Smart City Tech Is Being Built Into Planned Communities

Planned development communities like New Haven in Ontario, Calif., are highlighting urban technology applications and features as signature amenities as consumer expectations reach well beyond standard pools and parks.

A gita robot delivery cart follows a pedestrian in a planned development community known as New Haven in Ontario, Calif.  Submitted Photo: Brookfield Residential


Robot carts and drone deliveries are just some of the baubles planned development communities are dangling as the sort of high-tech amenities residents are not only welcoming but expecting.

“Amenities isn’t just what we think of traditionally, in the vein of swimming pools, parks and playgrounds. It also includes technology,” said Caitlyn Lai-Valenti, residential senior director of sales and marketing at Brookfield Residential.  “It includes retail, and the walkability component for our residents as well.”

Brookfield is the developer behind New Haven, a master-planned community in Ontario, Calif., boasting hundreds of homes, along with retail and commercial space.  More than 350 homes in the community were sold in 2020 alone.

Some of the smart city technologies being made available to residents include drone delivery by DroneUp, ferrying goods from the New Haven Marketplace — a new retail area — to resident homes.  New Haven will also feature “robot carts” by gita, a self-operating enclosed cart about the size of a wheelbarrow, that can follow pedestrians with groceries or other items. Residents can also hop on a three-wheeled electric scooter by Clevr Scooters.

New Haven, which is part of the larger Ontario Ranch, was developed as a “gigabit community,” offering super high-speed broadband to support any number of smart city applications as well as the increasing work-from-anywhere trends following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move to build in high-speed communications infrastructure is similar to other developments like National Landing, another planned community to be developed in the Washington, D.C., metro region.  National Landing is being developed in partnership with AT&T with 5G to support next-gen smart city technologies.

“To achieve the experiences of tomorrow, a strong, consistent, robust and secure network must be in place so that innovators know how their applications can interact today and how they can expand over time,” said Shiraz Hasan, vice president for AT&T Partner Exchange and Ecosystem Innovation.

National Landing is viewed “as a canvas for smart city innovation,” Hasan added.  “We believe a network like what we plan to deploy will improve experiences in everything we do with commercial business, government, retail, transportation and so on.”

“The opportunities could become endless in terms of expanding the experiences,” said Hasan.

Other planned development communities like Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla., are also partnering with urban technology companies to test and deploy systems to improve transportation and other aspects of living in the communities.  In addition to exploring technology related to traffic management, The Orlando Utilities Commission, Tavistock Lake Nona and Hitachi have jointly applied for a U.S. Department of Energy grant to explore energy load balancing at the building.

“So it’s not taking each of the individual energy sources and saying, how can you manage the load?  How can you balance the load between solar and photovoltaic and wind, and traditional? Yes that’s important,” said Dean Bushey, vice president for global social innovation business at Hitachi, in an interview with Government Technology in early June.

Homes in the New Haven community in California are all built with myTime and myCommand smart home services, which interface with smart home platforms from Amazon, Google or Apple.  The community also features ENE HUB (pronounced “any hub”), which are multi-functional streetlights equipped with USB charging ports, environmental sensors, Wi-Fi, wayfinding and more.

“So it really kind of provides a lot of different uses in the space,” said Lai-Valenti.

Brookfield includes an “innovation hub,” which is an internal team dedicated to researching and testing the various smart city technologies launched in the communities.

“We have a new technology group that’s always looking at all these different pieces,” said Lai-Valenti.

Developers behind the National Landing project in Washington see the community as a form of “living lab” where urban technologies can be tested and deployed and is “part of our evolving strategy to truly enable the use cases of tomorrow,” said Hasan.


Published in Government Technology

Author:  Skip Descant

Global Internet Energy Usage

Power Consumption that Supports our On-Line Habits

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 but given the fact that in 1990 only half a percent of the world’s population was online, the world on the web has grown astronomically.

By 2000, nearly half of the population in the United States were using the internet to gain information, but the majority of the world still had very little or no access to the internet.  According to Our World in Data, 93% in the East Asia and Pacific region had zero online access, alongside 99% in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2016, 76% of the US population were online, which seems quite a low figure when looking at the percentage of other country’s populations that were online around this time:

  • Malaysia 79%
  • Spain and Singapore 81%
  • France 86%
  • South Korea and Japan 93%
  • Denmark and Norway 97%
  • Iceland 98%

While online development saw rapid progress in these countries from 2000 to 2016, there are still some countries in the world where virtually nothing has changed since 1990.  In countries such as Somalia, Eritrea, Niger and Madagascar, fewer than 5% of the population are online.

But still, the growth of access is rapidly increasing across the world, with a remarkable 640,000 new users appearing online for the first time on any given day over the last 5 years – this works out as 27,000 new users every hour.

 Online habits and its energy consumption

Having gained an insight into the availability of the internet throughout the world, it’s now time to look at what it’s most frequently used for.

It’s of no surprise that just over half of all worldwide internet traffic (50.3%) generated in 2020 was done so using mobile phones – which is slightly lower than both 2018 and 2019, which saw 52.2% and 53.3% mobile traffic share respectively.  This slight dip is thought to be due to the coronavirus pandemic, with more people working from home and most likely using desktops or laptops more so than mobile phones to access things such as email apps.

Daily time spent with the internet by device per capita is still heavily in the mobile phone’s favor, however, with Statista reporting that the average person spends 155 minutes on their phone daily, compared to just 37 minutes on a desktop computer.

Social media

It’s of no surprise that more than half of the world (4.66 billion) uses social media.  It’s probably fair to say that if the necessary devices and the internet are available within a location, its population will use some form of social media.

