Three new construction technologies which will improve the energy profiles of future buildings:
One is available right now, and it’s a fundamental component of what is known as “passive house” technology. The structural insulated panel (or SIP) is a preformed sandwich board, with plywood or oriented-strand board around a core of foam insulation. There are many varieties, many thicknesses (R values), many manufacturers. It’s mostly for residential or other small-building applications (for larger campus buildings, look into insulated concrete forms — ICFs). For those interested, here’s a good unbiased introduction. SIP-based construction is still pretty cutting-edge, but the primary opportunity it creates in higher ed is training (although I’m sure there is potential for engineering improvements).
Of more interest, on the research side, are two new (mostly, still in the lab) means of photovoltaic (solar) electric generation: roof shingles and steel panels. Some early entries into the PV shingle market are already available, so just Google “pv shingles” and go to town. Be aware, though, that there are a number of competing technologies, and that what’s a good price/performance trade-off isn’t yet clear. Prices are sure to come down, and performance is quite likely to go up. It’s something to keep your eye on (especially if your campus has lots of older — or faux older — buildings with gable roofs), but it isn’t something you necessarily have to leap into right away. Indeed, there are a lot of physics profs consulting to the various competitors (and would-be competitors) in the marketplace. Watch for further news.
But, speaking of news, one interesting announcement recently came out of the UK. Wales, actually. The University of Swansea. They’ve announced a process for generating electricity by way of the paint applied to steel construction panels (such as are commonly used on agricultural buildings, factories, equipment sheds, metal roofs, etc.). Check it out. It’s not only interesting from an administrative (physical plant, design & construction) perspective, it’s also a great example of how serendipity can occur in the research lab, and generate not just electricity, but an increased endowment, as well!