Energizing Retrofits in an Inefficient Market: A Scalable Model for Small Commercial Buildings

by Greg Hopkins (MDes '17)

Buildings consume more energy than any other sector in the economy and account for nearly half of all carbon emissions. But much of that energy is wasted by inefficient systems and operations and can be saved using existing technologies that pay for themselves in short order. While energy efficiency measures (and green building certifications that require them) have been increasingly prioritized by institutional owners of large commercial buildings, adoption in small commercial buildings remains extremely low. Comprising 43 billion square feet and half of all commercial energy use, small buildings offer an enormous environmental and financial opportunity.

This research investigates the market barriers that have historically limited the adoption of energy efficiency in small commercial buildings, including capital constraints, fragmentation, and misaligned incentives. Also explored are various methods through which energy efficiency has been effectively implemented in other building typologies. By understanding and applying successful models in other industries as well as capitalizing on recent trends, the project proposes a business concept that combines design and engineering with finance and technology to systematically overcome the supply- and demand-side barriers to both investment and implementation in this sector. It envisions a dual-function platform designed to streamline and finance energy upgrades in small commercial buildings by connecting eligible projects with (i) crowd-sourced investment capital and (ii) turnkey implementation in a way that benefits all stakeholders and accelerates adoption at scale.