As of January 2021, Facebook tops the charts with 2.74 billion users, followed by YouTube with 2.29 billion users and Facebook Messenger with 1.3 billion.  Instagram had 1.22 billion users at the start of 2021, and Chinese messaging platform WeChat was the fifth most popular form of social media with 1.2 billion users.

It’s not just the power we as consumers use to run our devices, but the power-hungry data centers used behind the scenes to power our favorite “scroller” sites.

Take Facebook, for example.  The company’s electricity usage has soared significantly in the last ten years. In 2011, it was taking 532GWh (gigawatt hours) to power the world’s most popular social media site.  By 2019, Facebook was using a colossal 5140GWh (5.1 terawatt hours).

What’s the energy consumption of other social media giants?

  • Each tweet on Twitter emits 02 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere
  • There are 50 million tweets sent on average per day, which means there is 1 metric ton of CO2 released daily
  • A billion hours watched on YouTube produces 11.13 million tons of carbon dioxide
  • Using Facebook daily for a whole year uses the same amount of CO2 as drinking one barista-made latte.


We’re not talking about the internet use of people selling and buying various cryptocurrencies online, but rather the internet power it takes to mine the cryptocurrencies.

But what exactly is crypto mining?  “Mining” for cryptocurrency is extremely energy-consuming, as it involves optimized computers running constantly to crack calculations to verify transactions.

A BBC News article published in February 2021 stated that the collective energy consumption worldwide for mining cryptocurrencies exceeded the annual electricity usage of the whole of Argentina, according to analysis done by Cambridge University.  Researchers said crypto mining consumes an estimated amount of 121.36 terawatt-hours of electricity a year, and will only increase the more cryptocurrencies increase in value.

With the rising value in cryptocurrencies, it’s not just the newcomers that will further increase electricity usage, but the ones who are already mining.  As the value goes up, nothing is stopping current miners from rigging up more machines to mine crypto, creating some kind of crypto-mining farm in their own homes and fully taking advantage of the crypto surge that seems to be dominating the internet.

Other facts and statistics about cryptocurrency’s energy consumption:

  • Bitcoin consumes around 110TWh per year which is 0.55% of global energy consumption
  • The CCAF (Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance) reckons 39% of Bitcoin’s energy consumption is carbon neutral, as of 2020
  • China is responsible for 10% of global Bitcoin mining in the dry season and 50% in the wet season.

Cloud computing

The world is quickly transitioning to cloud storage, with the share of all data being stored on the cloud growing exponentially over the last five years.

The share of corporate data from organizations around the world in 2015 stood at 30%, which grew by 20% to 50% in just five years with the aim to improve both reliability and security.

While data centers around the world are required to power the cloud computing we take for granted, Pike Research, a clean technology market intelligence firm, suggests cloud computing could actually lead to a huge reduction in the world’s energy usage.

Pike estimates cloud storage growth will decrease energy “from the current rate of 201.8 terawatt hours to a 2020 rate of 139.8 TWh, resulting in a 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the next five years.”

While cloud-computing facilities still consume a colossal amount of power, they provide the service for many different customers, compared to enterprise data centers that are built, owned and operated by companies and are optimized solely for their end users – most often housed on the premise of the company itself.


Published in Energy Helpline, July 25, 2021

Elisha Adams, Consultant | Researcher, Digital Content & Media

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Climate Change and Architecture: Self-Cooled Buildings Lower Temps

Around the world, climate change and architecture are turning cities into ovens.  Higher-than-average temperatures — combined with heat-absorbing infrastructure such as concrete, asphalt, steel and glass — can cause a dangerous phenomenon called the heat island effect. Using air conditioning only exacerbates the problem.  From Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Zeehan, Western Australia, urban areas record summertime temperatures that are 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (oF) hotter than the surrounding countryside.  As global temperatures continue to rise, tens of thousands of people could die each year from heat-related causes alone, according to the World Health Organization.


Fortunately, the future of architecture is taking on a cool change.  Dozens of innovative building and urban designs, many of which take their cues from ancient civilizations and biological systems, are reaching maturity — and they could help keep local temperatures down while using less energy overall.  From passive techniques that capitalize on shade and evaporative cooling to creative innovations inspired by insects, sources of creativity seem endless.

Climate Change and Architecture

Reducing the urban heat island effect starts with cooling individual buildings.  Air conditioners may seem like an easy solution, but these relatively small appliances consume tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity globally.  Researchers estimate that by 2050, more than 4.5 billion AC units will be in use, eating up 13% of the world’s electricity and producing 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, reports The Guardian.  Employing passive cooling techniques could keep buildings comfortable without a heavy carbon footprint.

In India, architects Manit Rastogi and Sonali Rastogi, who founded the firm Morphogenesis, have demonstrated an intriguing model that draws from the past.  For the Pearl Academy of Fashion headquarters in Jaipur, a city of 3 million in northwest India, the architects used centuries-old architectural techniques to keep this modern building cool, reports Treehugger.  They clad the exterior in a lattice screen set 4 feet away from the exterior wall.  The outside layer, reminiscent of a traditional jaali, acts as a thermal buffer.  Architects designed the building to be raised above a vast pool of water.  The pool was inspired by ancient stepwells that date back to between 200 and 400 A.D.  It acts as a thermal sink and provides evaporative cooling to the structure above.  Together, these techniques keep the academy 20 oF cooler than the outside air.

Bio-Inspired Design

Most people look upon termites with scorn.  These insects are known for burrowing into wood and eating homes from the inside out.  But termites are accomplished engineers.  In the sweltering deserts of Africa, Australia and South America, colonies build giant, naturally cooled towers of mud that, when dry, maintain a comfortable temperature inside, even when it’s well over 100 oF outside.

