Interconnected buildings

Connection(s) are everything. It's true in our professional and personal relationships, and now more than ever, it's true for buildings. We have arrived at a time when we are designing and constructing zero energy buildings (houses, commercial buildings, schools) at cost, with a quicker and more significant return on investment than traditional construction. Indeed, we have a way to go before zero energy buildings are common practice – there's still the embodied carbon issue to tackle and all the existing buildings to decarbonize – but we're making progress.

With the ability to achieve at-cost zero energy buildings today, what is the next evolution of buildings? It is making them grid-interactive and connected, which is in an early phase of understanding and implementation.

Grid-connected or grid-interactive buildings and appliances have the ability to shed, shift, or modulate energy use in response to grid communication signals. Grid-connected or grid-interactive buildings offer expansive value to a variety of stakeholders.

  • For building owners and occupants, grid connection reduces operating costs, increases building value, and improves comfort and resiliency.

  • Grid operators benefit from reduced generation, transmission, and developing costly infrastructure while meeting demand more reliably and with renewable sources.

  • Overall, grid connection reduces energy costs and emissions throughout the entire connected built environment and is key to transitioning to a renewable decarbonized grid. 

As various regions across the nation move towards decarbonization technologies and solutions, there is a growing recognition that connected or grid-interactive buildings and appliances are a critical component of decarbonization strategies. Several states have implemented policies and codes to require grid-interactive buildings and capabilities in both buildings and appliances. The policies, regulations, and programmatic initiatives of Washington, California, and Oregon are described in detail in NEEP's brief, Emerging Codes and Standards for Grid-Interactive Buildings. The brief explores codes, standards, and policies to inform the potential implementation of buildings, equipment, and grid interconnection in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. As regional stakeholders consider policy and programs to assist the proliferation of grid-interactive appliances and buildings, NEEP examines how long-standing models of building energy codes and standards may be replicated or leveraged for purposes of driving grid-interactive homes and buildings.

While the connection of individual buildings and appliances is a goal that can significantly reduce the carbon emissions intensity of the grid, we must set our sights even higher towards connected communities. Multi-building optimization is the further evolution of the grid decarbonization roadmap beyond individual buildings. Sharing various systems such as solar, storage, and controls optimizes energy use and savings further than individual buildings. Several connected communities have been built, including affordable housing communities, and others are being planned. High-performance grid-connected communities play the ultimate role in meeting our climate goals. 

Evolving towards a modernized, connected, and decarbonized grid requires many considerations (not intended as a comprehensive list):

  • Utilities and regulators need to explore load shifting, rate, and incentive structures;

  • Development of more distributed energy resources and storage needed;

  • Appliance manufacturers need to provide more grid-connected appliances, equipment, and controls;

  • Developers need information, case studies, and exemplars from successful grid-connected zero energy buildings and communities, mainly cost information;

  • Regulations spanning the entire building/utility/energy/communication spectrum need to modernize.

All of the above is emerging in a multitude of ways. This week (May 17, 2021), the U.S. Department of Energy, the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) announced new programs and initiatives to electrify buildings. The announcement included an initiative to increase market adoption of high-efficiency, grid-connected heat pump water heaters in residential and commercial buildings. Additionally, U.S. DOE's Building Technologies Office announced a Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings (GEB) Roadmap, with recommendations to "better integrate buildings with solar and wind power through smart operation of electricity demand and storage." 

We are witnessing the emergence of a modern decarbonized grid, including smart, grid-interactive appliances and equipment, grid-interactive zero energy buildings operating on renewable distributed energy resources. The continued proliferation of national and state electrification policies, codes, and standards will optimize emissions reductions and cost benefits in the billions of dollars. 

As the past year proved, connection is everything. Stay connected with NEEP for more grid-connected information and resources.

Stay informed

Stay up to date with the latest NEEP and industry news, policies, and trends to your inbox every so often.