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Shifting To A Smarter Shade Of Green

May 4, 2009
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How does the practical reality stack up against the grand vision for green building energy performance? And what role do integrated systems and operations tools play in helping to close the gap between dream and reality? Introspection among building owners, engineering consultants, systems integrators and controls contractors, suppliers and other practitioners at the recent Green Intelligent Buildings Conference indicates a shift to a smarter shade of green, where intelligence and green are woven together to offer greater potential for high performance. Three themes emerged.<

Growing Emphasis on Performance

First, there seems to be general acknowledgement in the design and engineering communities that not all green buildings are necessarily energy-efficient. Second, buildings rarely if ever operate as they were designed by most measures. This is especially true when it comes to building perform-ance and energy efficiency.

With a decline in new construction and more focus on existing buildings, and a growing understanding that construction constitutes a very small portion of a building’s life cycle, people are turning their attention to O&M, the everyday tasks critical to maintaining a building’s performance over time. Recent developments in LEED® rating systems from USGBC support this trend:

  • LEED 2009’s greater emphasis on Energy and Atmosphere credits: “With revised credit weightings, LEED now awards more points for strategies that will have greater positive impacts on what matters most – energy efficiency and CO2 reductions.” 1

  • A new rating system with a focus that goes well beyond construction: LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance.
Furthermore, the ability to better understand and thus better manage building performance and energy consumption is an industry aspiration that is being realized in various ways. At the Green Intelligent Buildings Conference, keynote speaker Kathleen Hogan, director of the Climate Protection Partnerships Division at the EPA, noted substantial recent growth in the use of performance assessment, one-time evaluations using online tools that quantify a building’s energy performance. The bottom line: People are striving to improve how they operate and maintain buildings, to understand the impact of their efforts, to assess how they are doing and how they can do better.

Realization of Continuous Measurement and Feedback

Taking these aspirations a step further is the concept of continuous real-time measurement and feedback. An analogy with recent automotive devel-opments is helpful here. Honda makes very effective use of real-time feedback to influence driving behavior in the recently introduced 2010 Honda Insight. The Eco Assist feature employs several feedback functions including Ambient Meter, where the speedometer background changes color based on the vehicle’s efficiency, which is a direct output of driving behavior. Additional tools, dubbed Eco Guide and Eco Scoring, provide more feedback on current driving style and long-term cumulative performance, respectively. With these tools, the driver is equipped to optimize fuel effi-ciency.

Similarly, building operators, engineers, and occupants equipped with the right tools are much more apt to make decisions that positively impact building performance. Integrated building systems provide the foundation for such capabilities. Superimposed on these systems, operations tools comprised of Web-based and mobile device applications provide real-time performance feedback and actionable information, enabling building op-erators and engineers in their quest for efficiency. Occupant-focused Web-based applications and kiosks make it possible to involve the people that work in or otherwise use a facility in its performance. At the Green Intelligent Buildings Conference, such concepts were a common thread in many of the sessions and discussions

Progression to High Performance

High-performance buildings call for high-performance systems and technologies and the design philosophies and methods necessary to make them work. Examples include radiant cooling and heating, natural ventilation, and active façades. Leading projects are demonstrating success with such systems. One project in Chicago, the Loyola Klarchek Information Commons, recently profiled in Engineered Systems magazine and featured at the Green Intelligent Buildings Conference, applied these very systems and incorporated controls that integrated heating and cooling, ventilation, and lighting and shading systems.

Furthermore, designers applied advanced techniques in the building’s design. In this case, sophisticated modeling of airflows was employed to under-stand how the active double façade worked with the ventilation strategy. High-performance buildings necessitate a shift to a smarter shade of green.

Realizing the Shift

While building systems historically evolve relatively slowly, the economic environment and The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act may actually provide a catalyst to accelerate the pace of change. The legislation includes the most ambitious plan ever initiated to renew public buildings with special provisions focused on transforming numerous federal buildings to high-performance green buildings.

The Recovery Act, in combination with the Obama administration’s intent to bring significant progress to energy-related issues and energy independence, places much more attention on buildings, their role in the energy economy, and their potential contribution to a more energy-efficient future. This major shift in priorities supports a shift to a smarter shade of green, where integrated systems and operations tools make high performance in buildings a practical reality. GIB

Works Cited

1. USGBC, www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage aspx?CMSPageID=1971, 2009.

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