The Opportunities Ahead for Energy, Telecom, and Land Development

On June 20th, the West Houston Association hosted a roundtable discussion on energy and telecom challenges and opportunities facing the future of growth in the region.  With increasing demand for energy – in particular, due to electric vehicle charging – developers are concerned about unintended consequences for both end users of services as well as the operators of the grid. Similar concerns exist for telecommunications with the increasing demand for interoperability, wireless, and IoT (Internet of Things). 

We recognize that the land development industry is facing a growing challenge: how to meet the increasing demand for energy and telecom services while also remaining sustainable. This challenge is only going to become more difficult in the years to come, as the demand for both energy and telecom services continues to grow, and as the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) increases. 

One way that the land development industry can meet this challenge is by working with energy providers and telecom companies to integrate their infrastructure. Working together also means planning for the development of new energy and telecom infrastructure in tandem, so that both can be delivered efficiently and effectively. For example, land developers could work with energy providers as early in the planning process as possible to reduce supply chain and other logistical delays. One important aspect of collaboration between energy and telecom sectors is the shared use of infrastructure. Both energy and telecom networks require extensive cabling and conduits to connect various points within a development. By deploying shared trenching systems, the need for multiple trenches and disruptive construction activities can be minimized. This approach reduces the environmental impact, maximizes space utilization, and optimizes project timelines. Furthermore, the joint use of existing infrastructure, such as utility poles, can significantly reduce costs and simplify the deployment of telecom networks. For the most part we are pretty good at doing this, at least in some places some of the time.   

Land developers could also work with energy and telecom companies to coordinate beyond joint trenching, further encouraging the installation of fiber optic cables in new developments and planning ahead for wireless telecom demands. As development extends further from existing central business districts, and more people are opting for work-from-home lifestyles, these enhancements would provide residents and businesses with better access to high-speed internet, which will be increasingly essential to meet education and workforce demands. While most telecom companies are already installing fiber to areas of new development, there are still places where copper lines service areas that may be redeveloping. More important is the coordination of wireless service, which is often driven by demand growth rather than planning. On the energy side, coordination could also involve planning for the development of EV charging stations in convenient locations throughout the development rather than relying strictly on home charging. 

In addition to shared physical infrastructure, the convergence of energy and telecom systems can enable innovative solutions. As we move forward, we can consider a “smart development” approach similar the “smart city” context where there is greater integration of technology for utilities and telecom that extends to other aspects of infrastructure like water supply networks, waste, and traffic management. Smart grids and smart meters can integrate with telecom networks to enable real-time monitoring, efficient energy management, and demand-response mechanisms. This integration allows for better control and optimization of energy consumption leading to improved energy efficiency and cost savings. Similarly, telecom networks can benefit from energy-efficient solutions, such as using renewable energy sources to power communication towers and data centers, reducing their carbon footprint. Innovative solutions could allow for increased resiliency as well as more efficient use of energy and the possibility for integration of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. Microgrids, or small-scale electric networks that can operate independently as well as in conjunction with the main electrical grid, as well as increased use of battery storage, can provide increased resilience and reliability for a development as could potentially provide cost savings.  

Another way that the land development industry can meet the challenge of increasing demand for energy and telecom services is by incorporating sustainable design principles into their developments. This could include things like designing buildings to be more energy-efficient, using sustainable materials, making homes and offices EV ready, and incorporating green spaces. Sustainable design can help to reduce the overall demand for energy, which can help to make developments more sustainable and resilient. Sustainable design could also involve increased use of trails and bike paths, which can help to reduce reliance on cars. Green infrastructure, such as trees and rain gardens, can also help to improve the air quality and water quality of a development. This has additional benefits of making developments more attractive to sustainability minded customers.  

Commercial and Industrial developments can also increase the use of energy-efficient materials and appliances. Moreover, designing commercial and industrial developments to incorporate natural ventilation and shading will help to reduce the need for air conditioning and heating. They can also consider the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar rooftops or sustainable strategies, such as green roofs and technology to improve water management. 

To facilitate effective collaboration, we may need updates to regulatory frameworks to encourage and incentivize cooperation between energy producers, suppliers, and end users. Governments and regulatory bodies should promote partnerships, provide incentives, and streamline administrative processes to facilitate cooperation and joint infrastructure deployment between energy and telecom sectors. Additionally, public-private partnerships can play a crucial role in financing and implementing large-scale infrastructure projects, ensuring the successful integration of energy and telecom systems in land development. 

Land developers can also work with energy providers and telecom companies to develop a comprehensive plan for meeting the increasing demand for energy and telecom services in their developments. This plan should take into account the specific needs of the development and the availability of resources. By working together, land developers, energy providers, and telecom companies can help to meet the increasing demand for energy and telecom services in a sustainable and efficient way. This will help provide a more sustainable and resilient future for our communities.