Smart Build

Energy management technology helps buildings operate intelligently...and efficiently.

Photo: iStock.com/Spectral-Design

It’s likely that you’re sitting in a building as you read this, and if it’s not yet a smart building, it’s likely to become one soon, because buildings can’t be dumb when it comes to interacting with the smart grid. Moreover, the cost of electricity from the grid isn’t getting any cheaper, and that’s a fact not lost on your city, which is most likely on the road to becoming a smart city; so you’ll be expected, if not required, to raise your building’s IQ. In fact, key metropolitan cities are signing on to smart city programs from multinational companies such as Schneider-Electric, Siemens, and IBM. And, finally, if you’re company sells to a sustainably conscious corporation such as Walmart, you’ll have to demonstrate your commitment to a low carbon footprint.

With such powerful motivators, the year of 2013 may well be remembered as the pivotal point in transition for building energy management technology. From dumb to smart, wired to wireless, earthbound to cloud-driven, and even net-zero energy status, buildings are shedding load and reducing their energy consumption at a staggering rate. Efficiency across the enterprise (commercial or public) is the business rationale, with sustainability sharing an equally prominent role in guiding operational decisions.

According to Jim Fletcher, distinguished engineer and chief architect, Smarter Physical Infrastructure, at IBM, Armonk, NY, maximizing building efficiency requires both hardware and software. “If you follow what’s going on across the world right now, everything is becoming intelligent, and devices with electronic microprocessors embedded in them are connected to a network wirelessly, and they’re able to start providing data at high frequencies. But what if all we have is a lot of data? You need more than a lot of data. The key is taking in applying analytics to this data and, from there, generating actionable information.”

In the not-too-distant past, providing access to data was a sensitive issue for many cities. But today, cities are actually competing with each other to open their books (or data centers). For example, Buffalo, NY, was the 2013 winner of an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Grant, a competition that included 400 cities vying for IBM’s program (valued at $400,000). Buffalo’s grant proposal had to show how the city uses current technology, and define a goal of optimizing the use of data among public and private entities to understand and address complex issues. Sustainability is one of those issues, and IBM’s services will address setting policies around utility billing rates, electric vehicle use, and renewable energy generation on a smart power grid.

“One of the areas we focused on is building space, and another key area is the role of analytics and process management, and improvements in efficiencies,” explains Fletcher. “We have our smarter cities initiative, which is focused on the broader infrastructure and operations of the city by tying together many systems, and you’ll see this across most of our smarter solutions, because this has the ability to aggregate data and make it available for use actionable information.”

Scaled down to focus on an individual building’s infrastructure, this same technique worked well for one of Hurricane Katrina’s victims, Tulane University. Tulane is the largest private employer in New Orleans, but after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, employees returned to find that Tulane’s two campus locations had become the largest private ponds in New Orleans, with two-thirds of the sites underwater. As much of a disaster as it was, Katrina did give Tulane a somewhat clean slate, in terms of modernizing their building management systems. It also proved ideal as a showcase project for the partnership between IBM and Johnson Controls Inc. It began in 2010, when Johnson Controls announced that it would combine its energy efficiency and sustainable services and technologies with IBM’s software, hardware, and services to improve energy and asset management performance across their enterprises.

“I was very involved with the work at Tulane,” recalls Fletcher. “We were addressing the Richardson Memorial Hall which is a 100-year-old building, and Ken Schwartz, the Dean of the Architecture Department wanted to make that building a showcase, so we took the data they were collecting and applied analytics to the information, and found double-digit improvements in their energy consumption.”

The Memorial Hall had an existing building management system that allowed IBM’s TRIRIGA system to gather the data, and within weeks it was possible to visualize the information and drive analytics within a set of predefined rules. The TRIRIGA system gathers near real-time data and events from sensors on boilers, air ducts, lights, water pipes, chillers, and temperature gauges, and from the building management system. Then the data is analyzed and the results are fed into a dashboard, that lets operators drill into the details, such as the building’s microclimates or the operation of a specific boiler.

“We found simple things such as air-handling units providing heating while the windows were open,” says Fletcher. “In another example, we found that the systems were operating on the same schedule even when classes were out. One would expect the facilities management to be watching for these things, but they were only watching to see that systems were actually operating, but not necessarily in the most efficient fashion, and that’s typically the norm. These are very simple things, but they bring in double-digit savings and are what I call “˜green dollars’.”

