What happens when you hook up a dumb building to a smart grid?


October 14, 2011

By Michael Shilale, AIA, LEED

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Toronto, Canada -  Greenbuild, the largest green building conference in the world,  went international this year.  Over 30,000 people headed to Canada for a week of educational and inspirational events.   Some impressive speakers and thinkers shared ideas and strategies directed towards the next steps in our goal to better balance the built and natural environment.

One of my favorite authors, Tom Friedman, delivered the keynote. He ironically compared ‘environmental’ accounting to our recent financial accounting, revealing that borrowing from future generations is the opposite of sustainability.  We are mortgaging our financial and our environmental future and we need to stop spending and expending our resources foolishly. 

We also witnessed many examples of high performing buildings that deliver more value and make a net zero future - believable.


Architects should be particularly encouraged as it was revealed that the more buildings approach net zero energy use, the more we will need to rely on passive energy strategies such as daylighting, natural ventilation, window placement and glazing type, shading, thermal insulation, thermal mass, building geometry and orientation.  This should elevate the role of architects in the built environment.


We saw some innovative strategies such as earth tubes and ventilation chimney's in action.  We also heard about industries right here in NY using biomimicry (learning from nature) to deliver innovative, energy saving products and systems. Look at what Regenenergy ( is doing to reduce peak demand energy costs,  making our buildings smarter than the grids they are connected to.  The dirty little secret about these smart grids everyone wants is that it will cost us all a lot more money if we hook up all our dumb buildings to them.  We need to make ourselves and our buildings smarter. Regenenergy has an innovative  product that utilizes 'swarm' logic inspired by bee colonies that simply manages when systems come on to prevent excessive peak loads.


All in all, Greenbuild Toronto was a fun and informative event.  While Friedman lamented at the pace of our environmental awareness and insulted the lot of us calling us 'too dumb to quit,'  I believe Greenbuild 2011 attendees were too smart to not continue our quest for more sustainable buildings and communities.

Michael Shilale Architects, LLP is an architectural engineering firm committed to protecting and preserving the environment through strategic design work. Their three-pronged personalized approach, solving building problems, protecting assets and investments, and building under budget,  helps diverse clients realize their unique vision, with environmentally sensitive and innovative results. For more information about MSA, please call 845-708-9200, or visit their website at, For a look at 20 of their top projects, designed since 1991, go to