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.

Tagged with: , ,

The world’s first 3D-printed school is taking shape in Madagascar

Thinking Huts and its partners are building the world’s first 3D-printed school on the campus of a university in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar.

3D printing builds solid objects layer by layer, creating less waste than traditional manufacturing methods.

The solution addresses the lack of sufficient investment in physical infrastructure, which is one of the biggest barriers to education.

A new project in Madagascar is rethinking the building blocks of education – using 3D printing to create new schools.

Non-profit organization Thinking Huts has partnered with architectural design agency Studio Mortazavi to create the world’s first 3D-printed school on the campus of a university in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar.  It is aiming to tackle the shortage of educational infrastructure which in many countries contributes to fewer children getting a good education.

Using technology developed by Finnish company Hyperion Robotics, the school will be built using 3D-printed walls and locally sourced materials for the doors, roof and windows.  Members of the local community will then be taught how to replicate the process to build schools for the future.

In this way, a new school can be built in under a week, and with less of an environmental cost than traditional concrete-based construction.  The 3D-printed buildings use less concrete than other methods and the 3D cement mixture also emits less carbon dioxide compared to traditional concrete.

An artist’s rendering of how part of the school will look once completed.

Image: Thinking Huts

The design allows for individual pods to be joined together in a beehive-like structure and means schools can be easily expanded.  The Madagascan pilot project also features vertical farms in the walls, and solar panels.

Widening access to education

An absence of buildings to deliver education from is a significant hurdle in many countries, particularly in areas lacking skilled labor and resources for building.  By using the technology to build schools, Thinking Huts is seeking to widen access to education – something which will become particularly important post-pandemic.

UNICEF and other organizations have warned of a learning crisis exacerbated by the virus, with 1.6 billion children across the world at danger of falling behind because of school closures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.

So, getting children back in the classroom as soon as is safely possible will be vital to continuing their education, particularly for those with limited access to the internet and personal learning devices.

Printing the future?

The process of 3D printing, which is also known as additive manufacturing, uses a digital file to build solid objects layer by layer – meaning there is less waste compared to traditional methods, which often use molds or hollowed out materials.

3D printing has revolutionized manufacturing processes, enabling mass customization, creating novel visual forms not previously possible and creating new opportunities to increase the circularity of products.

The machines are increasingly used in the production of everything from consumer goods such as sunglasses to industrial items such as car parts.  In education, 3D modelling can be used to bring educational concepts to life and help build practical skills, such as coding.

In Mexico, it has been used to build a neighborhood of 46-square-metre homes in Tabasco.  The houses – consisting of a kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms – will be made available to some of the state’s poorest families, many of who earn just $3 a day.

The technology’s relatively easy portability and low cost has also proved vital in disaster relief.  When Nepal was hit by an earthquake in 2015, a 3D printer perched on a Land Rover was used to help fix water pipes flown in as part of a relief effort, the Guardian reported.


Written By: Natalie Marchant, World Economic Forum

IBM sets new climate goal for 2030

IBM plans to get rid of its planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions from its operations by 2030, the company announced today.  And unlike some other tech companies that have made splashy environmental commitments lately, IBM’s pledge emphasized the need to prevent emissions rather than developing ways to capture carbon dioxide after it’s released.


The company committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade, pledging to do “all it can across its operations” to stop polluting before it turns to emerging technologies that might be able to capture carbon dioxide after it’s emitted.  It plans to rely on renewable energy for 90 percent of its electricity use by 2030. By 2025, it wants to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent compared to 2010 levels.

“I am proud that IBM is leading the way by taking actions to significantly reduce emissions,” said IBM chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna.

IBM is putting more emphasis on its cloud computing and AI after announcing in October that it would split into two public companies and house its legacy IT services under a new name.  That pivot puts IBM in more direct competition with giants like Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud market, which is notorious for guzzling up energy.  Data centers accounted for about 1 percent of global electricity use in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency, and can strain local power grids.  All three companies have now made big pledges to rein in pollution that drives climate change.

Microsoft’s climate pledge focuses on driving the development of technologies that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere; it reached net zero emissions in 2012 but still relies heavily on investing in forests to offset its carbon pollution.  Amazon committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2040.  Amazon’s emissions, however, continue to grow as its business expands.


There is still room for more ambition in IBM’s new climate commitment since the company so far is not setting targets for reducing emissions coming from its supply chain or the use of its products by consumers.  These kinds of indirect emissions often make up a majority of a company’s carbon footprint.  IBM does not track all of the pollution from its supply chain, but other indirect emissions (like those from the products it sells) made up the biggest chunk of its carbon footprint in 2019.  Microsoft and Amazon, on the other hand, consider all of these sources of emissions in their climate pledges.


