Building to Accelerate the Transition to a Clean Energy Grid

How we design buildings can help accelerate our transition to a clean grid. Technology innovations such as batteries, solar, IOT (Internet of Things), and big data) can support grid-optimal project design, and new resources and tools can help design teams implement grid-optimal projects. This session will help attendees understand how to define and address local grid challenges, and will suggest resources and tools that can help design teams implement grid-optimal projects.

Session Notes by Eileen Quigley

In this lively discussion, multiple stakeholders discussed the nuances of the transition to a clean energy grid. They reminded us that the grid is a well curated system that is being thrown out of balance by the optimists who want to feed the sun’s energy into it. This panel took a look at the various stakeholders and pathways.

The steps to decarbonization sound straightforward: energy efficiency first, remove fossil fuels from the grid, then electrify everything. In reality, the process looks much more like a squiggly line. Our transition to the clean energy grid might be nudged along by ambitious local-level initiatives, such as California recently announcing the goal of being supplied by 100% renewables by 2050. However, like many places in the industry, the split incentive will get in the way. Cost, energy availability, carbon reductions and resiliency motivate stakeholders (grid operators, building owners, building operators, policy makers, environmentalists, etc) but their drivers are not aligned. Panelists posed the question: how do we harmonize? Unfortunately, the answer is not yet clear.

Additionally, local municipalities and utilities are in different places. Governments are setting goals to decarbonize faster than the utilities are. The grid is changing at a pace quicker than the utilities can control. Microgrids are popping up, inserting circular patterns that affect the previously linear structure. Time of use and the infamous duck curve was brought up to which storage (thermal or otherwise) and better, more granular HVAC controls were posed as the solution.

The optimists on the panel pulled their seats back up to the table to tell us that the small local efforts are providing greater resiliency at a time when more extreme weather events more frequently threaten the grid. That was countered by the fact the #1 goal of grid operators is resiliency, which is threatened by the independent, under-controlled optimists.

One thing is clear: the transition to a smooth-working clean grid isn't fast enough. While no silver bullet was offered, the clear message was that systems thinking and collaboration will eventually get us there.

Session Lead: Brendan Owens, US Green Building Council

Brendan Owens oversees strategic development and integration of rating systems at USGBC. In this role Brendan collaborates with teams developing tools that transform the way we design, build and operate the built environment. He led the effort to establish the system goals for LEED v4 and is building on this work as the foundation to integrate other programs USGBC collaborates on. Brendan is a board member of the New Buildings Institute and is deputy director of the center for cycling technology at USGBC. Additionally, Brendan volunteers as a board member of the foundation USGBC is partnering with to build the William Jefferson Clinton Children’s Center in Port au Prince, Haiti. Brendan is proud to serve as an advisor to the Honor’s College at his alma mater Purdue University. He is also a licensed Professional Engineer and a LEED Fellow.


Fiona Cousins is an Arup Fellow and a member of Arup Group Board, Arup Americas Region Board, and the Global Digital Executive. She helps lead the sustainability, building engineering and data strategies teams in Arup’s New York office, and directs technical and research investments for the Americas Region. Fiona is a mechanical engineer by profession and has spent much of her career engaged in HVAC design, with an area of specialization in thermal comfort and energy efficiency. She has extensive project experience and has worked on a wide range of projects, including the design of museums, archives, trading floors, laboratories, libraries and performing art centers. She has also worked on planning projects with a focus on energy and sustainability. Fiona is a frequent presenter on transformative sustainable building design, very low-energy design, resilience and sustainability. She gave the 2016 CIBSE Annual Lecture: ‘How building services Engineers can save Civilization’. She is also a LEED Fellow.

Barry Coflan is a Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Schneider Electric's EcoBuilding Division within the Partner Business. He is a member of the EcoBuilding Executive Committee, Schneider Electric Leadership Council, as well as, the Global Innovation and Technology Council. Coflan also serves on the not for profit board of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership and the Design Lights Consortium — together focused on energy efficiency. Mr. Coflan has held several leadership functions for Schneider during the past 20 years including; General Management, R&D, Marketing and Strategic Segment Development. During his tenure leading the Building Management Line of Business he was in charge of the development of Schneider's flagship SmartStruxure Building Management System. The target for this global platform is large scale buildings (greater than 10,000 square meters in size). Most recently Barry has been focusing on advancing the company's Internet of Things (IoT) strategy including into large scale, midsized and residential buildings.

Peter Turnbull has 35 years of experience promoting energy efficiency at Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Since 2010, he has served as the Principal Program Manager for PG&E’s Zero Net Energy efforts providing research, information and documentation in support of the State of California’s ZNE policy goals for commercial and residential buildings. He currently serves on the Boards of NBI, the Cool Roof Rating Council, and as Advisory Board Chair of the Net Zero Energy Coalition. Over his career, he has had extensive experience in managing energy efficiency rebate, research and information programs across many sectors. He is a frequent speaker at industry events sponsored by organizations involved in high performance buildings. Mr. Turnbull holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Montana State University.