Danfoss recently hosted its 26th EnVisioneering Symposium in Washington. The event, “Tomorrow’s Buildings: New Driving Forces,” convened leaders from the HVACR and buildings industries, policy, research, and energy-efficiency advocacy groups to discuss government response to new carbon reduction and energy-efficiency targets, steps to a new building-energy world, and criteria to guide the transformation.

Lisa Tryson, Danfoss director for corporate communications and public relations, set the symposium agenda in her opening remarks.

“The U.S. Clean Power Plan and the recent United Nations carbon emissions agreement point to a new vision for energy and a low-carbon or post-carbon future,” she said. “High-performance buildings are vital to that future. Buildings can be made dramatically more efficient, smart, and integrated. Since buildings consume about 70% of our electricity, it is hard to imagine a low- or post-carbon world without very high-performance buildings. Our mission today is to explore how we make the vision a reality.”

Launching the discussion, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Julie Rosenberg, branch chief, state and local climate and energy programs; and Cindy Jacobs, senior advisor, commercial and industrial buildings branch, climate protection division, noted that the U.S. Clean Power Plan is set to achieve a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. They said the plan’s vision of a clean energy future will not be derailed by today’s energy politics or litigation. However, success of the CPP is dependent on states finding innovative ways to harness and build on the momentum of steps taken since the plan was launched — including steps to drive energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

“Energy efficiency,” Jacobs said, “is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Some current efficiency trends include transparency in building energy use, energy benchmarking and disclosure policies, the availability of utility aggregate data on buildings with three or more tenants, and increasing interest in tenant energy efficiency.

Looking globally, Scott Foster, director, sustainable energy division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, saw the same trends emerging worldwide, and with reason.

“By 2050, the world’s population will be about 9 billion. Of those 9 billion people, 70% will be living in cities. That’s the equivalent of adding 235 cities the size of Paris to the planet,” he said.

With that in mind, building and energy strategies are simply unsustainable — and are being superseded.

Participants at the symposium also discussed how data is the knowledge base for transformation in buildings and energy, and the growing availability of data begs the question of how to use it, and of which data is most important to make available.

High-performance, integrated buildings require a platform that can obtain and analyze real-time energy use information and can help building systems to communicate with one another. The U.S. Department of Energy, participants noted, is actively investing in grid modernization initiatives that will improve reliability, efficiency, and resiliency, and also enable better energy analytics. This includes the development of a platform that will help varied building systems, from various manufacturers, talk to one another.

Dr. James Freihaut, professor of architectural engineering at Penn State University, highlighted that two-thirds of fuel energy is lost in U.S. electricity generation, transmission, and distribution. Moving the market toward a new generation of buildings that can interact on a smarter grid requires a redesign of the entire building delivery system — from regulations and policy to design, construction, and finance, and that redesign needs to be data driven.

Drake Erbe, vice president of business development at Airxchange and chairman of the ASHRAE 90.1 Standard committee, expressed the implication for building delivery strategy.

"The building delivery system has to change,” he said. “Beyond standards and codes, there is a whole set of groups that need to fundamentally change their individual business models.”

And Foster took the argument a step further, suggesting that moving the market requires a significant “mind-shift” — from selling commodities to services.

“We’re not actually delivering energy,” said Foster. “We’re delivering quality of life. We’re not actually delivering commodities — oil, gas, and electricity, we’re delivering lighting, heating, cooling. If we can figure out how to structure the regulatory system so that it focuses on the services and puts value on services, it would change business models.”

The vision that emerged is of a data flow that captures the values being provided by energy through buildings, not simply the quantification of energy consumption, and analysis of that data to guide the integrated design of buildings and communities of buildings with quality of life metrics. Moving to a whole building consumption metric would itself be transformative.

Laura Van Wie McGrory, vice president for international policy at the Alliance to Save Energy; and Maureen Guttman, president of the Building Codes Assistance Project, explored important strategies for advancing system efficiency from today’s status quo. The agenda was daunting, from breaking down established industry silos to collaboration among industry stakeholders and between industry and policymakers; new forms of integration within and among building systems to novel approaches to optimizing technology — smart design and smart control; incorporating systems strategies through all phases of the building lifecycle; developing campus- or community-scale systems, buildings-to-grid integration, system-level metrics, and modelling procedures that reflect real-world operating conditions and allow hybrid technologies.

The vision suggested changes across a broad swath of contemporary practice:

• Better modelling to reflect real-world conditions

• Analyzing mechanical systems at full and partial loads

• Establishing better informed baselines

• Continuous commissioning to ensure long-term energy savings

• Coordination between ASHRAE 90.1 & Advanced Energy Standards Committees, AHRI Systems Steering Committee, and key industry stakeholders

• Professionalized workforce training on systems approaches

Executive Director of Building Energy Exchange Richard Yancey offered a glimpse into the future when he outlined New York City’s OneCIty Built to Last campaign. NYC’s climate action plan seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, including a 60% reduction from buildings. To date, they have achieved a 19% reduction since 2005. This has been driven by upgraded performance standards for new construction and improved lighting, heating systems, and code required efficiency in existing buildings with expanded benchmarking and retro-commissioning to 25,000-sq-ft facilities.

Amory Lovins, co-founder, chief scientist, and chairman emeritus of the Rocky Mountain Institute, also presented a picture of what the future could look like when the full building envelope is considered in the design phase, noting that, with good design, U.S. buildings could triple or quadruple their energy productivity over the next 35 years.

The symposium’s discussion laid the foundation for a new initiative: a major report Danfoss is creating in collaboration with Dr. James Freihaut of Penn State University on advanced building and energy performance strategy. Danfoss’ 2017 EnVisioneering Symposium is already in the design phase and will aim to take a deep, holistic look at the building delivery system — and how it needs to function in a low- or post-carbon world.