By Justine Calma

Tagged with: , ,

EIA projects renewables share of U.S. electricity generation mix will double by 2050

In its Annual Energy Outlook 2021 (AEO2021), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that the share of renewables in the U.S. electricity generation mix will increase from 21% in 2020 to 42% in 2050.  Wind and solar generation are responsible for most of that growth. The renewable share is projected to increase as nuclear and coal-fired generation decrease and the natural gas-fired generation share remains relatively constant.  By 2030, renewables will collectively surpass natural gas to be the predominant source of generation in the United States.  Solar electric generation (which includes photovoltaic (PV) and thermal technologies and both small-scale and utility-scale installations) will surpass wind energy by 2040 as the largest source of renewable generation in the United States.

The AEO2021 Reference case projects that the natural gas share of the U.S. electricity generation mix will remain at about one-third of total generation from 2020 to 2050.  The natural gas share of generation will remain stable even though natural gas prices will remain low (at or lower than $3.50 per million British thermal units, in real dollars) for most of the projection period.  This stability occurs despite significant coal and nuclear generating unit retirements resulting from market competition as regulatory and market factors induce more renewable electricity generation.

The share of natural gas-fired generation in the United States will remain relatively constant through 2050, as projected in the AEO2021 Reference Case, and the contribution from the coal and nuclear fleets will drop by half.  Through 2050, the share of electricity generation from renewables will double.  Wind will be responsible for most of the growth in renewable generation from 2020 through 2024, accounting for two-thirds of the increase in that period.

After the production tax credit (PTC) for wind phases out at the end of 2024, solar generation will account for almost 80% of the increase in renewable generation through 2050.  EIA assumes that utility-scale (and commercial) solar PV facilities will receive a 30% investment tax credit (ITC) through 2023, which will then be reduced to 10% beginning in 2024 and lasts through 2050.  Residential solar PV will also receive a 30% ITC through 2023, which will expire in 2024.

Because renewable energy technology costs and natural gas prices are key determinants of these projections, EIA explores sensitivity cases with varying levels of both renewable costs and natural gas price trajectories.  Accordingly, the renewable technology share of generation will be higher in the Low Renewables Cost and High Oil and Gas Resource cases, relative to the Reference case, and the share of generation from renewables will be lower in the High Renewables Cost and Low Oil and Gas Resource cases.


Principal contributor: Kenneth Dubin

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2021 (AEO2021)

NYC’s roofs are getting a sustainable makeover

While buzz around the passage of New York City’s Climate Mobilization Act in April 2019 has fizzled, the city’s public officials, property owners, architects, real estate moguls and financiers are revving up to put new policies into practice.

As of Nov. 15, 2019, Local Laws 92 and 94 are in effect to target a vast, often overlooked and underutilized resource in New York: roofs.

The laws, known informally as the Sustainable Roof Laws, require most new buildings and buildings undergoing major roof reconstruction to include a sustainable roofing zone on 100% of the available roof space.

Sustainable roofing zones are defined as “areas of a roof assembly where a solar photovoltaic electricity generating system, a green roof system, or a combination thereof, is installed.” In other words, the roofs must have a solar panel array, green roof or both.

“When you fly into New York City, you see an amazing amount of unproductive roof space,” Jonce Walker, senior associate at Thornton Tomasetti, told Smart Cities Dive. Walker and others in the sustainable design community hope Local Laws 92 and 94 are going to change that.

Facing change

The Sustainable Roofs Laws have mobilized several sectors in New York City, from government to investment, each one grappling with how to manage new regulations designed to drive drastic changes in the city.

“The goal [of Local Laws 92 & 94] is to make sustainable roofs just one of the parts of how you put a good building together,” Mark Chambers, director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, told Smart Cities Dive.

Currently, sustainable roofs are far from the norm in New York. According to a mapping project from The Nature Conservancy, there were only about 730 green roofs out of over 1 million rooftops in New York City in 2016.

Solar is much more prevalent, with a total of about 22,000 completed solar projects throughout the city as of 2019, according to the team at Sustainable CUNY. They indicate the number of new solar projects implemented each year in the city has increased dramatically since 2016, due in part to the establishment of Professional Certification (Pro-Cert), which shortened the review period of new solar projects to just 24 hours.

Not all property owners will be immediately faced with required adjustments. Buildings dedicated to affordable housing have an alternative compliance timeline of five years during which the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will conduct studies on the impact of the law on affordability.