According to Ken Schwartz, combining IBM’s technology with a renovation could bring the Memorial Hall within the reach of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum, and set the stage for achieving carbon neutral status sometime in the future.

“We’re in the planning stages, and eventually we’ll be producing and creating as much energy as we need to consume in the building. Onsite energy production will play a role,” says Schwartz.

The goal of operating net-zero buildings that generate at least as much power as they consume is gaining traction in the commercial building industry as a measure of long-term energy management success, according to a new policy statement from CoreNet Global, Atlanta, GA, an association of corporate real estate executives that boasts more than 7,900 members within its ranks. The statement noted that commercial real estate buildings account for 40% of the world’s annual energy consumption, and energy management and conservation are socially responsible practices. CoreNet’s latest report, Corporate Real Estate 2020, identifies distributed energy technologies, such as microgrids, cogeneration, and renewable energy resources, as enablers of the migration toward net-zero buildings. Technical support for the concept is available at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Net-Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative. Its goal is to achieve marketable net–zero-energy buildings by 2025 through an array of public and private partnerships to advance the development and adoption of high-performance buildings.

As Tulane continues to move towards its first net-zero building, Schwartz notes that building management systems are critical to maximizing the future distributed energy assets that make net-zero possible, and students need to be well versed in the technology. To that end, the Memorial Hall works as a real-world laboratory for learning about building management systems technology. The curriculum includes using the sensors and automation resources to gauge the impact of air temperature, humidity, water temperature, and other parameters that affect occupancy comfort and energy usage.

“There’s no such thing as a building system today that doesn’t have sensors, and that sensor technology can operate wirelessly,” explains Schwartz. “So, there is a whole different role for automation and analytics, and it allows managers to understand what’s happening in their buildings to a much higher degree than what was available even five years ago. As an educator and architect, it is extremely exciting time to be practicing, because we have a real paradigm for society, and people are recognizing how important it is for us to understand energy consumption both environmental and societal reason. There’s a push to operate in new ways, and that makes education interesting, because we want to be relevant and effective to our students and the society they serve.”

Tulane’s students are also benefitting from campuswide repairs and upgrades from Johnson Controls that included building an 8,000-square-foot addition to the central plant, to house a new 4,500-ton YORK chiller, plus steam system improvements, and optimized operation of existing chillers, boilers, and cogeneration equipment. Funding for the project involved a shared savings agreement within a 12-year performance contract. Johnson Controls also retrofitted nearly 1,500 light fixtures and installed over 4,000 new ones in eight dormitories, added occupancy sensors in dorm rooms to control lighting, and upgraded lighting in the student recreation center. Tulane is expected to save $2.85 million in utility costs annually for the 12-year duration of the performance contract. The Tulane University Health Sciences campus, and home to the School of Medicine, signed on for an 11-year, performance contract to save more than $2.4 million in utility costs annually through facility improvement measures.

Tulane’s energy efficiency upgrades offer a good example of the industry shift to accessible data and automation systems such as Johnson Control’s Metasys Building Automation Control systems, according to Jim Dagley, vice president of General Marketing and Strategy.

“Going back 20 or 30 years ago, most of the control systems and building automation systems were closed with proprietary language between devices and the systems,” says Dagley. “But fast forward to today, and Metasys can pull in so many different control points cost-effectively. Yet, where we’ve really made progress is in turning those points into actionable information to help a building owner easily save money and energy, and lower their operating costs. So, we’re at the point where the payback and return on investment gets to two years and under, and in some cases, we’ll have a project with one-year paybacks. That’s very compelling.”

For managing a portfolio of properties, tracking real-time energy consumption against the baseline makes it possible to identify buildings that may be consuming too much energy, based on criteria such as the time of day and the weather conditions. Saving time with maintenance issues is another compelling benefit. For example, Dagley cites a typical HVAC problem at a complex building such as a hospital, where the temperature rises abnormally within one area.

“Ten years ago, it would take a lot of troubleshooting to figure out the problem. Now a facilities manager can pick up their wireless device or tablet, or Smartphone or whatever, drill down and confirm that the control boxes, air handling units, and the boiler and chiller are working right. It turns out, it’s a matter of a faulty valve in the cooling coils. So, literally within seconds, they’re able to determine if there is a problem with the valve rather than spending weeks getting up in the ceiling and looking at every system to try to find the problem.”

Those same wireless devices can access distributed energy assets, and Dagley sees building management technology as a boost for onsite power operations.

