First published on August 5, 2012

Earlier this summer I attended the national Urban Land Institute (ULI) Spring Meeting: Power to Lead, Energy to Thrive, held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Land development professionals from across the country and every sector of real estate gathered to discuss the current market place. A cornerstone of the conversation focused on the relationship between energy, land use, and real estate development; and from that, the emerging opportunities to integrate renewable energy and land development.

Working to achieve balance between land development and the environment is nothing new. Regulatory frameworks from the local to federal level, as well as voluntary green building standards such as the USGBC’s LEED rating system, help to ensure the protection of our natural resources. For decades, land planning and development has practiced ecological planning; sustainably integrating compatible land use solutions for modern development and the environment.

However, communities and developers are now looking to incorporate sustainable energy practices into the development process and integrate renewable energy within master planning and land development.

On specific sites, property owners are reviewing and marketing real time energy use, while illustrating specific building energy efficiency and performance to their tenants and the public. On a master-planned level, site feasibility analyses include renewable energy assessments.

The evaluation examines opportunities and constraints for maximizing on-site energy generation to include wind, solar, biofuels, and geothermal energy solutions.

When assessing the potential for on-site energy, several key services are critical to integrate at the project concept stage: solar, geothermal, and wind feasibility; site engineering and planning, including utility infrastructure, drainage, and transportation; and surveying. An energy feasibility analysis takes account of historical meteorological data, solar access, and soil and geotechnical evaluations as an initial step in understanding the energy that can be derived from
the land and sun.

Together, these integrated services uncover opportunities and obstacles that drive land design and energy plans. The placement of buildings and facilities dictates solar and wind access while also determining how a geothermal system might be integrated. By initiating an energy feasibility analysis at the early stages of planning and development, developers and communities are able to account for the prime locations of renewable energy resources.

Such a holistic approach to the integration of land and energy arrives at design solutions that deliver the maximum renewable energy output, reduce costs, and build on an emerging and sustaining market trend in land development.