But Jennifer Leone, sustainability officer at HPD, pointed out that the department has “already been leading the charge” when it comes to sustainable roof practices with programs like the Green Housing Preservation Program.

The case for green roofs

As the sustainable roof market has grown over the past decade, helped partly by the passage of new roof laws around the world, sustainable roofing systems have become the ideal solutions for eco-minded contractors and architects. But is one system better than another?

“To be honest, our very strong opinion…is that green roofs have more benefits,” said Walker. “If it’s either-or [green roofs or solar panels], we typically try to steer the design team toward green roofs.”

Water management

Walker and other green building advocates praise the wide range of social benefits that green roofs can offer. Beyond protecting roof membranes, they serve as a water management solution, soaking up stormwater that might otherwise contribute to the city’s already-overburdened stormwater management system.

During heavy storms, New York’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system is unable to handle excess stormwater, so untreated wastewater gets pumped into the city’s waterways. With additional green roofs to soak up that stormwater, New York may soon see cleaner waterways.

Stormwater and energy savings also contribute to a positive return on investment (ROI) in green roofs. While installation, replacement and maintenance of a green roof over a 50-year period​ can present a cost of $18 per square foot of roof, the stormwater and energy savings make up for the cost by providing a benefit of approximately $19 per square foot of roof over that same period, according to the General Services Administration (GSA).

Overall, GSA estimates that a 3-inch to 6-inch green roof covering 10,000 feet has a net present value of $2.70 per square foot per year.

Heat reduction

A city plagued annually by the urban heat island effect, New York might cool down with added green roofs. “Through the daily dew and evaporation cycle, plants…are able to cool cities during hot summer months,” according to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

Councilmember Rafael Espinal, a sponsor of the Sustainable Roofs bill, said green roofs have already been proven to cool cities. “These bills show that New York will not be idle in the face of an existential threat like climate change,” he said in a press release.


Green roofs can restore biodiversity to urban areas by attracting pollinators like butterflies, bees, birds and bats that have been pushed out of the city as their natural habitats get bulldozed.

“This island was once a lush, green habitat that we have made impermeable,” said Walker.

The Javits Center, New York’s largest convention center, installed a 7-acre green roof in 2014 that now boasts 29 species of birds, five species of bats and three honeybee hives.

The pollinators are not the only ones benefiting from the Center’s green roof. The Javits Center itself harvests honey from the rooftop beehives, for sale at the convention center’s market.

For New York as a whole, focusing on increasing biodiversity can help improve the health of the entire city, as biodiversity is an indicator of clean air and waterways.


Finally, green roofs might just make New Yorkers feel good. Marni Majorelle, founder and owner of Brooklyn-based green roof construction company Alive Structures, emphasizes the psychological benefits of having more green space in urban areas.

“I think it’s really important to have that connection with plants and with nature,” she said at a green roofs educational and networking event in June 2019. “I know there’s a lot of emphasis on reducing energy consumption…which is also extremely important, but we have to understand that we have to have nature in our cities.”

The case for solar

Although solar panels do not provide the same lushness to the cityscape that green roofs do, solar roofs have a number of attractive features.

Clean energy

From a sustainability standpoint, the primary benefit of solar panels is their ability to generate renewable energy. In a city with notoriously ambitious emissions goals — 100% clean electricity by 2040 and carbon neutrality by 2050 — increased solar supply can advance New York to reach those targets.

The solar market is also well-established in New York, leading to easier deployment of new solar projects. “There’s more infrastructure built up in the solar community [than in the green roof community],” said Majorelle. “It’s streamlined.”


Designers don’t always have a choice on how to construct a sustainable roof zone. Contractors conduct analyses prior to construction to determine which roof system will work best, based on the property’s available roof space and access to sunlight.

Roofs that get abundant sunlight and are unblocked by neighboring buildings, and especially those with sloped roofs, are prime for solar. Green roofs, on the other hand, cannot exist on a slope.


Solar incentives for property owners have been around in New York since at least 2005. New York’s solar market benefits from multiple tax incentives at city, state and federal levels. It is likely that some property owners will choose solar panels over green roofs, regardless of their benefits, to comply with laws at a lower cost.

While solar incentives are bountiful in New York, financial incentive plans for green roofs are limited to a property tax abatement of $5.23 per square foot of green roof, although alternate options like Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing also exist.

In addition to lower upfront costs, solar arrays are “revenue-generating machines,” in Majorelle’s words.

Affordable housing building owners and HPD have taken advantage of the earning possibilities of solar power. “Solar is the go-to option [for affordable housing],” Leone said. “There’s a visible payback.”

