Industry participants gathered in Washington, D.C., on June 3 for the 24th Danfoss EnVisioneering Symposium. Titled “Integrating Building Systems for Sustainable Energy,” attendees discussed connectivity, community-level regulation, utility integration and management, and new building-grid dynamics that are forming a path to a future of buildings very different than the existing built environment.

During the symposium, participants explored new opportunities in building integration strategy opened by developments in internet-building interface and sensor technology, experiments in community-scale building performance initiatives, and often-overlooked dynamics in building-grid management.

“Buildings will become smarter and the utilities of the future will become dramatically different providers than the ones of today,” commented Lisa Tryson, director of corporate communications for Danfoss. “Changes facing our industry, energy infrastructure, and commercial buildings will test our technologies, standards, and goals.”

Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who serves on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, opened the event with an overview of challenges to a national energy strategy and an outline of one focusing on not only asset use, but also workforce development and regulatory frameworks.

“A national agenda doesn’t need to be energy source specific,” Kinzinger suggested. “We instead need to focus on a few things: workforce development to ensure properly trained and educated workers are available for the high-tech jobs in the clean energy industry and the infrastructure of the energy industry — whether it be demand response technology or physical transmission assets. The regulatory environment that prevents new technologies also needs to be streamlined. Energy efficiency is great because it’s often a simple and affordable way to help meet the energy demands of our nation.”

Turning to developments in research and the commercialization of new technology, Azizan Aziz, assistant research professor at the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon University; and Mike Schell, vice president of marketing and business development at AirTest Technologies Inc., outlined new possibilities in remote building management and increasing occupant control which drive higher building energy performance.

According to Aziz, returning building control to occupants while advancing energy performance is possible through the development of building designs where data, intervention, and occupant education and behavior change are considered.

Schell specifically looked at how the shift to wireless technology can open new possibilities for low-cost installations and how sensors and connectivity put high-performance/high-comfort buildings within reach. He suggested that the building of the future — considering only 1% of the total building market is new construction — will be the buildings of today, but that working with these existing buildings will require industry to face some of the deeper challenges including the proliferation of moisture and mold problems, building temperature control that no longer controls moisture, and the cost of technology.

“Changing technology is easier than changing a paradigm,” Schell said. 

Similarly, building labelling, participants discussed, could be a driver of energy efficiency deployment.

In addition to building labelling, the symposium addressed the macro performance levels that are put within reach when building design and management is moved to the community level — either the city level, as discussed by Marshall Duer-Balkind, program analyst at the District Department of the Environment, Government of the District of Columbia; and at the campus level, as showcased by Thomas Nyquist, executive director, engineering and campus energy, at Princeton University.

In the District of Columbia, government has taken an active role to make the city green and liveable. By 2032, the city has a target of reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, and increasing the use of renewable power to 50% of the total source. Today, Duer-Balkind explained, D.C. is first in the nation among large cities in LEED- and Energy Star®-certified square footage per capita, first in the nation among total Energy Star® buildings and the number of LEED projects, first in solar energy per capita among states, and first in green power purchasing for the past five years.

For D.C., the strategy to improve energy efficiency and sustainability relies on benchmarking, reporting, and labelling buildings.

“By collecting this data and making it public to the market, we can drive energy efficiency as people compare building performance and make selections when they want to go lease an apartment, buy a condo, lease office space — make selections for buildings that are more energy efficient. And we’re already seeing this happen,” said Duer-Balkin.

At the campus level, Princeton University has set a target of reducing its energy use by 1/3 and reducing CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Reaching this level of sustainable energy use depends on the use of a distributed generation microgrid system that includes cogeneration, chilled water and thermal storage systems, solar photovoltaic electricity production, and biodiesel fuel oil. According to Nyquist, Princeton also relies on the tracking of demand on the local utility in order to be able to adjust and reduce capacity costs, which has saved the university approximately $1.6 million annually.

New territory opened when Dr. Shelley Norman, a regulatory economist in the Electricity Division of the Maryland Public Service Commission, outlined a central challenge of the building performance-grid equation. She outlined how increased amounts of distributed generation with and without grid reliance would affect traditional and alternate ratemaking approaches.

 Dr. Norman also highlighted the concerns that arise when regulators work to fulfill the regulatory compact between electricity users, generators, and distributors as technology evolves. While distributed generation, she explained, can have significant benefits for the grid and society — including reliability/resilience, cleaner power, load shaping, and congestion drops — it can impose costs depending on where it is installed and how it functions within the grid. Distributed generation also raises the risk of stranded investments shifting even unchanged costs to those unable or unwilling to participate, Dr. Norman explained. Developing a regulatory framework for sustainable funding is critical moving forward.