“Changing Our Buildings vs. Our Climate: From Data Centers to Residences”

A Conversation with Jason Green, Director, Vantage Data Centers; Hank Louis, Founder and Director, DesignBuildBLUFF, College of Architecture + Planning, University of Utah; and Brad Peacock, Principal, DwellTek; hosted by Cynthia Figge, Co-founder and COO, CSRHUB

Build wholesale data centers at Vantage. Large amounts of cooling, very discerning customer base, very expensive infrastructure.Can’t ever go down, very environmentally friendly.

HL: Runs DesignBuild bluff; students design home for Navaho family, spend semester designing a home, then move to Bluff, UT and build the green house. There’s no grid. Forced to come up with heating and cooling.

B: Retrofit homes. Service base today is hyperfragmented. Buildings use 75% of coal-based energy.

CF: What are challenges of motivation?

HL: Trying to expose architecture students to 2030 challenge — net zero by 2030. Putting students in situation where they have to find local solutions and use earth materials. Learn that in the field things are completely different — understand what works, what doesn’t. Return with a much better understanding of what it takes to meet the net zero challenge.

CF: What is process for homeowner?

BP: Tons of innovation, thought leaders, etc all flowing into tech scene, but the biggest challenge is integrating into mainstream homes. Howeowners — starting to wake up and want to improve carbon footprint. Existing goods and services in retrofitting are very fragmented, acting in competition. Demystifying home energy retrofitting.

JG: In CA, permitting process can be a real holdup, but the city is the greenest in the country. VS Texas – no permit problems, but no interest. Overriding concerns don’t exist in other place, so often wind up.

BP: People who want to do the right thing, but don’t know where to start. We need to educate them and show them there is an affordable, solution.

CF: How do you leverage corporate participation?

BP: Homes and buildings suck up energy, people want to do something, but then we have to go find them. One way of success is through points of leverage. Work with corporations who take CSR seriously. Through a corporate program, you access consumers with financial incentives.

CF: How can we go net zero?

HL: The first 8% is very simple. We’ve conveniently forgotten it in a world of cheap energy. Eg. navaho hogans — fireplace inside, geothermal energy. If we think back to how the earth works and how to leverage its processes, we’ll make a big difference.

JG: Need for electricity not only to fuel data centers, but also to cool them. Average data center in the US use 2 units of energy for every unit that is produced. Need to be deliberate in your choice of locale and then tax yourself in terms of available technologies. CFOs need to realize that they may pay more marginally now, but will benefit in the long term.

BP: Reality is that most homes are already out there. Building an energy efficient home is easy, just expensive. Net zero is actually problematic because it keeps us from making incremental changes to our homes.

HL: Good architects would make a huge difference.

BP: No residential market mechanisms today. In Austin, homes have energy ratings.

JL: LEED platinum ratings are expensive and customers don’t appreciate their significance.

HL: Incentivizing is something building inspectors will really need to work on. They tear down homes without any reason to try to salvage them.