BY JAMES WHELAN and ANA RUA
With the threat of global climate change increasing by the day, New York’s real estate industry has made energy efficiency a priority. Building owners understand the role they must continue to play to help State and City officials achieve shared goals for reducing carbon emissions.
That is why groups like the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and its members have strongly supported the goals of the State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which leads the nation with its goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, as well as the City laws that established emission caps for some buildings and aim for a 40 percent overall reduction of citywide emissions by 2030.
However, while climate change and the necessity of reducing emissions are common knowledge, there is one critical element of energy-efficiency efforts that is not widely understood by many members of the public and elected officials alike. Most building emissions – particularly in large, dense commercial buildings – are driven not by building owners but instead by their tenants. This makes emissions reduction efforts much more challenging because it is very difficult, and in many cases virtually impossible, for owners to control a tenant’s energy consumption.
For example, reducing emissions may be relatively straightforward in a five-story commercial building occupied by a few tenants such as a non-profit, a local small business and ground-floor retail. But it becomes exponentially more complicated in a 50-story commercial building densely packed with large finance or tech firms that rely on massive databases constantly churning out information – and consuming vast quantities of energy – on a 24/7 basis.
Addressing this major obstacle to achieving State and City efficiency goals will require increased collaboration between the public and private sectors to ensure the best possible approach is being taken when implementing new laws and regulations. But the good news is that greater public sector investments in high-speed, 5G digital connectivity can also play a role in helping building owners address this obstacle by giving them more granular insights into how their tenants consume energy, which will ultimately enable owners to better tailor their efficiency efforts and achieve long-term goals.
We can think about the role of 5G by comparing a building to the human body and visualizing three central components of that building: a heart, a brain and central nervous system.
For generations, buildings have always had a heart: mechanical systems that manage everything from elevators and electricity to heat and water use. More recently, some innovative owners across New York City have created a brain for their buildings: a centralized operating system that brings all of that building data into a single dashboard to optimize control and increase efficiency. For example, Rudin Management Company used the “brain” of its Nantum operating system to reduce overall carbon emissions by 44 percent across its Manhattan commercial portfolio between 2005 and 2018.
Now, the missing piece of the metaphor is the central nervous system – something that increases the brain’s capacity to gather data and move information as quickly and reliably as possible to accomplish a goal. And therein lies the power of 5G.
By moving beyond 4G and into the higher rate of connectivity offered by 5G, building owners will be able to run the wireless network of their “brain” throughout an entire building. This will enable them to capture and utilize even more of the tenant-specific data needed to further optimize efforts to save energy use and reduce overall emissions.
While this kind of improvement is still only one piece of the broader puzzle when it comes to addressing climate change in buildings and across New York City, it can and will play an important role. It will be especially critical for the City’s next mayor to double down on investments in 5G to ensure that as many buildings as possible can utilize high-speed digital connectivity to maximize their ongoing energy efficiency improvements. We look forward to working collaboratively with elected officials and stakeholders across the board to make it happen.
James Whelan is president of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the city’s leading real estate trade organization. Ana Rua is the head of government affairs for New York City and New York State at Crown Castle, the nation’s largest provider of shared communications infrastructure.