These Walls Can Talk

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Fresenius consolidated more than 500 employees in Concord from Walnut Creek and Pittsburg. The company will receive a return on its investment in the smart-building technology within two-and-a-half years, Minchey said. He declined to say how much Fresenius invested in the renovation and building project. Fresenius is a Teladata client.

[contextly_sidebar id=”26371d4d8b0e5e2d1efe343a996e7af6″]Not everyone believes smart buildings will usurp “big, dumb buildings” en masse, as some in the industry refer to conventional structures. He has yet to see developers move significantly toward smart buildings though he is cautiously optimistic that will change, said David Kaneda, managing principal of Oakland-based infrastructure design and engineering firm Integral Group Inc.

Kaneda’s company, which also has San Jose offices, recently completed work on the new 49,000-square-foot Los Altos headquarters of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation and is currently at work on the 45,000-square-foot headquarters and research facility of the J. Craig Venter Institute now under construction in San Diego. It employs 300 scientists doing human, plant and environmental gene research.

Both projects have earned a Platinum designation under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, the highest available, and are operating at what Kaneda described as a “net-zero” level—in energy use, water use and carbon emissions. They take no energy from the electrical grid, do not deplete water supplies and add no new carbon to the atmosphere.

“We are seeing companies beginning to write software that can sit on top of everything and tie all of a building’s systems together,” said Kaneda, an electrical engineer. He cites San Ramon’s Integrated Building Solutions Inc. and Pasadena-based Onuma Inc. “Connecting a building’s mechanical, lighting, heating, cooling and inventory-control systems makes a lot of sense and has tremendous potential. But there is a lot of difficulty in controlling all of this complexity. I have not seen what I would consider a totally successful example yet.”

High-tech companies, airports, college and university campuses lead adoption, said Arup engineer Gareth Ashley. “Companies and organizations want a work place where their employees want to spend time. This is an important workplace issue today.”

A large, rapt audience of Silicon Valley real estate and technology professionals gathered in July at the Aspiration Dome of Sunnyvale tech company Juniper Networks Inc., to hear Ashley and Wilts present smart building case studies. The event, sponsored by the Northern California chapter of CoreNet Global, a corporate real estate trade association, featured examples of smart-building makeovers.

“Today, 100 percent of our clients have an interest in this, but whether it works for all of them individually is another question,” Wilts said. “A developer might not be motivated to spend another 1 percent on construction costs if he is only going to flip the building and is only interested in the profit-loss picture instead of value added. But we’re seeing a real change in the industry. You might spend four days of programming time [on building systems] instead of two days on the front end of a project. And then, you recoup your additional up-front costs within the first year.”

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