from each:

The built environment can be improved across the value chain of design, operational efficiency, and behavior, and for existing buildings – the focus in a metropolis like NYC –  the opportunities are focused in the latter two dimensions. Traditional building management systems are no longer enough to meet building occupants’ and operators’ nuanced needs to manage energy in the context of comfort, productivity, and other building performance metrics. Some companies, like Building Robotics, are developing building management solutions driven by sensor networks and associated data analytics that will soon take center stage as they better address and augment occupant behavior and bridge the gap in addressing these softer metrics. Of course, real estate is a financial game; to build a marketplace around these evolving metrics, building owners, operators, and financiers will need to align on valuation systems that reward better holistic performance and provide a standardized platform for driving building innovation investment decisions.

Resiliency and reliability are concepts that have only recently been put in the spotlight in New York City, which is still recovering in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. A major challenge standing in the way of progress is the difficulty in sending good price signals for resiliency to the market and in compensating utilities for reliability. Third-party ownership of and service offerings for distributed generation assets, such as Exelon financing Bloom Energy fuel cells in a “power as a service” model for on-site generation for commercial customers, can help put a price on resiliency while rewarding the utilities. A significant opportunity exists in making more data available, increasing communications throughout the grid, and using that data and communications to better deploy these assets where they will have the highest impact on the overall reliability of the grid. To that end, Exelon is targeting some of the largest consumers to target peak demand.

Urban mobility has been drastically changed by the scaling of car sharing services, but there is still opportunity for improving convenience and usability, and for developing platforms that elegantly address the entire journey from door to door. Additionally, we will likely continue to see a more application- or user-specific segmentation of services that are designed for specific end-uses in mind (such as Bandwagon for traveling to airports, and Shuddle for parents and children). Better data and connectivity throughout a journey and across multiple methods of transportation will help compare the true cost of different services across metrics such as convenience and environmental impact.

Data, connectivity, and access to the cloud will continue to shape the future of cleantech and drive sustainability and resource efficiency in urban spaces. Join us for our Buildings Get a Brain event in January to continue the dialogue surrounding efficiency in the built environment, and stay tuned for updates on our Cleantech Forum San Francisco, which will focus on cleantech as a service.

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