For Efficient Products, Dialogue Matters

Efficient building product ideas, plotted by ease of implementation and estimated demand.

To get more innovative and efficient products into more buildings, the people who are making new products need to talk more consistently with the people who might buy them. The latest Urban Green Council report, The Next Frontier for Energy-Efficient Products, highlights the disconnect between suppliers, who see a lack of demand for these products, and building owners and designers, who see opportunities to make big forays into efficiency with new technologies. The report also provides a roadmap to help manufacturers promote the most promising efficiency products and stoke ongoing dialogue to bring cutting-edge products and practices to market.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) asked Urban Green to assess how they could better use their product research funding to support designers and owners who were interested in efficiency. Which products did the industry want? And why couldn’t they find them on the New York market?

THE PRODUCTS

After interviewing dozens of manufacturers, architects, consultants, contractors and owners, Urban Green narrowed the field to six promising products:

  • Packaged condensing boilers to serve both heat and hot water
  • Split heat pumps to replace packaged-terminal air-conditioners (known as PTACs)
  • Modular cooling for retail and commercial space with superior efficiency
  • Insulated wrap for existing slab edges and balconies
  • Low-conductivity shelf angles for masonry walls
  • Advanced curtain wall with unitized assembly

Some of the technologies needed to develop these products exist already, while others would require additional research. But all of them could help owners save energy. So why aren’t they available for retrofits in New York?

THE MANUFACTURER’S DILEMMA

There are a few key factors impeding the introduction of breakthrough products. From the manufacturer’s point of view, building owners run their HVAC equipment out-of-sight-and-out-of-mind, until there’s a problem. Many systems get replaced only after they break. More than a third of manufacturers indicated that the majority of equipment orders come not from planning but from an immediate need. In these cases (and more broadly), manufacturers see low demand for untested energy-efficient products and therefore are not creating them. A Catch-22 develops: efficient products remain rare, so owners don’t know about them or ask for them. And so an opportunity is missed to introduce new products that can build a good track record.

THE NEXT STEPS

To incentivize manufacturers and owners alike: It’s important to highlight the potential benefits of products like these, something this report begins to tackle. Demonstration projects could be funded to give owners the confidence to do similar upgrades. Innovation could be promoted by lowering cost premiums to upgrade equipment during emergency replacements.

But the key takeaways? Urban Green sees great potential for building owners and their consultants to speak more regularly with vendors. Forums for testing should be encouraged to provide feedback on new products and technologies. For a full list of the products and recommendations, you can download the report here.

 

About the author

Alec Appelbaum
Alec Appelbaum writes about how communities solve seemingly intractable problems. His work has run in outlets including the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Fast Company. Appelbaum teaches a first-year writing course on business and society for undergrads at NYU's Stern School of Business. He also developed and taught AllBeforeUs, a flexible curriculum for middle and high school students that uses climate change as a frame for teaching civics.