Paybacks are both direct and indirect, allowing building owners to save money on energy bills and even sell energy credits, earning them money that can then be allocated towards building maintenance costs.

Benefits beyond sustainability

While both green roofs and solar panels help reduce energy consumption and costs, combining the two systems may be the most cost-effective option. Solar panels work most efficiently when they are at a low temperature, while a green roof (which has a cooler microclimate) can reduce heat. However, there are currently very few combined solar-green roof projects in New York City.


Author: Cailley LaPara

Image by Alex Potemkin vis Getty Images


Tagged with: , ,

Top U.S. cities for women in construction

Men outnumber women in construction, substantially, but more women continue to join the field and often at higher wages than they would in other careers.

Women make up 10% of the construction workforce — 1.1 million women, compared to 9.9 million men — according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Despite the gap in the number of workers, women in construction make nearly $47,000 a year, more than their non-construction counterparts, who make about $43,400.

The opposite is true for men, who often make less in construction than they do in other careers. The pay gap for men and women is also smaller in construction, at 3.7% compared to 19% across all fields.


In a new analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Construction Coverage magazine broke down the cities in the U.S. with the highest share of women construction workers.  Here are the top 20 large U.S. cities (population of 350,000 or more) by their share of female construction workers:

Rank City Female employment share Median annual earning
1 Minneapolis 19.1% $54,521
2 Seattle 17.6% $70,966
3 San Francisco 17% $70,711
4 Washington, D.C. 16.1% $52,035
5 Virginia Beach, Virginia 15.5% $52,325
6 Colorado Springs, Colorado 15.4% $55,363
7 Atlanta 14.6% $44,346
8 El Paso, Texas 14.1% $35,710
9 Charlotte, North Carolina 13.6% $36,988
10 Wichita, Kansas 13.4% $40,067
11 San Diego 13.3% $53,990
12 Tampa, Florida 13.3% $53,990
13 Kansas City, Missouri 13.1% $41,742
14 Portland, Oregon 13% $63,892
15 Baltimore 12.3% $50,740
16 Louisville, Kentucky 12.1% $46,560
17 New Orleans 11.9% $37,300
18 Austin, Texas 11.8% $40,595
19 Denver 11.7% $49,437
20 Columbus, Ohio 11.7% $40,913

SOURCE: Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau Data by Construction Coverage


The number of women with the title construction manager increased by 101%, from 49,400 to 99,4000, between 2015 and 2019, according to a recent study by Smart Asset.  That made it the third highest grossing position for women in that time period.

More women also began working as construction and maintenance painters (a 64% increase to 53,300) and construction laborers (a 50% increase to 71,800).  The number of women who chose careers as civil engineers also grew by 46%, from 45,400 to 66,000.

The Smart Asset study used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks information on jobs in all industries. Its most recent analysis shows that the construction jobs popular with women have a range of salaries, from about $156,000 for the high end of a construction manager salary to a high end of about $68,000 for laborers and painters.

The statistics show women increasingly are joining the construction workforce, though it’s unclear how that may have been impacted by COVID-19.  Nevertheless, industry insiders still say more work needs to be done to attract women to construction.

“We clearly have much more work to do as an industry to recruit, hire and retain a more diverse population of workers, particularly women,” Brian Turmail, Vice President of public affairs and strategic initiatives at the Associated General Contractors of America, told Construction Dive.  “The good news is we are heading in the right direction.  Moving forward, [the AGC is] committed to redoubling our efforts to attract an even more diverse construction workforce.”


Author:  Zachary Phillips, Construction Dive

AR, VR Find More Real-World Applications in Construction

Global Data:  “Technology can improve accuracy, efficiency and safety of construction projects”


The construction industry is slowly shifting from years of the wait-and-watch stance to adopting digital technologies to improve the overall project lifecycle from conceptual design to construction.  Considering such developments, alternative reality technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are increasingly finding their use cases to improve accuracy, efficiency and safety of construction projects, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Venkata Naveen, Senior Disruptive Tech Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “While the alternative reality technologies have been used in the gaming and entertainment industries for years, they started to make waves in the construction by merging the digital and physical view of jobsites to address various bottlenecks.  The demand to complete projects within budget and on time has propelled construction companies to leverage AR and VR technologies to save time, reduce errors, prevent rework and create a long-term return on investment.”

The Digital Solutions Map in Construction of GlobalData’s Disruptor Intelligence Center uncovers the use cases of AR and VR across the construction industry value chain.  A few examples:

Virtual Collaboration

Boston-based Suffolk Construction has partnered with New York’s VR startup InsiteVR to help its engineering teams meet virtually to coordinate, plan and resolve issues, irrespective of their geographical locations.  Users can join the platform via their desktops wearing a VR headset to review project designs, spot issues and make changes, all inside the virtual environment.

