Our Luminext team continues the highly-successful interview series with a nice discussion on sustainable building design and materials. The person we chose to speak with us on this subject is Harmel Rayat, prolific serial entrepreneur, business owner, successful commercial real estate investor and contributing writer for The Huffington Post.
Harmel is also an inventor and major shareholder of the clean energy company, SolarWindow, which makes him more than qualified to speak on this subject. SolarWindow is the world's leading see-through electricity generating technology for glass and flexible plastic that can turn tall towers and skyscrapers into electricity generating buildings.
So, without further ado, here are the questions and what we managed to learn from Harmel in our brief interview session.
Reducing the carbon footprint of commercial estates is always a tough task to undertake. Do you feel challenged as an inventor to create the best sustainable building design?
I don’t look at this as a challenge as I see this as an opportunity to bring added value to our tenants and do right by the environment than anything else. I’m not an inventor, building developer or designer, but rather an investor and owner of class A commercial real estate.
I have been successful because unlike most real estate investors and landlords who are allocators of capital, when we decided to invest in real estate we made a concerted effort to become allocators of service. When you provide great service, invariably you wind up with high occupancy rates. As the great motivational speaker and writer Earl Nightingale once said, your rewards will always match your service. You have to put out the service first and that has been our secret to success.
How big is the team working on these sustainability improvements?
We have 10 full-time team members working on our properties to continue providing improvements in the area of making and maintaining a sustainable environment for our tenants throughout North America.
SolarWindow products definitely qualify as sustainable building materials and I imagine some of the improvements are done with them. Could you share a few details about the products themselves and the success you've achieved so far in making your business more sustainable?
SolarWindow™ products are being developed for next generation high-performance windows to provide real estate developers, engineers, architects, building designers, and future customers financial, renewable energy, and environmental incentives. The company has developed transparent electricity-generating liquid coatings that has the potential of retrofitting existing commercial buildings and turning newly constructed skyscrapers and tall towers into vertical power generators – reducing electricity costs by as much as 50% per year.
The product is about a year and a half away from becoming commercialized, and of course I will be first in line to retrofit my properties with this break through product. I might add, no competing technology has ever recorded or published an independently validated payback period of less than one year as SolarWindow has.
The company’s target for its product is the estimated five million commercial buildings in the U.S. alone. There is also plans for global deployment, as well as addressing the residential market in the years ahead.
The application of SolarWindow™ installed on buildings also tackles the need to produce renewable energy for a structure that has very limited rooftop space. The ability to reduce greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, provides a major health and environmental benefit and SolarWindow™ installed on the vast acres of glass around the world could offset equivalent carbon dioxide, helping to manage global warming and contribute to reducing air emission pollutants that are harmful to our health.
SolarWindow promises faster ROI and better use of the sun compared to a standard PV panel. Is that always the case? When discussing sustainable building design, each location and building has some unique features that need to be considered. What are the best and worst case scenarios in terms of ROI?
The scenario is pretty straight forward. Engineers will be able to install SolarWindow™ products on all sides of a commercial building, generating electricity using natural, shaded, and even artificial light.
Conventional solar does not work in shaded areas or perform under artificial light. As a result, SolarWindow™ outperforms today’s solar by as much as 50-fold when modeled for installation on a 50-story building. It also achieves the industry’s fastest published financial payback of less than one year, as validated by a team of independent engineers and at the University of North Carolina Charlotte Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (UNCC-EPIC).
In our initial conversation you mentioned energy and water conservation on your commercial properties. What are some of the sustainable building design efforts you've made so far?
I have replaced all of the roofing material on all six of our buildings at a cost of more than a $1 million per property. We converted to using state of the art roofing material that reduces heating and cooling ‘leakage’.
We have also retrofitted most – and soon to be – all of our buildings’ water systems to conserve that precious resource. We transitioned to LED lighting in all of our building’s common areas and stairwells and encourage our tenants to replace their lighting with LED technology. This saves our tenants money on their electricity bills, reduces the load on the city electric grid system, cuts labor costs as a result of not having to change light bulbs every month, and reduces landfill contamination – another huge payoff for the environment.
Reducing our tenant’s costs also makes it more accommodating to stay in our building longer. Currently we have the lowest vacancy rates in North America – approximately less than 4% – 0% in Vancouver BC where the city vacancy rate for commercial buildings averages 10%.
With all the sustainable building materials we have today, do you see grid defection becoming a viable option for businesses in the near future? Will businesses start to gravitate toward net zero and energy independence?
What you’re talking about is a great goal to have, but I wouldn’t say this is something that will happen in the ‘near’ future. There is a major initiative afoot for businesses and commercial buildings to work towards energy independence. I think the aim is to achieve marketable net zero energy commercial buildings as set forth by the NetZero Energy Commercial Building Initiative (CBI) by the year 2025.