“We have a huge customer base doing exactly that with smart grid technology,” says Dagley. “In the old days, you used onsite generation, peak saving shaving, and thermal storage at a fixed time of day under fixed conditions, and that’s not a bad approach. But with just a few extra sensor points and these algorithms running in the background, you start making decisions by the minute based on real-time pricing of power and the buildings load, because Metasys can optimize the time and equipment and length of run. So, the paybacks are amazing when they are automated, and for the smart grid and demand response, it’s even more important.”

In the context of the smart grid, building management systems will be critical to operating both traditional assets combined heat and power assets, and renewables, such as solar and wind power. In fact, there are many research programs exploring new technologies. For example, the partnership between the University of California at Irvine (UCI) and the Siemens Corporate Research group is working on advancing the technology between distributed energy and the smart grid.

“The smart grid is a lot more than two-way communication,” says Professor Jack Brouwer, associate director of the Advanced Power and Energy Program at UCI. “We have to design a system for the distributed resources to autonomously behave well,” he says. “Because no matter how fast you make the communications, it’s still way longer than a quarter cycle, and within a quarter cycle, my inverters and electronics are supposed to determine whether they remain grid-connected or not during a fault.”

The research is tested at UCI’s central plant, with generating equipment that includes a 13.5-MW gas turbine and 5-MW steam turbine plant that also incorporates heating and chillers, and a large thermal energy storage tank to provide heat, power, and cooling for the entire campus. “This is a hefty scale,” says Brouwer. “We’re working on the building we occupy, which is the engineering laboratory facility, and trying to match the operation of the smaller distributed resources, including photovoltaics and microturbine generators to figure out how to dispatch those with battery storage and fuel cells to better complement the building dynamics here.”

Ultimately, UCI’s research has significant applications for energy storage and variable resources such as solar or wind power that need cutting-edge building controls to attain their full efficiency performance. “What we are looking at is advanced controls techniques like applying model predictive controls and novel optimization algorithms,” says Brouwer. “As a matter of fact, much of what we are doing, especially with today’s computational power, could be implemented immediately. It may just take a while for the controls engineers and building automation engineers to adopt this sort of thinking, and to enable their building automation systems to manage distributed energy resources such as power generators and photovoltaics and wind turbines.”

Once those engineers adopt the advanced technology, will the workforce be ready for it?

The US Department of Energy and US Department of Commerce are concerned about the issue and in mid-2012 targeted $1.3 million for three Centers for Building Operations Excellence, to create and deploy programs aimed at training and expanding current and incoming building operators. The Centers are part of the Better Buildings Initiative, tasked with improving the energy efficiency of America’s commercial buildings up to 20% by 2020. A 20% improvement has the potential to reduce American business’ energy bills by approximately $40 billion per year.

The three Centers for Building Operations Excellence will work with universities, local community and technical colleges, trade associations, and the Energy Department’s national laboratories by focusing on building training programs that provide commercial building professionals with the critical skills required to optimize building efficiency, thereby reducing energy waste and saving money.

Graduates of the training program could well have jobs waiting for them in Las Vegas, NV, where BuildingIQ has launched the technology of predictive controls in a trial program with NV Energy, Las Vegas. The BuildingIQ system is an energy management software platform that forecasts energy demand and automatically adjusts a building’s HVAC settings to continuously optimize energy use and peak loads. It works with existing building energy management systems and utility demand response systems and incorporates weather forecasts, occupant comfort, utility prices, and demand response signals in its optimization algorithms.

NV Energy serves 2.4 million customers throughout Nevada and has targeted 12.1 GWh of annualized energy savings using the BuildingIQ predictive energy optimization application. The trial allows NV Energy to test a single integrated energy optimization platform as a solution for integrated energy efficiency and demand response for future programs. According to Mike Zimmerman, CEO, the benefits of demand response are fundamental to NV Energy, but the utility is also focused on energy efficiency.

“For Nevada Energy, the value of the BuildingIQ solution is that it does load reduction in peak times and also increases efficiency generally,” says Zimmerman. “So, it’s an integrated energy and demand response program in one solution. Typically, utilities have silos for doing demand response in one department and energy efficiency in another, and our view is that over time these silos are going to converge, because pricing is getting much more transparent with utilities. Flat rates have evolved to time-of-use and demand charges with penalties for using too much energy at one time, and now we have demand response programs. But ultimately, it will be a situation of real-time pricing.”

