Rensselaer forms energy-focused institute focused on a smart building future

April 27, 2021
Robert Karlicek of the LESA Center and Dennis Shelden of CASE at RPI will co-direct the Rensselaer Institute for Energy, the Built Environment, and Smart Systems.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) president Shirley Ann Jackson announced last week, at US President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, a new RPI engineering and architectural institute that will be focused on architectural design and engineering practices for a sustainable future. The Rensselaer Institute for Energy, the Built Environment, and Smart Systems (EBESS) will pursue net-zero buildings and climate resilience delivered by a combination of renewable energy, new materials, and smart building systems that react in real time to changing conditions.

Jackson named Robert (Bob) Karlicek and Dennis Shelden, who each run existing research centers at RPI, as co-directors of EBESS. Karlicek has been a regular contributor to LEDs Magazine for years and has participated in many of our live and virtual events including delivering a keynote at Strategies in Light in early 2020. He directs the Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) Center at RPI, which was originally founded as a National Science Foundation laboratory. Shelden directs the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE) at RPI.

“As I said at President Biden’s milestone summit, universities provide the collaborative, interdisciplinary ecosystem necessary for developing and incubating new technologies required for a net-zero world. EBESS is the ultimate manifestation of this concept,” said RPI’s Jackson. “With the proven leadership and expertise of Dennis Shelden and Robert Karlicek, this new institute will accelerate the innovation of climate-friendly environments around the globe.”

The EBESS institute will be located in New York City and is being backed by major players spanning manufacturers to consulting forms to architects. The list of backers includes Siemens, Lutron Electronics, the Brooklyn Law School, the building engineering consulting firm Thornton Tomasetti, and the international architecture firms HKS, OBMI, and Perkins&Will. Lutron is the most notable name for professionals in the LED and solid-state lighting (SSL) sectors as that company is a leading manufacturer of autonomous and programmatic building and lighting control systems.

Clearly, this new institute spans a space broader than our coverage area at LEDs Magazine. But connected SSL will increasingly serve as the backbone of smart buildings and we will cover the integration of lighting and other network-enabled building systems such as HVAC, security, elevators, and more. Moreover, our magazine is part of the Advanced Technology Group within Endeavor Business Media, and our group is in the process of launching a Smart Buildings Technology brand that will more squarely focus on the smart buildings sector.

The significance of the EBESS organization lies in the realization of the broad problem at hand and the cross-disciplinary skills that will be required to deliver on the goals. “In order to address the large-scale challenges of climate change, we’re going to need to bring together capabilities across the polytechnic spectrum that Rensselaer represents,” said Shelden. “We need to cut humanity’s footprint on the environment even as our collective population grows, so we need to leverage science, technology, and systems thinking to do a lot more with less.”

Karlicek, meanwhile, is best known for his contributions to the LED and SSL sectors in recent history. And connected SSL, along with great sensing capabilities, will be significant factors in the EBESS mission. Still, Karlicek has a background that is far broader than LEDs including working at the iconic AT&T Bell Labs.

“Buildings still have a lot of work to do to be much more energy efficient and reduce their overall carbon footprint,” said Karlicek. “At Rensselaer, we are at the forefront of leading change in this direction. By working with others, both in academic and industry circles, we plan to drive a renaissance in the built environment in terms of how we make buildings and how we deliver services within buildings.”

LEDs Magazine chief editor MAURY WRIGHT is an electronics engineer turned technology journalist, who has focused specifically on the LED & Lighting industry for the past decade.

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