Raising the green in urban buildings with modern elevator technologies

Energy efficient buildings like the World Financial Center and Torre Agbar

A large majority of people will live in a city at some point in their lives and, if we want to sustainably reduce energy consumption, we’ve got to focus on where most people live and work. Within cities, most energy is consumed by buildings, industry and transportation – in that order. For buildings, elevators represent a substantial opportunity to invest in long-term energy and cost savings.

Considering that previous generation elevators can consume up to 10% of a building’s total energy and have a service life of 30 years, it’s high time to start thinking seriously about improving elevator efficiency.


The call of the urban jungle

The already staggering growth in urban populations will require new residential and office space. It is estimated that 250 million new housing units will be needed before 2030 in the 12 most populous countries, which together account for 61% of the global population. This urgent need for housing requires tall buildings that occupy less space and allow for intelligent energy management.

The development of new commercial and residential properties represents an enormous opportunity to improve the environmental performance of cities. But that is only if these properties are built up using modern technologies that enable cleaner, greener and more cost-efficient high-rise concepts.

Building's share of energy consumption in 2030

Energy demand as high as our buildings

Global energy demand will increase by 20-35% over the next 15 years – with cities consuming almost two-thirds of that amount. Buildings are the largest consumers of municipal energy, and thus represent the most significant item on which to focus to reduce global energy consumption.

Clearly, buildings are an obvious target for cities aiming to reduce their carbon footprint. If clever engineering and creative new technologies were to succeed in doubling energy efficiency for buildings, that alone would reduce world energy consumption by 10% by 2030.

The dinosaurs of energy consumption

Resource scarcity is a future reality we all will have to face. Energy conservation measures need to be implemented in buildings now to make a meaningful impact within 15 years. That’s why it is essential to act now.

Buildings in Europe are in need of extensive renovation to reduce energy consumption, e.g. elevator modernizations alone could cut energy consumption by up to 60%. From a financial standpoint, energy should be viewed as a substantial cost factor for any building. Replacing older elevators and escalators can vastly improve a building’s energy scorecard and thus its cost effectiveness.

Cities will account for 73% of global consumption in 2030 Cities will account for 73% of global consumption in 2030
World Financial Center in Shanghai – an energy efficient building

The new class of green

Elevators, escalators, and other mobility solutions are playing an ever more important role in creating sustainable – potentially self-sufficient – buildings. And saving energy is not just environmentally sound: it also makes financial sense. Here are some recent cases where cutting-edge passenger transportation systems have successfully cut energy consumption.

Double-deck elevators are one these innovations, and were introduced in 2008 at the Shanghai World Financial Center, China’s tallest building. There, four double-deck elevators – each comprised of two 2,000 kg capacity cabs, attached one on top of the other – whisk visitors to a height of 240 meters, where they also serve as a sky lobby.

These elevators are not just fast: they are the fastest double-deck elevators in the world. Visitors reach the top at record speed, traveling at ten meters per second (36 km/h). To achieve this speed, thyssenkrupp Elevator’s engineers developed special aerodynamic cladding for the cabs and doors. And to ensure a comfortable ride at these high speeds, guide rails in the shaft use high precision laser technology and electronically controlled active roller guides ensure low-vibration travel. To top it off, they’re efficient, with the highest VDI 4701 Class A efficiency rating.

Meanwhile, in Barcelona (Spain), the Torre Agbar has received several awards for its design, efficient land use and sensitivity to the environment and society, including a sustainability certification from BREEAM, a leading assessment scheme. Its elevators use a smart-routing system to optimize use and reduce energy consumption.

In addition to efficiency improvements, elevators can also function as power generators. Regenerative drives, which capture energy as the cabins slow down, can reduce a building’s energy needs by about 30%. At the new EE in 1WTC, the energy generated is enough to power the building’s lighting system. 

Torre Agbar, Barcelona Torre Agbar, Barcelona
Torre Agbar in Barcelona, BREEAM certified

Smart green makeovers

Regenerative technologies can be integrated into almost any existing building. Like the example above, the newly refurbished elevators in Berlin’s iconic TV tower also generate electricity as they descend. And they’re unobtrusive: the elevators were custom-built to blend in, and conform to the strict protection requirements of this German landmark.

Another example: a major U.S. airport recently partnered with thyssenkrupp Elevator to modernize their escalators with the latest energy-saving technology. By entering into a special stand-by mode when no passengers need the escalators, they save nearly 60% of running energy.

Andreas Schierenbeck
Today’s energy inefficient buildings simply cannot cope with our rising energy needs. The decisions we make today affect the future of cities. It is imperative for urban development to remain forward-thinking and focused on sustainability – for the benefit of generations to come. The expertise and products already exist; the only challenge is to upgrade our building stock more quickly.

Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO, thyssenkrupp Elevator, talking at the Energy Efficiency Global Forum (EE Global) 2015, in Washington D.C.

Giving energy savings the corner office

Although future savings certainly justify the investment, constructing a completely new green building can be cost-intensive. However, that’s not the only option. In many cases, it makes more sense to rethink and refurbish existing structures, and discover how even historic buildings can make a substantial contribution to a greener world. Take care, however, to seek out partners that care about the environment as much as you do.



Stage Image 1: Shanghai lujiazui by jo.saulicensed under CC BY 2.0
Stage Image 2: Torre Agbar by Jimmy Baikoviciuslicensed under CC BY 2.0

Content Image 1: Shanghai lujiazui by jo.saulicensed under CC BY 2.0
Content Image 2: Torre Agbar by Jordi Masague