BuildingIQ recently announced an alliance with Johnson Controls to bring its applications onto the new Panoptix platform. Panoptix provides cloud-based access to energy data and allows customers to access BuildingIQ automatically. Customers also can purchase a monthly subscription to BuildingIQ through Panoptix.

“The business model is important,” notes Zimmerman. “Our service is sold on a subscription basis with minimal upfront cost. So, a customer buys a subscription and pays a monthly fee, and the savings are generating cash for the customer every month far beyond the cost of the fees. It’s a radically different way to charge for energy efficiency and much more aligned with how a customer thinks about their energy costs.”

The Panoptix platform is also a host to Building Dashboard, from Lucid Design Group, a cleantech software company in Oakland, CA. Modifying behavior is one of the key benefits of Lucid’s products, according to Andrew deCoriolis, director of marketing and engagement at Lucid. By making real-time information feedback easily accessible, Lucid’s Building Dashboard is designed to teach, inspire behavior change, and save energy and water resources. The company has also created Building Dashboard Network, a social network for buildings that allows people to view, compare, and share building energy and water use information on the Web, and from kiosks with touchscreen displays.

Social networking could play a decisive role in Lucid’s partnership with the Seattle 2030 District, a group of commercial building owners in downtown Seattle, WA, that have committed to a 50%reduction of energy, water, and carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

The partnership will benefit from the trend of aggregating building energy information both locally and nationally. Says deCoriolis, “We recently announced a new partnership with Honest Buildings that represents the first step in an evolving initiative aimed at making energy and resource use data an integral part of a building’s public identity.” Seattle 2030 is a member of Honest Buildings, New York, NY, a software company that collects information about commercial facilities, and makes it accessible and engaging.

“In the last year, Honest Buildings has made some tremendous strides, adding over 500,000 buildings to their network,” notes deCoriolis. “By mining publicly available records like real estate transactions and partnering with nonprofits, such as the US Green Building Council, they’ve been able to make information-rich profiles for commercial buildings across the US.”

Utilities are also interested in the benefits of energy dashboards to influence power consumption. For example, the Bonneville Power Administration recently awarded a first-of-its-kind grant to Lucid, in partnership with the Snohomish County Public Utility District and PECI. The grant funded a behavioral resource efficiency program in 10 Starbucks stores throughout the Northwest. The goal is to understand the impact of employees on energy and water consumption in retail stores, and establish best practices for empowering conservation and sustaining savings. All told, deCoriolis sees such market forces aligning to drive significant growth in the industry.

Utilities will drive much of that growth, according to Steven Nadel, executive director, The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Nadel notes that energy efficiency loan programs are now available in more than 30 states, and that utilities spent about $7 billion in 2011, an increase of $1.5 billion over 2010. For 2013, the ACEEE expects utility-sector spending and support to rise, and the federal government will follow their lead, due to the strong benefits of energy efficiency. For example, an ACEEE analysis demonstrated that the five-year federal tax credit for several high-efficiency options was a true bargain, with products and services costing the government less than one-tenth the cost of the energy resources saved over a 15-year period.

Savings on building energy efficiency technology offered the biggest bang for the buck, with the best paybacks coming from tax incentives for commercial buildings (both energy-efficient new construction and energy-saving retrofits), energy-efficient new homes, heating and cooling equipment and appliances, and (score another point for distributed energy) combined heat and power systems.

Although building management and automation has seen rapid growth, the mechanics behind it remain a mystery to many in the commercial building management community, according to Jim Maxwell, director of marketing at SmartBT, Bethesda, MD. That’s not surprising when you stop to consider the range of products and services that are possible in a building automation systems project. For example, SmartBT provides installations, service, and maintenance on building automation, tenant electrical sub-metering, lighting control, and variable frequency drives (VFD).

“A lot of customers already know how to do the labor and installation, but the integrating process is critical,” says Maxwell. “SmartBT is an authorized factory representative of Distech Controls, and though it’s standard equipment, it has to be customized and modified to what’s best for the customer. So this is more than just wholesaling material and equipment and installation. There is that additional layer of an integrated solution that must be customized with efficient programming for the client.”

Building managers need a “hands-on” approach, according to a report from Groom Energy, Salem, MA. Within “The Enterprise Smart Grid and a Corporate Buyer’s Guide for Energy Management Software”, researchers cite common challenges concerning energy managers, including requirements for better tools for data gathering and analysis, plus project tracking, purchasing, and planning.