Zimbabwean architect Mick Pearce took inspiration from these crafty critters, reports National Geographic.  He found that termite towers, usually between 20 and 40 feet tall, are all built with a skinny, boat-shaped footprint that narrows at the top.  These structures always face north-to-south, which exposes the widest part to the sun during the coolness of dawn and dusk and shows little surface to the sun when it’s overhead.  Strategically placed pores and a chimney-like structure allow air to pass up from the cool depths, venting warm air out the top.

Pearce borrowed from the termites when designing a building called Eastgate in Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare.  It’s made from brick and concrete — materials that can absorb a lot of the sun’s heat without rising much in temperature.  Exterior grooves along with hundreds of small rectangular shapes greatly increase the surface area, which reduces the building’s ability to retain daytime heat and improves its ability to quickly shed heat at night.  Airways at the base of the structure pull in cool air and circulate it upward through the building, where it warms and then vents through chimneys.  Temperatures inside the building hover around 82 oF during the day, no matter what the thermometer says outside, and drop to 57 oF at night.  Pearce has employed biomimicry architecture for several other buildings and continues to improve on his designs.

Cooling Urban Streets

Reducing the heat of individual buildings is a step in the right direction.  Coupled with innovations in street design, urban architecture can transform a concrete jungle into a cool oasis.  Recently, Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates and one of the hottest cities on the planet, sponsored a global design competition encouraging creative ideas that could counter the urban heat island effect.  More than 300 entries submitted from teams in 67 different countries offered cooling solutions for a city where summertime temperatures regularly exceed 100 oF for extended periods of time.  Ten winning entries, announced in October 2020, each received $10,000 in prize money.

Their results were stunning, reports Arch Daily.  A palm tree-inspired concept titled “The Oasys” combines structures shaped like 30-foot palm leaves with real trees.  The towering leaves provide shade and are also solar powered to run misters for pedestrians and landscaping below.  A proposal, titled “Sa’af Al-Nakheel,” envisions a multilayered courtyard featuring gardens, canopies and vertical walls interwoven with dried palm fronds to produce a dappled shade.  The misters would also keep things comfortable through evaporative cooling.  “Circadian Clouds” imagines a large, airborne shade structure that floats overhead.  Made of dozens of individual geodesic globes, each would reflect sunlight by day, illuminate the space at night and together become a public art element.

But climate change and architecture can come together in less whimsical ways.  Yale Environment 360 points to the many efforts around the world increasing the reflectivity of rooftops by painting them white or incorporating reflective materials into roofing materials.  A new kind of coating developed by researchers at Columbia University contains tiny pores that reflect 96%-99% of all wavelengths of sunlight and, when applied to the exterior of buildings, cools them down, reports Smithsonian Magazine.  Even a solution as simple as covering a building with ivy can lower local temperatures and relative humidity, according to House Beautiful.

In a world faced with the inevitable rise of global temperatures, the future of architecture demands innovations to cool cities.  Looking to the past nature and to solutions already found in nature could give architects the tools and inspiration they need to turn down the heat.


Author: Tracy Staedter

Published in NOW magazine – Northrop Grumman, July 2021

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Flower power: How One Company is Beautifying the Wind Turbine

Tulip-shaped ‘eco-art’ turbines address common complaints about noise, danger to wildlife and ugliness

Flower Turbines designed a product that’s suitable for built-up areas.

Photograph: Jan de Groen

Tulips and flowers could help harness the power of the wind, after a green energy company came up with its own spin on wind power in an “eco-art” design.

Flower Turbines, based in the US and the Netherlands, has installations across Rotterdam, Amsterdam, parts of Germany, Israel and Colombia.  The company aims to democratize green energy for everyone and make small windfarms a leading player in the green energy industry.

The turbines pose no danger to birds and other wildlife, particularly in urban settings, the company claims, and they create noise at a low frequency undetectable to humans.

Opponents of windfarms often cite noise concerns along with aesthetic complaints.  Dr Daniel Farb, the CEO of Flower Turbines, hopes to have solved this problem with an “eco-art” design.

“Big turbines are very efficient, but for some people they’re an eyesore,” he said.  “They definitely produce noise, flicker and some degree of environmental degradation.  I was looking for a way to solve these problems, to make wind energy available for everybody.

The turbines create noise at a low sound level that is undetectable to humans. Photograph: c/o

“I felt that there had to be a missing solution that would work for the combination of houses, large buildings, the environment – close to people.  In other words, how could you make something that could be quiet but also efficient?”

The company has also looked into expanding into e-mobility, creating wind- and solar-powered electric bicycle charging stations.

Roy Osinga, the European director of Flower Turbines, said: “Our product – compared to big windmills – is silent, and good-looking, which makes it very successful for building in cities, because nobody wants to live next to a turbine which is up to 200 meters high making a lot of noise.

“Solar power doesn’t perform that well at night, or during the winter.  The turbines that we are delivering are a good match with solar energy, because wind and solar have natural opposite panel patterns when they produce energy.

“We are not a competitor or an alternative for the big energy companies.  We are a solution provider for companies and corporations that really want to pivot their business towards sustainability.”

Europe is working towards becoming climate-neutral by 2050.

In the UK, most of the offshore workforce, including in wind power, could be involved in delivering low-carbon energy by 2030.


Author: Rhi Storer, the Guardian

Maxeon signs deal for 1 GW of modules for $1 billion solar project

Burns & McDonnell completes work on a 50 MW solar project for CenterPoint Energy, Fourth Wave to spin off its GeoSolar Tech unit, and Sunwealth secures financing for its LMI solar expansion.

photo courtesy of Burns & McDonnell


Maxeon Solar Technologies said it will supply around 1 GW of its bifacial Performance 5 UPP solar panels for the $1 billion Gemini solar plus storage power plant project approximately 33 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada.  The project is being built and will be owned and operated by Primergy Solar.

