Engineered Systems Magazine

Proactive With Your Profile

February 1, 2008

The next frontier for building and automation systems will be driven by energy, and the primary reasons to engineer systems will be energy-focused. An even more provocative statement is that the future of your business relies on embracing this simple fact. This applies to manufacturers, engineers, and contractors because consumers have made it clear that they will buy from companies that embrace the notion of green. CEOs, mayors, university presidents, and many other leaders buy this idea, offering an unprecedented opportunity to elevate the importance of systems.

For many building owners, systems have been out of sight and out of mind. Leighton Wolffe of Constellation NewEnergy said that the “markets are shifting the premise of building automation systems from temperature control to energy control.” Future buildings will embrace energy-engineered systems (EES) where occupants define how much comfort they want based upon cost and other factors. Growing emphasis on LEED®, Energy Star Buildings, and other standards that target the entire design process from site selection to systems, reflects this, too.

The Time Is Now

So the time for EES is now. Especially as the traditional construction process becomes more broken, it is harder to deliver value with automation and engineered systems. Design specifications are often not enforced and integrators find it difficult to do the right thing while making projects profitable.

So what is the next value proposition? Energy, and key to this proposition is that the entry point for automation and technology into buildings is not through design professionals, but through electric meters! The emphasis is that higher energy prices, including $100/barrel for oil, are the most significant thing to happen to system design in decades. Combine that with the impact of the 2030 challenge, an AIA Initiative which states that building contribute 48% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Also consider that the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed by the president in December, mandates that all U.S. buildings will be high-performance/energy efficient by 2050 with the goal ultimately being to achieve zero net-energy use for new commercial buildings built after 2025 and all commercial buildings retrofitted to fit this guideline by 2050.

AHR presentations in New York developed by Ken Sinclair, the GridWise Architecture Council, and for the B2G (Building to Grid) Summit (www.bg-summit.com) underscored the importance of energy as will Connectivity Week this May.

So how do building owners make it happen? The answer is different for retrofits, new construction projects, etc. Either way, the owner should seek out teams, not just consultants, because any project can benefit from a blend of D-B solutions that include up-front analysis and involve contractors with pragmatic experience operating buildings and design professionals.

The real EES opportunity is to provide building owners with a completely new way of participating in energy markets. Traditionally, building energy technology targeted ways to optimize building operation/efficiency such as scheduling, optimization, and demand limiting. More recently, energy programs are often limited to internally funded measures, typically requiring an ROI of 30% or better. The other popular approach has been used by energy service companies (ESCOs) that use a financial sale to create an operational revenue stream to implement capital energy improvements. Importantly, most states capped this funding vehicle at 10 years, so the measures were limited. Unless customers were willing to consider life-cycle costs, broad-based EES projects requiring major investment were rare.

EES In Motion

A more common example might include systems like a large-scale EES higher education project partially funded by the DOE and currently under construction. The campus already has an extensive BACnet™-based automation system, plus smart meters to measure electricity, natural gas, and hot/chilled water and steam to clearly quantify energy consumption. The campus also has 8 MW of combined heat and power distributed generation (DG). This may not be unusual, but EES becomes more interesting here with the systems technology that is being developed. Demand response (DR) is being enabled through a Web portal so that the utility can drill down through the Web into the energy profile of this 20 MW customer to allow changes using DG, DR, etc.

For example, the first fully EES-enabled building on campus has integrated solar thermal with thermal storage and an absorption chiller, and it can be taken off the grid entirely for cooling. The next phase of activity on this project is to develop algorithms that will make it possible to change a building sequence of operation based upon energy needs, economic value, and potential reliability issues on the grid. Projects like this glimpse the full potential for EES and will transcend many of the traditional boundaries