With all the attention focused on commercial buildings, it may come as a surprise that there are residential applications for building management systems. One such example is Schneider Electric’s energy savings performance contract (ESPC) project for the United States Coast Guard (USCG) in Puerto Rico. With a budget of $50 million to address 960,000 square feet of USCG facilities including housing at three different sites, the project has improved operations for on-base personnel and mitigated maintenance and design burdens, and satisfied renewable energy mandates without direct capital costs.

Schneider Electric deployed its Andover Continuum building management system on the project. Andover is designed to monitor and control heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, humidity, lighting, access control, video, and other security features across one or more facilities. By using integrated control of all building systems across one or more buildings, Schneider Electric can provide up to 30% reduction in overall energy usage. For the Coast Guard’s project, energy management is critical in maximizing the efficient use of power from a 300-panel solar photovoltaic (PV) system with a 2.89-MW output. The contract guarantees production of more than 4 million kWh per year. In combination with new cool roofs that will reduce the annual cooling load of the buildings by 3.9 billion BTUs, the facilities will see an overall reduction of utility-purchased electricity by an estimated 40%.

“When we put the project together in 2010 the cost of electricity was 23 cents per kilowatt-hour, and now it’s upwards of 28 cents to 29 cents per kilowatt-hour,” explains Kevin Vaughn, program director, Federal Energy Solutions, Schneider Electric. “So, one of the real benefits to the Coast Guard is that with the electricity generated by the PV systems, they are paying significantly less than what they would pay from the grid.”

Along with stabile electricity costs, Captain John Hickey, P.E., LEED AP, CEM, Commanding Officer, USCG SMC, notes that the residents and workforce have benefitted significantly. “We got better HVAC systems, better roofing, and better power quality, so there’s less of a power burden on the grid,” says Hickey. “But, it wasn’t just a matter of make it more efficient. It was also about making the living and working conditions better.”

The USCG project is the first of its kind to combine the Renewable Energy Services Agreement (RESA) financing structure within an ESPC financing vehicle, thus maximizing the incentives and overall value to USCG, and enabling extension of the renewable energy financing term beyond 10 years. Funding the investment relied upon the US Department of the Treasury grant rather than the investment tax credit.

“The Coast Guard is an agency that has authority for utilities for only one year,” explains Hickey. “But with the ESPC partner, we can make the contract for 25 years and incorporate the renewable energy into it as an energy conservation measure.”

With multiple buildings and student dorms, universities and colleges share some similarities to military bases, and they’re ideal locations for energy management software, notes Janie Jefferies-Freer, president, eSight Energy Inc., Schaumburg, IL.

“The education sector is a good opportunity with lots of different building locations that are actionable,” says Jefferies-Freer. “For example, at the Evergreen State College, the facility managers were trying to do everything with spreadsheets, and that’s a common situation. Managers will have piles of bills that they’re trying to organize on a spreadsheet, and the accounting department would be doing another thing and facilities doing another and building engineering yet another. By using eSight across the whole campus portfolio, it’s easy to identify savings and present that data in an understandable way.”

Using an automated system can also save money in labor, about $40,000 worth in the case of one particular client, according to Jefferies-Freer. It’s because rather than paying to collect data manually, the budget is better served by focusing resources on interpreting the information gathered automatically.

“We teach how to interpret and use data to make improvements,” says Jefferies-Freer. You can set your benchmarks so your consumption doesn’t exceed those limits and you can promote what you’re doing to the organization. Every user gets a free dashboard and we have developed a social kiosk based on market research because the additional savings from getting compliance can be huge, and there’s a massive impact across the organization when people understand what they need to do.”

Ultimately, organizations will most certainly understand what they need to do, thanks to the efforts of state and federal legislators, and the need to increase energy efficiency and savings while implementing green and sustainable measures. According to a recent report from Frost & Sullivan, a global growth consulting company based in Mountain View, CA, because of legislation that imposes certain energy efficiency standards on buildings-such as the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007-building owners and facility managers are opting to install building automation systems that meet stricter requirements.

The research from Frost & Sullivan’s Analysis of the North American Building Automation Systems Market found that the market earned revenues of $535.3 million in 2011 and estimates this to reach $615.4 million in 2016. So, there’s good news overall for providers of energy efficiency products and services for the building sector, and there’s also good news for building owners and managers seeking solutions to their energy efficiency requirements. DE_bug_web

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