The agreement calls for nearly 1.8 million modules to be supplied over a four-quarter period starting in the second quarter of 2022; project completion is planned by the end of 2023.

The Gemini Project is a 690 MWac solar photovoltaic plus a 380 MW/1,400 MWh battery energy storage project.

The Gemini project will be one of the largest operational solar power system in the U.S. when completed.  It is expected to provide a foundation to support the start-up and initial operation of Maxeon’s new Performance line module capacity for the U.S. solar power market.  Using large-format G12 mono-PERC solar cells manufactured in Malaysia, and module assembly in Mexicali, Mexico, this project is expected to take a significant portion of the expected output of Maxeon’s new capacity during the first year of operation.

Burns & McDonnell completes Indiana project

EPC firm Burns & McDonnell said it recently completed construction of CenterPoint Energy’s 50 MW utility-scale solar project near the Ohio River in southern Indiana.

The Troy Solar power plant uses First Solar 440-W thin-film photovoltaic modules and consists of approximately 150,000 solar panels distributed across 300 acres. Modules are mounted on a NEXTracker single-axis tracker enabling the modules to track with the sun to maximize energy generation.

Burns & McDonnell was hired after the project’s first engineer-procure-construct (EPC) contractor exited the market. The company provided engineering, detailed electrical, civil and structural design, procurement specifications, and construction execution services.

GeoSolar spin off

Fourth Wave Energy said that GeoSolar Technologies filed a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with the spin-off of GST from Fourth Wave. Following the spin-off, GST and Fourth Wave will be two separate and independent public companies.

As part of the spin-off agreement, GST received all commercial rights to the GeoSolar Plus technology and patents in exchange for the issuance of around one share of GST common stock for each outstanding common share of Fourth Wave.

The GeoSolar Plus system is designed to reduce energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions in residences and commercial buildings. It is made up of a number of components including solar/PV and geothermal and is designed to produce more energy than it produces with no carbon.



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Scientists gain an atom-level view into Perovskite cell efficiency

Using Department of Energy laboratories, scientists learned at the atomic level that a liquid-like motion in perovskites may explain how they efficiently produce electric currents.

A team of scientists studied the inner workings of a perovskite material to better understand the material’s behavior at the atomic scale.  Their work revealed that a liquid-like motion in perovskites may explain how they efficiently produce electric currents.  A perovskite solar cell is one type of solar cell.  Solar cell efficiencies of devices using these materials have increased from 3.8% in 2009 to 25.5% in 2020 in single-junction architectures, and, in silicon-based tandem cells, to 29.15%, exceeding the maximum efficiency achieved in single-junction silicon solar cells.  Perovskite solar cells are the fastest-advancing solar technology as of 2016.  Perovskite solar cells have become commercially attractive because of the higher efficiencies and relatively low production costs.

The scientists explained that when light hits a photovoltaic material, it excites electrons, prompting them to “pop out” of their atoms and move through the material, conducting electricity.  One problem is that the excited electrons can recombine with the atoms instead of traveling through the material.  This can cut the amount of electricity produced relative to the amount of sunlight that hits the material.

Perovskites do well at preventing this recombination, the scientists said.  Their work aimed to uncover what mechanism causes this and how more efficient solar cells can be developed.

Duke University led the effort that included scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The team studied one of the simplest perovskites, a compound of cesium, lead and bromine (CsPbBr3).  They then used X-ray scattering capabilities at Argonne’s Magnetic Materials group’s beamline.

The team captured the average positions of the atoms in a perovskite crystal at different temperatures.  They found that each lead atom and its surrounding cage of bromine atoms formed rigid units that behaved like molecules.  In particular, the units oscillated in a liquid-like manner.

One theory to explain how perovskites resist recombination is that these distortions in the lattice, or crystal structure, followed the free electrons as they traversed the material.  The electrons might deform the lattice, causing the liquid-like disturbances, which prevented them from falling back into their host atoms.  The researchers said this theory may offer new insights into how to design optimal perovskite materials for solar cells.

The data also indicated that molecules in the material oscillated within two-dimensional planes, with no motion across planes.  This two-dimensional nature could also help explain how the perovskite can prevent electron recombination, contributing to the materials’ efficiency.

To investigate the motion of the atoms directly, the team used neutron scattering capabilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  Neutron scattering confirmed the pattern seen in the X-ray scattering experiment.  It also showed that it took almost no energy for the molecules to oscillate in two dimensions. The researchers said this helps to explain why the excited electrons could deform the lattice so easily.

A paper on the study, “Two-dimensional overdamped fluctuations of the soft perovskite lattice in CsPbBr3,” was published in Nature Materials in March.  Computational studies to support the experiment were performed at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Berkeley National Laboratory.  The research was funded by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Science and Engineering division.

Author:  David Wangan, PV Magazine

Images: Dennis Schroeder/NREL and Duke University

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SMART Competition and the Collaborative Learning

The SMART Competition was originally designed as a team-based program that integrated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and provided a hands-on, career technology based real-world engineering experience (CTE).  The Smart Education Foundation, host of the SMART Competition, has a goal of positively influencing the motivation of students to pursue architecture and engineering careers.  Using professional tools, provided by Bentley Systems, students completing the competition have a set of marketable skills sought after by companies all over the world.

According to Michelene T. H. Chi & Ruth Wylie, researchers at Arizona State University, students learn better from interactive activities where they talk, act, deliberate, and reflect compared with passive and (superficially) active behaviors, such as taking verbatim notes while listening to a lecture.  Asking open-ended questions, peer teaching, and group problem-solving are some of the most effective ways to promote deep learning.  Collaboration also helps students develop interpersonal and teamwork skills, which are key 21st century competencies.

