Executive SummaryThis summary outlines highlights and key findings from the full report.
A New Phyiscal Space Race: Buildings in the post-pandemic world
- Some 59% of building owner/occupiers say that their organization is reducing its office space requirements to some extent in response to the pandemic.
- However, buildings will remain central – physically and figuratively – to post-pandemic commerce and industry. Two thirds (65%) of building owner/occupiers we surveyed say that, after the pandemic, employees at their organization will return to pre-2020 office/facility attendance patterns.
- Many believe hybrid work models will offer the best balance for the future, but it will take time to find the most effective approaches to suit various industries, companies, and cultures. Whatever models are chosen, buildings need to be more digitalized to support greater resilience, improved health monitoring and management systems, as well as increased flexibility, to better cope with lockdowns and other disruptive events.
- Among building owner/occupiers in our survey, future adaptability was considered the most important – and the most difficult - attribute to get right in designing a new building or facility.
Buildings need to be more digitalized to support greater resilience, improved health monitoring, as well as increased flexibility, to better cope with disruptive events.
A new era of infrastructure digitalization
- Two new drivers of infrastructure digitalization have emerged in recent years.
- The first is the pandemic, which has demonstrated the value of automation, remote monitoring, data-driven prediction, digitally enabled collaboration, and more.
- The second is the increased urgency of climate action and the energy transition. The world is building new energy systems that are increasingly complex, decentralized and diversified. Digital technologies are crucial to developing and operating these new energy systems.
- Most energy infrastructure stakeholders in our survey (67%) believe net zero energy is impossible without digitalization.
- Years of incremental progress and wider technological advances have led to a growing maturity in digital applications, at a time when they need to deliver on long-standing promises. But the majority of infrastructure stakeholders (63%) recognize that they are behind the digitalization progress of other industries, and only 31% our respondents have made full use of the data they have available.
- AI-driven prediction and automation looks set to have the broadest impact on infrastructure assets over the next five years. However, our findings show that many technologies will be important, and it is clear that the most impressive results emerge from combinations of digital breakthroughs. It is therefore essential that leaders maintain an innovation mindset and are supportive of new ideas and experiments.
The majority of infrastructure stakeholders recognize that they are behind the digitalization progress of other industries
Rising to the greatest challenges of decarbonization
- The climate is now at, or near, the top of the priority list for most infrastructure stakeholders. Over the past five years there has been an exponential rise in the number of organizations setting low-carbon or net-zero targets.
- There is a lot of optimism around achieving these goals, with most of our survey respondents expecting their organization to be carbon neutral by 2030.
- However, many organizations are still developing the detailed, viable plans that will get them to their targets.
- No organization reaches net zero alone, so targets are also dependent on progress outside of their domain, often in the energy sector, given that energy produces three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Most respondents (82%) believe energy storage systems for homes and businesses will be a critical part of the energy transition. In addition, energy respondents rated “energy storage systems to reduce wasted energy and improve resilience” as the highest priority among a set of strategy recommendations for cities.
- On wind and solar, energy respondents see managing and storing surplus power as a much bigger challenge than coping with periods of low output. This emphasizes the importance of energy infrastructure expansion and upgrading. In many parts of the world, surplus power from wind or solar installations is wasted because it cannot be transmitted to where it is needed or stored for later use.
- Infrastructure respondents also understand the need to be smarter in how energy is consumed. An overwhelming majority of all respondents (81%) believe much more attention and investment should be given to improvements to energy efficiency and demand side management.
- Three quarters of respondents (74%) say that hydrogen will be a crucial component of the energy transition. Green hydrogen (made from renewable energy and water) is compelling because it can be a clean replacement for fossil fuels, and also used for energy storage (e.g., turning what would have been curtailed wind or solar energy into a transportable green energy commodity).
- The decarbonization of fuels is an increasingly important consideration for buildings, as greater attention is paid to embodied carbon – the emissions released in the production and transport of materials (often steel and concrete) used in buildings. Respondents rated new materials and substances as the innovation or technology they expected to have the second biggest impact in the next five years, and this could be driven by efforts to reduce embedded carbon in buildings.
- Decarbonization will rely on the combined effort of all infrastructure and energy stakeholders: over eight-in-ten (82%) respondents say increased cooperation and coordination between diverse stakeholders is crucial to reducing CO2 emissions from energy and infrastructure.
Over eight-in-ten respondents say increased cooperation between diverse stakeholders is crucial to reducing CO2 emissions from energy and infrastructure.
We would like to extend a special thank you to the diverse set of industry leaders and experts who shared their ideas and insights with us as part of this study.
- Ali Alsuwaidi, vice-president of the Middle East Facilities Management Association
- Wayne Butcher, director at Grant Thornton UK LLP
- Ewan Jones, Partner at Grimshaw
- Jeremy Kelly, Research Director at JLL
- Kerstin Sailer, Co-Founder of Brainybirdz and Professor in the Sociology of Architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
- Maia Small, Manager, policies and strategies at San Francisco Planning
- Steven Velegrinis, Head of Masterplanning at AECOM
- Christian Waglechner, senior development manager at CA Immobilien Anlagen AG (CA Immo)
- Michael Webber, Josey Centennial Professor in energy resources, mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and former chief science and technology officer at ENGIE
- Xiaohu Tao, Vice President, Business Innovation and Digital, in Energy Networks at E.ON
This thought leadership study is based on a survey, in-depth interviews and desk research. It is not an academic or scientific research paper. Our goal is not to provide any final answers, but rather to start conversations, stimulate thought, and encourage infrastructure stakeholders to reflect on what today’s megatrends mean for the future of our energy system and built environment.
The survey included 501 respondents from 10 countries. The countries involved include those large-scale and/or highly advanced infrastructure assets and ambitions. It was fielded in June and July 2021.