Battery Bets on Buildings

Sharon Simonson

Clean tech meets real estate Sept. 15 at Stanford Faculty Club where Battery Ventures sponsors “Spotlight on Smart Building Technology,” an event to explore emerging know-how in commercial-property lighting, mechanical building systems and managing the electric grid.

For as much talk as there is about smart buildings, in fact they are largely anything but, said Matthew Garratt, a Battery vice president in its clean technology group. The quality of data surrounding energy use is lacking and the tools available to building managers and owners to improve their insight are not what they could be.

Moreover, building owners as a whole have been slow to adopt new information technologies around energy-management solutions. “Part of it is that when you are talking about large commercial buildings, you have an owner and then someone who runs the building, and they have different incentives, and then you have multiple tenants. Also who is paying for the technology is often different from who benefits,” Garratt said.

Those dynamics are changing in response to economic conditions and public policy, which favor greater adoption of new approaches, first to monitor and then to manipulate energy use.

For now Battery is focused on software solutions seeking to improve the management of individual buildings. But, Garratt said, as pressure from government regulators mounts on power producers to reduce energy demand and cut carbon emissions, the stress inevitably will land on property owners. That implies greater coordination between electric companies and building owners at the level of the electric grid.

With that eventuality in mind, the keynote speaker for the Battery event is Steve Malnight, a vice president at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Malnight oversees customer energy-efficiency programs, development of new customer products and services, and customer outreach. Malnight is a former vice president of renewable energy for PG&E.

Battery itself is pursuing venture investments in multiple clean-tech companies. Virginia-based SkyFoundry LLC seeks to help building managers to reduce energy use by improving the control and maintenance of capital equipment. Austin-based Calxeda Inc. has zeroed in on data centers, which have been labeled power hogs. Its technology is intended to increase data center computing capacity while cutting power use by reducing demand for more space and cooling.

Garratt said he is convinced that building owners who reduce energy consumption give themselves a leg up on competition, which should be a particularly compelling proposition in today’s market. “Energy is one of the biggest operating expenses in a commercial building. Tenants have a lot of choices and all things being equal, they will favor a well-operated building,” he said, citing recent reports on the Empire State building.

The 2.85 million square-foot property is 80-years-old and a National Historic Landmark. It recently attained LEED Gold certification under the U.S. Green Building Council program, according to Jones Lang LaSalle. A retrofit overseen by JLL and Johnson Controls is expected to cut its energy consumption by 38 percent and to save $4.4 million a year. Those savings should repay the cost of the energy-related improvements in three years, JLL said.

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