ICAP framework Chi and Wylie explored and findings published in Educational Psychologist, defined the cognitive engagement activities based on students’ overt behaviors and proposes that engagement behaviors can be categorized and differentiated into one of four modes: Interactive, Constructive, Active, and Passive. The ICAP hypothesis predicts that as students become more engaged with the learning materials, from passive to active to constructive to interactive, their learning will increase.

The SMART Competition engages students in each ICAP learning experience: Interactive, Constructive, Active, and Passive.  Student teams download materials, conduct research, learn design tools and methodologies, create facilities and complete real-world simulations as they redesign elements of the campus they are provided.

The SMART Competition encourages students to follow their “academic nose” to develop solutions buried within the SMART acronym:  Sustainable Materials and Renewable Technology.

SMART’s use of Bentley’s OpenBuilding Designer and Energy Simulator software enables teams to use reality modeling methods to address Green Building Design, Energy Conservation, Localized Power Generation, Intelligent Power Distribution, Architecture, Sustainable Technology, Transportation and Electric Vehicles.

The SMART Competition ( is a global STEM and Career and Technology Education (CTE) education program.  The competition is open to all high school and university students.  The competition is designed to attract all students without regard or bias of gender, race, geographic, socio-economic or academic performance level.

For additional information, contact Michael Andrews,

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Transparent Solar Panels

Imagine a world where we could generate electricity using the surface of our windows, smartphones, our car’s sun roof or the glass roof of our office building.  What sounds like a far-away dream, is on its way to become reality thanks to transparent solar panels.

Conventional solar panels, more specifically solar photovoltaic panels, absorb sunlight and convert photons (particles of sunlight) into usable energy.  The difficulty with making transparent solar panels is that the sunlight passes through the transparent material.  This means that the process that generates the electricity in the solar cell cannot be started because no light is absorbed. This article presents two interesting attempts to overcome this obstacle: partially transparent panels and fully transparent panels employing organic salts, detailing the advantages and disadvantages of solar panels of these kinds.

Partially Transparent Solar Panels

Heliatek GmbH, a German company, has developed partially transparent solar panels, which absorb 60% of the sunlight they receive.  The efficiency of these panels is 7.2%, compared to an efficiency of 12% for conventional solar photovoltaic panels of this manufacturer.  The efficiency is reduced because only 60% of the light is absorbed by the panel while the remaining 40% is transmitted through the panel.  Heliatek hereby shows how the solar energy production can be adjusted by adjusting the balance between light transmitted and absorbed.

Office buildings with large south-facing glass areas are already employing tinted glass to reduce the transmitted sunlight.  The partially transparent solar panels have a high commercial potential for situations like these.

Fully Transparent Solar Panels

Although partially transparent solar panels are suitable for the previously mentioned cases, they are not perfectly suitable for clear windows or touchscreens.  A breakthrough achieved by the Michigan State University where scientists produced a fully transparent solar panel that resembles normal glass could however fulfill this need.

The fully transparent solar panel may by definition not absorb visible sunlight.  However, researchers at Michigan State University used organic salts that absorb specific invisible wavelengths of light, such as ultraviolet light.  This light is then transformed and the material of the panel moves it to its edges, where stripes of photovoltaic solar cells convert it into electricity.

The efficiency of the fully transparent solar panels is currently about 1% with an estimated potential of 5%.  Compared to the average efficiency of 15% for conventional solar panels, efficiencies of 5% and 7.2% for the fully and partially transparent panels respectively are still quite low.

However, solar panel efficiency does not mean everything.  In practice it only means that the less efficient panel needs to be larger than the more efficient one in order to produce the same amount of electricity.  As transparent solar panels can be integrated into windows in buildings, it means that the lower efficiency is overcompensated by the potential areas of employment.


article written and published by GreenMatch

Transparent solar cells don’t steal light from greenhouse crops

Advances in transparent solar cells mean that soon we might be able to install them into windows and greenhouses. But in the latter case, would they deprive plants of vital sunlight? To find out, researchers at North Carolina State University grew lettuce under various wavelengths of light and found that the plants did just fine.

Organic solar cells are emerging as a viable system for renewable energy, thanks to a number of advantages. They can be more flexible than other technologies, be made transparent or semi-transparent, and the wavelengths of light they harvest can be adjusted.

In theory, that could make them perfect for embedding into greenhouse roofs. There, these organic solar cells could capture certain wavelengths of light while still allowing some of it to pass through to the plants below.  In a previous study, the NC State team investigated how much energy this kind of setup could produce, and found that it could be enough to make greenhouses energy neutral.

There is one big piece of that puzzle missing – nobody asked the plants how it affected them.  So that was the focus of the new work.

The researchers grew groups of red leaf lettuce in greenhouses for 30 days, which took them up to full maturity. The different groups were all exposed to the same growing conditions, such as temperature, water, fertilizer and CO2 concentration.  The only difference was light.

The lettuces were split into four groups – a control group that received regular white light, and three experimental groups that grew under light passed through different filters. These changed the ratio of red to blue light that they received, to mimic wavelengths that would be blocked by transparent solar cells.

Then the team monitored several markers of plant health, including number and size of leaves, weight, how much CO2 they absorbed and the levels of antioxidants they contained. And perhaps surprisingly, it turns out that the lettuces thrived regardless of what type of light they received.

“Not only did we find no meaningful difference between the control group and the experimental groups, we also didn’t find any significant difference between the different filters,” says Brendan O’Connor, co-corresponding author of the study.

