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Here’s how to make Maryland a center for ‘cleantech’ and ‘proptech’ innovation | COMMENTARY

Then Vice President Joe shakes hands with audience members after participating in a roundtable discussion on ways to develop clean technology and job creation in this 2015 file photo. (Liz O. Baylen/ Los Angeles Times)
Then Vice President Joe shakes hands with audience members after participating in a roundtable discussion on ways to develop clean technology and job creation in this 2015 file photo. (Liz O. Baylen/ Los Angeles Times) (LIZ O. BAYLEN / Los Angeles Times)

The Biden administration is advancing an aggressive climate change agenda. Historically, national policymakers focused on emissions from energy and transportation. As President Biden signaled in his early executive orders, however, his administration will be prioritizing climate emissions from the building sector, which accounts for roughly 30% of U.S. emissions. As the U.S. Department of Energy has highlighted, new technologies will be required to achieve target emissions reductions from buildings. Maryland is already an emerging leader in the property technology (proptech) and cleantech space. Through public and private collaboration, the state can strengthen its leadership position, fostering an innovation economy and creating jobs.

Maryland is home to great startups that sit at the intersection of climate and real estate, like Datakwip, a building analytics platform that reduces building energy emissions through smarter climate management, and Dynamhex, a platform that uses artificial intelligence models to identify the current carbon footprint of a business or municipality, then model, analyze, and prioritize emission reduction recommendations.

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Maryland’s cleantech and proptech industries have benefited from an influx of strong public and private investment. Among those investors is the University System of Maryland’s $10 million Momentum Fund, which provides early-stage seed investments for technology ventures that stem from the university community. Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources — along with the University of Maryland, College Park, and the Environmental Protection Agency — have also set up their own Innovative Technology Fund and the Chesapeake Bay Seed Capital Fund. Meanwhile, a new initiative, Surge Baltimore, is mobilizing the city’s public and private sector to cultivate more high-growth companies and foster a more diverse technology workforce. In addition, there are numerous venture capital firms in the state, including a handful that focus exclusively in the cleantech and proptech sectors.

Maryland also benefits from major federal investments in energy and technology. It is home to the federally funded Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and to major military installations that focus on technology, like Fort Meade and the Aberdeen Proving Ground. It is also home to more than 100 million square feet of federally owned building space, including high-profile federal facilities like the headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the National Security Agency, and the Social Security Administration. Under President Biden, these agencies will be piloting and deploying new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their facilities.

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Maryland can build on these foundations.

First, as Maryland and the city of Baltimore put new climate programs in place, those policies should be designed to encourage innovation. If Maryland creates a statewide greenhouse gas emissions reductions regimen for buildings, for example, it should be agnostic with regards to the technology deployed to achieve emissions requirements. It should also include a credit trading option that will incentivize vanguard companies to push beyond current technological limitations.

Public agencies should actively seek out technology partners to reduce their own emissions. New York City recently put out a request for proposal for a pro bono proptech adviser to consult on how technology can reduce carbon emissions from city buildings, which generated strong interest in the technology and real estate community. Baltimore and Maryland can do the same.

The state of Maryland should also lead by example when it comes to high-performance green building standards. The state legislature is currently considering the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021, under which the state of Maryland would be required to build most major new buildings with net-zero emission technology. This would be an important step forward. The state must also reconsider the 2019 decision to end the practice of making all new school buildings LEED certified.

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For most buildings, deploying even the most cutting-edge technology will not drive emissions down far enough to meet national and global objectives. Universities around the state should follow the example set by Johns Hopkins University and by the University System of Maryland in encouraging research into and commercialization of new technologies in proptech and cleantech, drawing from the material sciences, electrical engineering, and software engineering.

If the city and state work proactively with the private sector, Maryland can align with the Biden administration’s goals for clean energy, climate emissions reductions and job growth, and position itself as a center for cleantech and proptech innovation.

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Nate Loewentheil (nl@cambercreek.com) is a vice president at Camber Creek, a Maryland based venture capital firm that invests in real estate technology, and a former senior economic adviser to President Obama.

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