System Design and Management

The MIT Master's Program in Engineering and Management

Sustainable and Energy-Efficient Urban and Built Infrastructure Development: Opportunities and Challenges in Systems Engineering

Satish Narayanan
Project Leader, Integrated Building Systems, Energy Systems Program Office, United Technologies Research Center
With Kevin Otto, Michael Sahm, and Chris Pietryzkowski

Buildings are responsible for up to 40 percent of energy use in most countries, and that demand for energy is soaring as construction booms—especially in developing nations. In China alone, 2 billion square meters are being added each year. Such activity is propelled by rapid economic development and is accompanied by a rush to urbanization. In the United States, buildings consume 40 percent of the energy produced and are responsible for 50 percent of CO2 emissions. By setting a goal of reducing energy consumption by 90 percent in new buildings and by more than 50 percent in retrofits of existing buildings, savings of greater than 4 quads of energy is possible in the US commercial building sector alone—along with an annual reduction in CO2 emissions of 400 million tons. So, buildings can make a major contribution to tackling climate change and energy use, while facilitating economic growth.

It is necessary to consider the community in its entirety as well as the single building to make a substantial difference to the sustainability of urban centers. This allows one to look on a broader scale and identify efficiencies or energy resources that a more restricted view would miss. The knowledge and technology to slash the energy buildings use is available: solutions exist to decrease building energy consumption by at least 50 percent over current standards. However, the resulting buildings are expensive to design, complicated to construct and to commission, and difficult to operate. Hence, it’s challenging to realize the potential energy savings. A transformation of the design and delivery of buildings is needed so that the design intent, that is, the energy performance designed into a new building or retrofit, is maintained through construction and persists through operation.

The building market is diverse and complex. The relationships between the many specialists involved (e.g. developers, architects, contractors, operators, and end users) are intricate and are an impediment to realizing and sustaining energy efficiency. The sector is characterized by fragmentation within sections of the value chain. Efficiency will be improved when there is a greater degree of interaction and integration in the early stages of the design process, helping to integrate technologies that can significantly lower energy use in buildings in economically attractive ways.

This talk will highlight the key drivers for and barriers to energy conservation and efficiency in the built infrastructure, from a community or city scale down to an individual building. Systems engineering is a key enabler for realizing deep energy efficiency gains in the built sector via optimal use of ambient sources and sinks for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, and energy storage, and must be effectively employed in the entire building life cycle, from concept design to detailed design, construction, installation, commissioning, and operations of buildings. Lessons learned will be shared via case studies in master planning of eco-cities and from the design and delivery of buildings that consume very little energy.

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