The team says that it’s currently working on testing the effects of blocking different wavelengths of light on other crops, like tomatoes.

The research was published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science.

By Michael Irving

Source: North Carolina State University


Assessing smart buildings in the digital era

By Marta Soncodi, Telecommunications Industry Association and Thomas Blewitt, UL

In the past, most smart or intelligent buildings were designed and built primarily for sustainability, energy efficiency and health, acquiring recognition via programs that focused primarily on criteria like use of renewable energy and green construction materials; amount of greenspace, waste reduction and recycling efforts; and optimization of air quality, thermal comfort and natural daylight. While these criteria remain integral components of a smart building, the evolution of technology and digital transformation have significantly changed what now defines a smart building and how to effectively assess them.

It Takes a Holistic Approach

In today’s smart buildings, Information Communications and Technology (ICT) plays a leading role as emerging 5G, low-latency networking, sensor technologies and IoT applications like data analytics and machine learning all come together to make buildings smarter than ever.  Interoperable building systems and their devices are converging over network infrastructures and communicating with each other via open protocols to enable advanced building automation for increased efficiency, optimized operations and enhanced occupant productivity, safety, security and wellbeing.

In the digital era, smart buildings now have the opportunity to be designed and utilized for benefits not previously realized.  And in light of increasing global security threats and health concerns such as the COVID-19 pandemic, building intelligence is becoming even more critical and required by building owners, tenants and occupants alike.  With this increased demand, the value of smart buildings and ensuing business opportunity reaches across multiple company types and industries—including the entire ICT industry.

However, to truly succeed and create brand differentiation in the booming smart building market via technology that delivers increased efficiency, optimized operations and enhanced building occupant experience, those involved in the investment, planning, design and operation of smart buildings need insights, benchmarks and roadmaps based on accurate, comprehensive and quantitative data that considers the entirety of the building. Acquiring this data can only be done through holistic assessment criteria that focuses on all aspects of what constitutes a smart building in today’s digital world. But what exactly is that criteria and how is it measured?

Through the input of more than 60 leading commercial real estate, asset management, technology and ICT industry leaders, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) in conjunction with UL, the leading global safety science company, has defined the following six criteria that form the basis of the SPIRE™ Smart Building Program for assessing and rating smart buildings:

  • Connectivity
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Life and property safety
  • Power and energy
  • Cybersecurity
  • Sustainability

It’s important to note that not one of these criteria alone make a building smart, but they work together in harmony to provide a complete, balanced assessment methodology that considers the modern-day challenges that come with the increasingly digital world we live in today.  To put it into context, consider that while the use of sensors to monitor potable water usage certainly contributes to sustainability, it is also critical to monitoring the quality of the water for health and wellbeing of building occupants.  This in turn requires reliable connectivity to transmit and share the information from monitoring systems, while enabling integration with other systems that can use that information to optimize power and energy usage. This all creates the need for cybersecurity measures to protect the critical information as it transmits between systems, while the potable water system itself must be protected to ensure both life and property safety. Only when all six criteria are considered together, as part of a holistic transparent, measurable and objective methodology, can today’s smart buildings truly be assessed.

How Criteria is Measured

Let’s take a closer look at how each of the six criteria are measured to acquire the quantitative data needed to provide a comprehensive, reliable and transparent framework that can be used by any organization globally to assess smart buildings and achieve consistent results.


Now dubbed the fourth utility, connectivity has become the most essential utility of a smart building, as crucial as water/sewer, electricity and gas utilities. Without connectivity, it is virtually impossible to optimize all other aspects of a smart building. Comprised of equipment and devices that are linked within a building and to external networks, connectivity enables building systems and applications to transmit, receive and share data. In assessing the capability of a smart building to effectively transmit data between internal systems and with external cloud and service provider networks, while also supporting future smart building technologies and innovations, assessing connectivity is measured based on the following factors:

Media—The type of media deployed withing a smart building is evaluated based on its ability to support current and future bandwidth capabilities, low latency, low-voltage power delivery and wireless coverage. This is determined by looking at the performance and standards compliance of cabling, public and private cellular technology and wireless applications.

Coverage—A smart building infrastructure should provide adequate and ubiquitous coverage by connecting devices and sensors for a range of systems (e.g., voice, data, security, wireless, lighting, building management, etc.) throughout the entire building and its surrounding property. Coverage is measured based on the number of wired data ports, percentage and type of Wi-Fi and cellular coverage, heat mapping and the number of carriers providing cellular coverage and support of e911 service.

Security—A critical aspect of a smart building is its ability to ensure the security of occupants and maintain physical security of the network and its infrastructure. This is determined based on the security of network spaces, devices and points of cable entry/egress, segregation of specific system traffic, client or asset tracking, e911 compliance and backup of security systems and information.

Expansion—Ensuring that connectivity will support ongoing changes to building systems and future expansion can be measured by the capacity and growth potential of pathways, power systems, bandwidth, and cellular and wireless coverage.

Resilience—Smart building connectivity should enable the network to adapt, recover and maintain critical operations in the case of an event. The resilience of connectivity can be measured by the redundancy of power and cabling, maintenance and troubleshooting processes, network interoperability, risk assessment capabilities, disaster recovery, and real-time monitoring, management and preventative maintenance of critical systems.

Health and Wellbeing

With emerging digital health and wellbeing tools, combined with recent COVID-19 concerns and intense competition for engaged and satisfied building occupants, smart buildings today need collaborative, comfortable spaces and indoor environmental quality. Measuring the health and wellbeing of a smart building is based on the following factors:

Indoor Air Quality—Maintaining indoor air quality is based on the ability of building systems to automatically monitor, analyze, control and report on levels of volatile organic compounds, ozone, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

Thermal Management—Maintaining comfortable air temperature and humidity levels is key to occupant wellbeing and can be assessed by the ability of building systems to automatically monitor, analyze, control and report on temperature and humidity, as well as the ability of occupants to control conditions for desired comfort settings.

