As energy costs continue to rise, containing costs has become a top priority for building owners and managers. That’s where clean tech, processes or products that create and manage energy more efficiently, comes in.

One big area of concern is lighting, which contributes up to 40 percent of a building’s electricity consumption. In the past, “lighting control” entailed having someone at each and every building in a portfolio manually shutting lights on and off to ensure energy wasn’t being wasted.

But today new clean technologies, such as wireless lighting controls, make that task easier and faster and enable much larger costs savings than previously possible. NREI spoke with Mark Golan, CEO of San Francisco-based Adura Technologies, a leading provider of wireless lighting controls and energy management systems, about his firm’s offerings and where clean tech is headed in regards to commercial real estate.

An edited transcript follows.

NREI: How does Adura Technologies help building owners create smarter buildings?

Mark Golan: Adura Technologies uses wireless technology to provide advanced lighting controls, making it easy and cost-effective to manage the second-largest energy expense in a commercial building: lighting. We do this in a way that makes our deployments “future-proof,” allowing us to reconfigure the system later if necessary.

NREI: How does the system work?

Golan: We reduce energy consumption while providing a high-quality lighting environment with ultimate measurement and control. Buildings make up 60 percent of energy use. If you're serious about energy management, you have to be serious about buildings; and lighting and HVAC combined make up 80 percent of building energy use.

Lighting is also a critical component to the smart grid. Lighting is more responsive to energy reduction requirements than HVAC and therefore is critical to demand response initiatives and variable pricing scenarios. Lower energy use allows companies to reduce operating expenses and therefore increase a building’s value. It makes a building more competitive while also giving the owner a green story for marketing their property.

NREI: Ultimately, the goal is to see building performance become commonplace. How much of a factor in occupancy decision-making is building performance now? Are you already seeing tenants opt for smart buildings over traditional buildings?

Golan: There is no question there is a movement in the market towards intelligent and green buildings. To me, green, LEED and intelligence all go together because a green building is an intelligent building. In time, as intelligence affects the use of the building in more ways than just the cost, we will see an even faster shift.

What we think of now as building “intelligence” is about becoming more efficient and reducing costs, as opposed to making a building a better building.

Think about a hospital: If you tell the owners that you can save them $1 million a year in operating expenses, they will be happy. But what if you said you could get their patients to leave the hospital two days earlier due to the ways the controls are affecting the use of the building? That is a lot more interesting to the hospital, because it affects their core mission.

Controls have the potential to make a hospital a better hospital or a retail building a better retail building, and once that happens, those factors will start to dominate over efficiency.

Corporations think in terms of “context versus core”—today we are affecting context because our lighting controls save money but we are not affecting the core activities inside the building. We will get there as controls become more commonplace, and that’s an interesting direction.

NREI: When do you think building performance will become just as much of an occupancy decision-making element as, say, location?

Golan: The question is, when does intelligence become critical? If one building outperforms another, it starts to take precedence over location. As controls reach fruition, this will replace the old adage “location, location, location.”

Location is becoming less crucial over time because of virtualization—the ability for things to be done remotely. Bottom line is that people are still going to have to decide where they want to be, but the key question is what will direct your location decision? Will you use the same drivers as in the past?

NREI: According to a CoR Advisors survey, 32 percent of building owners are involved in any kind of demand response today and only 19 percent have any connection to smart grids. How has that changed over the past five years and what do you expect in the next five?

Golan: The numbers have continued to go up, and I expect them to continue to rise. What will drive this are utilities and regulation—as pricing models change and regulations change and as utilities get more aggressive about smart grid management, the percentages will go up.

To expect busy building owners to be the drivers is the wrong way to think about this. Owners will follow along. I don't know how utilities are going to meet demand in the long-term without putting these factors into play.