Project Planning

London startup XYZ Reality developed a helmet-mounted device combining augmented reality with building information modeling (BIM) to let contractors visualize the structures, eliminating the need for physical floor plans.  It helps to make BIM more precise and allows engineers to identify if the ongoing construction project follows the original model and spot errors in real-time.

4D Modeling and Visualization

Pennsylvania-based infrastructure and engineering software provider Bentley Systems launched mixed reality solution SYNCHRO XR for 4D modeling and visualization of construction projects.  Using Microsoft HoloLens, contractors and engineers can walk around and interact with digital models through intuitive gestures.  The models can help contractors to flag potential errors in project designs and visualize the construction schedule.

Smart Glasses

British multinational infrastructure group Balfour Beatty implemented Vuzix Blade smart AR glasses at one of its construction sites in the US to help with a request for information (RFI) from project stakeholders, who can no longer visit the sites due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Site managers walk through the project site wearing the Vuzix smart glasses, wherein clients can view the project progress remotely.

Virtual Guidance

Aussie tech startup Fologram rolled out an app to merge digital construction models with the physical jobsites to ease laying bricks in complex patterns.  The app pulls data from computer-aided design (CAD) software such as Rhino, translates it into digital instructions and projects them onto Microsoft’s HoloLens heads-up display.  Wearing the headsets, masons can virtually see where to place each brick more precisely.

Naveen concludes: “Despite their immense potential, AR and VR technologies are still falling short of widespread use in the construction industry.  Key concerns such as wearing bulky AR headsets for long hours, susceptibility to harsh jobsite environments and the non-availability of low latency Internet connectivity are hindering the mass adoption of the technologies.  As AR and VR continue to mature, they can be coupled with 5G and artificial intelligence to become an invaluable asset to the construction industry.”

Tagged with: , ,

GM will announced boosting investment for EVs

General Motors Co will roll out details of an expanded and accelerated electric vehicle strategy in an effort to convince investors it can be a serious competitor to Tesla Inc, people familiar with the plans said.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra, who is scheduled to speak at a conference hosted by Barclays, is expected to say the automaker is ready to spend more on electric models by 2025 than the $20 billion previously outlined, the sources said.

Supplier sources said previous plans to make the Cadillac brand all electric by 2030 are being sped up, possibly to 2025, and other sources said that acceleration will be repeated in other brands and in segments such as commercial vans.

The Detroit automaker is also expected to discuss a new timeline for many of the EVs to follow those already identified, such as the GMC Hummer EV pick-up and Cadillac Lyriq crossover, people familiar with the plans said.


Authors: (Reuters) Ben Klayman, David Shepardson


Tagged with: ,

Bentley’s US$100 million fund for digital twins

Infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems has announced US$100 million of venture funding to accelerate the development of infrastructure digital twins.  A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical object or system. The technology behind digital twins has expanded to include large items such as buildings, factories and even cities, and some have said people and processes can have digital twins, expanding the concept even further.

Bentley iTwin Ventures will invest in promising technology companies addressing the emerging opportunity for infrastructure digital twin solutions for roadways, railways, waterways, bridges, utilities, industrial facilities, and other infrastructure assets.

Bentley iTwin Ventures is a US$100 million corporate venture capital fund which will co-invest in startups and emerging companies that are strategically relevant to Bentley Systems’ objective of advancing infrastructure through going digital.  The fund will target investments in transformational digital twin solutions supporting the design, simulation, construction, and/or operations of physical infrastructure.

The fund will invest in early and mid-stage companies that demonstrate ability to develop applications and solutions that leverage and extend infrastructure digital twin opportunities, particularly in the public works and utilities, and industrial and resources, infrastructure sectors.

“Taking advantage of the momentum from Bentley Systems’ initial public offering, we are excited to expand our Acceleration Initiatives by formally launching the Bentley iTwin Ventures fund to support the growth of entrepreneurial companies dedicated to infrastructure digital twin solutions,” said Greg Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems.

“Our iTwin Platform provides a scalable open-source foundation for technical and commercial innovation that will empower a vibrant ecosystem to creatively combine and connect what digital twins now make possible for infrastructure constituents.  Proprietary analytics, data services, benchmarking, and infrastructure-as-a-service commercial models, for instance, are not in Bentley Systems’ direct scope, but we are glad to have a stake in bootstrapping these future successes.”


By Andy Brown, November 11, 2020