Visual Comfort/Light and Noise Control—Visual and sound comfort in a smart building can be determined by the ability of building systems to automatically monitor, analyze, control and report on lighting, acoustics and vibration, as well as the ability of occupants to actively control lighting conditions and the use of technologies like automatic shading.

Water Management—Clean drinking water is an expectation within any building and measuring the ability to maintain and manage water quality is based on the ability to automatically monitor, control and treat water based on turbidity, chlorine, alkalinity, pH and conductivity.

Odor Management—Offending odors can have a significant impact on smart building occupant satisfaction and visitor experiences and odor management can be measured by the ability of building systems to automatically monitor, analyze, control and report on odors.

Life and Property Safety

Safety of building occupants is the top priority for building owners and operators, and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, safety of occupants is more paramount than ever from both a human wellbeing and operational standpoint.  Measuring the ability of a smart building to optimize life and property safety beyond required regulations and codes is achieved by reviewing the following factors:

Building Emergency Plan—Emergency plans can have an impact on the ability to optimize life safety and property protection and are measured based on documented evidence of efficacy and accountability, integration of safety systems identified in the plan (e.g., fire protection, egress lighting, ventilation, mass notification, access control), and the ability of safety systems to provide asset location for authorized persons.

Integrated System Performance—The performance level of integrated safety systems is measured based on the connection of safety to non-safety systems and risk assessment of those connections, response procedures for when an issue has been detected, and the ability to track and document against established parameters.

Situational Awareness—Smart buildings that provide information about as-is conditions can significantly improve safety and protection of occupants during emergency situations and can be measured by the ability of building systems to optimize crowd movement during emergencies, automatically monitor and control systems to prevent/mitigate spread of infectious disease and enable occupants to place emergency calls that provide dispatchable location

Emergency Communication System—While emergency communication systems are required by various building codes such as NFPA 72 and the International Fire Code, the effectiveness of emergency communication systems can be further measured via the existence of additional technologies and practices that enable enhanced public safety, such as RF site surveys to determine signal levels and coverage for public safety frequencies and in-building mobile service.

Power and Energy

Energy remains one of the largest components of a building’s operating budget, and green energy options and intelligent energy management systems provide insight into power and energy usage to help reduce consumption, supply and cost. The ability of a smart building to monitor and manage its power and energy use, and respond to the electric utility grid, can be measured via the following factors:

Energy Use Management and Analysis—Meeting energy efficiency and cost reduction goals is measured by the ability of building energy systems to track and manage energy consumption from connection points like outlets and third-party loads, autocorrect self-detected faults and automatically verify effectiveness of energy efficient measures against a predicted, modelled or established performance range.

Demand Response and Grid Interoperability—Reducing operating costs and responding to real-time price, grid requests and financial incentives from local utilities and municipalities can lower overall local electricity rates and reduce the chance of grid instability, which can be measured by reviewing peak load management protocols, demand response capabilities and integrated building-to-grid power management.

Distributed Energy Resources—Measuring the distributed energy resources of a smart building is based on the use of small-scale on-site energy generation like solar, wind, geothermal or biomass generators, as well as use of intelligent management systems that manage energy production and balance load, and the ability to automate energy storage for intelligent grid use and resiliency.


Technology advancement is accelerating and with it cyberattacks and back-door mechanisms are emerging that threaten to disrupt critical smart building infrastructure. The ability of a smart building to manage cybersecurity risk, benchmark capabilities and set goals for improvement can be measured by ensuring adherence to the following National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) guidelines and best practices:

Identify—The ability to identify assets and cybersecurity risks is based on management plans that include collaboration between the IT and OT networks, use of third-party risk assessments for suppliers and vendors, and privacy policies that cover how personal data is gathered, used, disclosed, shared and managed.

Protect—The ability to regularly protect assets and ensure the integrity of data and the network is based on remote asset access and specific techniques such as segregation, firewalls, encryption, cryptographic algorithms, antivirus software and intrusion detection, as well as secure development lifecycle (SDLC) testing for internally-developed applications and response, recovery and vulnerability management plans.

Detect—Ensuring the detection of cybersecurity events and incidents is based on the ability of building systems to consistently and continuously monitor and analyze events and malicious software across multiple sources, sensors and devices, as well as send alarms and alerts based on anomalous activity.

Respond—When a cybersecurity event has been detected, the ability of a smart building to respond to and prevent future events is based on policies and procedures for ensuring continuous review and update of response and risk analysis plans and processes to receive, analyze and respond to incidents and vulnerabilities, including those disclosed from internal and external sources.

Recover—The ability of a smart building to effectively recover from a cybersecurity attack or event is based on having procedures in place to update or develop new processes and recovery plans based on the event, ensure proper public relations and external communications, and incorporate lessons learned.


Sustainable building criteria encompass many areas that relate to the smart building concept, including water, energy, and waste tracking; indoor air quality; lighting and acoustic qualities; and more. In the interest of not duplicating sustainability-focused criteria covered under previous sections or existing smart building sustainability programs in the marketplace, sustainability is measured by reviewing existing recognized building sustainability certifications such as:

  • LEED – U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
  • BREEAM – Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method
  • Green Globes – Used primarily in Canada and the U.S.
  • Living Building Challenge – International program created by the International Living Future Institute
  • WELL Building Standard – Administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)
  • Fitwel – Operated by the Center for Active Design (CfAD)
  • Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) 360 Performance Program

Other nationally and globally recognized rating systems, such as Singapore BCA Green Mark, Australian Green Star, German Sustainable Building Council’s DGNB, France’s Haute Qualité Environnementale (HQE) and China Academy of Building Research (CABR)

  • Codes such as ASHRAE 189.1, International Green Construction Code and CALGreen

Sustainability is also measured via the use of additional smart sustainability technologies and practices that actively track, monitor and control the use of natural resources, waste, materials, recycling initiatives and other factors related to sustainability.  The technologies and practices include automated monitoring and control of potable water and irrigation systems, waste management systems, digital dashboards for tracking and reporting on sustainability initiatives, building information modeling (BIM) or Digital Twin for building design and/or operation, and electronic recyclers that track and share data.

