I’m not a big TV watcher save for a few choice shows (these days, that’s No Reservations, Top Gear, and Modern Family). I guess I’m one of those next-gen technophiles who prefers getting my information via websites and, now, iPhone apps. However, a few months ago, I was with my family while they were watching an episode of 60 Minutes where the founder of Bloom Energy was describing his new innovation—a small power block cell, two of which can power the average high-consumption home. A typical Starbucks can run on 64 of the cells stacked up.
I was skeptical when I first heard about this technology. My cousin and I started talking about new green technologies and whether they are worth the high investment costs, as well as the impact this Bloom Box, which is essentially a stack of ceramic disks coated with two types of chemicals that react to provide power, might have on energy consumption in the United States. He reminded me that Google, FedEx, and Walmart are using the technology (a refrigerator-sized corporate version) to provide a portion of their energy needs, cutting hundreds of thousands of dollars from their utility bills.
If that’s true, the first question that came to my mind was: How long until the multifamily industry adopts the technology? Unfortunately, just as quickly as the question came to me, the answer followed: If it takes other industries five to 10 years to adopt this technology (or something similar), we’ll be on board a few years after that.
Let’s face it, the multifamily industry has always been a little slow to adopt new technologies that have a real, tangible impact—not just a flashy, “check out our bells and whistles” marketing ploy. Oh, and we’ve also got a quick-to-get-excited, slow-to-implement attitude when it comes to green features. Think about it: Smart metering in individual units has only recently become a widespread phenomenon whereas the practice was implemented in retail and office space a decade earlier.
To a certain extent, multifamily players are capitalizing on new high-tech gadgets. In the past few years, the evolution of smart phone technology (namely the introduction of the Apple iPhone and Google Droid) catapulted some multifamily firms into the forefront of new app development. The Apple iPad is poised to give us the same results. (See “Game Changer” on page 44.) But the truth is, these devices are on the fringe of what will really symbolize a seismic shift in how the multifamily industry leverages new technologies. Until those new technologies become fully integrated into the day-to-day operations of firms and their customers—and have widespread application and adoption—they won’t significantly impact our business.
We are starting to see some steps in what I consider the right direction. Consider AMLI Residential. The Chicago-based firm has built out a green dashboard that leverages its existing property and asset management dashboard to integrate the oversight of energy and utility costs into its operations. (See “To Green and Beyond” on page 24.) And AMLI is not alone. Other large apartment firms and several of the publicly traded REITs are simultaneously deploying new technology strategies that take into account the needs of a more eco-conscious consumer.
Unfortunately, these firms as a whole control less than 2 percent of the nation’s apartment stock. So will the integration of technology and green in the apartment industry amount to an epic evolution? No. It’ll be more like a gradual step toward modernization. For the time being, it’s at least interesting enough to keep me from changing the channel.