Some Critical Success Factors

Ensuring a comprehensive, reliable and transparent framework that can be used to objectively and wholly assess a smart building and make the right decisions surrounding investment, planning, design and operation all comes down to having a benchmark, and a good benchmark is always one that is based on criteria measured via hard, quantifiable data.  The holistic assessment criteria explained herein is specifically designed to acquire that data.

Equally important to a successful smart building assessment program is the ability to collect data from numerous sources and types of organizations and analyze it over time so that the criteria can be reasonably adjusted as necessary to remain valuable and relevant as technology evolves.  Similar to how the ICT industry continually reviews and updates standards and best practices to respond to changes in technology, regulations and other fluctuating factors, the data collected via the smart building assessment criteria will be reviewed and analyzed to periodically update and refine the criteria as necessary, or to develop new criteria needed to effectively measure smart building performance in the future.

It’s important to note that for smart buildings to effectively meet the criteria and gain a high rate of performance, the infrastructure and systems that enable smart building technologies must also be properly designed, deployed and tested in accordance with all applicable industry standards.  To that end, these criteria go hand in hand with existing guidelines, best practices and safety guidelines for each of the various systems, such as existing TIA and UL standards and those outlined by professional and  industry organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), BICSI, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA), Security Industry Association (SIA), National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and others.

To achieve success and industry adoption, assessment programs also need to be easily accessible and provide significant value to participating organizations.  The smart building criteria developed by TIA and UL in conjunction with leading experts is already available for use by organizations to collect data and conduct self-assessments of their smart buildings. The outcome of these self-assessments can be used by these organizations as a roadmap for future improvements to help increase value.  The criteria also forms the basis for in-depth audits by qualified, accredited auditors to perform verified assessment and rate the performance of a smart building, as well as provide detailed reports with insight on opportunities for improvement.  Earning a verified mark allows any organization to objectively promote their commitment to smart building technologies and the performance of their smart building, while differentiating themselves and opening up revenue opportunities by attracting and retaining employees and providing an overall better customer experience.

Opportunity for the ICT Industry and Beyond

The investment, planning, design and construction of smart buildings involves a highly complex ecosystem of stakeholders and having the ability to effectively assess and rate a smart building in this digital era provides significant benefits and business opportunities that span multiple company types and industries.

With a survey by Johnson Controls indicating that more than 50% of building owners and tenants are willing to pay more for a smart building, and Morgan Stanley claiming an estimated 10% increase in equity value for occupant-optimized facilities, REITs, developers and building owners clearly stand to benefit from increased property values and the ability to differentiate their properties.  Utilities and energy management solution providers also benefit as they can leverage criteria to drive solutions like distributed energy resources, energy management systems and demand response participation.  Even finance and insurance providers benefit as they can leverage assessment data surrounding life and property safety, health and wellbeing and cybersecurity to develop programs and pricing for building owners and operators.

With connectivity as the most essential utility of a smart building and necessary to optimize all other aspects of a smart building, the ICT industry as whole reaps significant business opportunity from an effective smart building assessment program that considers the importance of connectivity as it relates to the entirety of the building.  These benefits cross the entire spectrum of the ICT industry—from designers, installers and consultants, to manufacturers, service providers and integrators

  • IoT and building system architects designers, installers and consultants can leverage assessment criteria to ensure smart building performance for their customers, collaborate with other stakeholders (HVAC, electrical, plumbing, lighting, security, audiovisual, etc.) and position themselves as experts and trusted advisors in the smart building design, specification and build process.
  • Manufacturers of cabling, connectivity, equipment and devices can leverage assessment criteria to demonstrate their expertise and enhance their industry stature by driving best practices for the deployment of standards-based high-performance infrastructure and helping customers make informed decisions surrounding equipment, devices and solutions that enable low-latency data transmission, wireless coverage, physical security, cybersecurity, and power and environmental monitoring and control.
  • Managed service providers and cloud solution providers can leverage smart building data and assessment criteria to develop and deliver innovative platforms, software and services that optimize building intelligence and manage, monitor, control and safeguard devices, systems and information.
  • Service providers and integrators can leverage the assessment criteria to provide recommendations for the deployment of critical communications infrastructure and cellular technologies that support smart buildings and enable digital transformation, ultimately establishing the foundation for smart cities and a myriad of emerging applications.

There is no doubt that in today’s digital world, the smart building industry needs to revisit how it assesses and rates smart building performance by taking a more holistic approach that considers the entirety of the building with a keen focus on connectivity as a critical element and criteria based on transparent, quantitative data. Only with this comprehensive, consistent and measurable framework can stakeholders effectively define investment strategies, planning tactics, design principles and operational procedures that lead to increased efficiency, lower operating expense and enhanced occupant productivity, safety, security and wellbeing. When smart buildings can be designed and constructed in this way, they become the building blocks of smart cities that will enable society’s digital transformation, achieve sustainability and improve overall quality of life.

Marta Soncodi is Smart Buildings Program Director with the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). Thomas Blewitt is Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist at UL.

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