Intelligent Buildings in the Institutional Sector

April 1, 2010

We live in some very interesting times. Energy security and climate change are on the tip of every tongue and constraints caused by dwindling energy supplies and impending government legislation are looming on the horizon. Electricity is getting more expensive and we don’t know where it’s going to stop — we can only be sure that its going to get worse. Out of necessity, a broad framework for managing in these times is emerging. The smart grid, GHG management, Intelligent Buildings, and Demand Response are converging elements of this organic response to the issues and Institutions (government and schools) are on the leading edge of implementation.

Demand Response provides a service level agreement framework for supplying “negawatts” to the grid (removing demand as opposed to supplying electricity). Companies or institutions that understand the “leeway” in their energy use can obtain preferred pricing on electricity in exchange for turning down consumption when called on. They are also paid for cutting demand and consumption on request when the grid approaches its capacity. Beyond requiring an extremely good grasp of what reduction in load is possible, Demand Response pushes subscribers to have automated load control to respond to utility load shed instructions.

GHG Management encompasses much more than energy usage. One of the key requirements of GHG management is the ability to inventory GHG emissions, verify them, and quantify progress against a qualified plan. To the extent that ongoing consumption of water, gas and energy is part of that plan, a certified mechanism for measuring this consumption (and when it occurs) is required. Measurement is fundamental in Demand Response as well, to enable negotiation of a Service Level Agreement (SLA) based on a concrete understanding of ongoing usage and from the perspective of being able to quantify responses taken (especially in multi-tenant buildings — to give credit where due).

You don’t need to have an Intelligent Building to participate in Demand Response or GHG management, but it is definitely very helpful. The characteristics of an Intelligent Building are; adequate coverage of consumption by a smart meter “fabric”, strategic load controls allowing the building to align to commissioning parameters based on a defined set of rules, and the ability to respond to external conditions imposed by utilities and the environment are. A three-way convergence of building control, consumption tracking (metering) and IT/business systems are further marks of an Intelligent Building.

Finally, the all-encompassing concept of the Smart Grid provides an environment in which generation, distribution, and load can nimbly adjust to ensure that there is an optimal balance for the health of the energy grid. The Smart Grid vision can accommodate local generation, SLA’s, Demand Response and innovative transactions across an emerging Energy Services Interface (ESI) between a utility and an Intelligent Building. Transactions contemplated across the ESI range from straight Demand Response to forward procurement of energy at a specific price, time and quantity.

It all starts to sound a bit like science fiction — and certainly the Smart Grid with its Energy Services Interface is still very embryonic. Standards and use cases are being defined and actual products are not widely deployed. Demand Response, GHG Management programs and Intelligent Building technology are all here today, however, and early adopters are using them today to get ahead of the game.

Institutions (hospitals, universities, schools, colleges, government) are an interesting entity at this pivotal moment in time. An institution has characteristics that set it apart from ordinary enterprises.

An institution is, first and foremost, typically non-profit. This means that there is much less room for waste than in ordinary profit driven corporations— so a strong focus on cost cutting is often emphasized sooner. This may not always be the case, but in today’s fiscal environment it is a brutal reality. Institutions often own a landmark property while at the same time manage a portfolio of leased space for easy expansion and contraction. Within the Institutional envelope, stakeholders are perceived as a community and management has a sense of stewardship with respect to the collective community and its property. Institutions are also very attentive to government policy and equally adept at leveraging it.

Given these characteristics it should be no surprise that institutions are proactively pulling every lever available to them in managing resource consumption. Institutions are aggressively pursuing available funding vehicles, putting in place building management systems, supplementing existing systems with adequate meter/monitor coverage to enable cost allocation/communication and event identification, and creating stakeholder programs that empower employees, customers and tenants to participate in the goal of reduction.

Triacta is engaged with many institutions across North America (schools, government, and government property management organizations) to improve their ability to manage energy and other resource usage. Out of the box, the PowerHawk metering platform is a good way to start any of these projects. “If you can’t measure it (adequately), you can’t manage it”, as the saying goes.

A common approach is to integrate PowerHawk meters with an existing building system. One of the drawbacks with this approach is that, traditionally, Building Management Systems (BMS) have not been designed to analyze energy usage sufficiently, or to be accessible by a broader audience than facilities management directly. This is changing rapidly, but chances are an existing system does not “fit the bill”.

A faster approach that can yield benefits immediately is to install PowerHawk meters, collect the data, and then send the data to PowerHawk Manager — a “cloud-based” Metered Resource Management application. Stakeholders can start to see energy use information immediately and meters can be integrated into an upgraded BMS at a later time.

A common theme emerging from our work with Institutional customers is that resource consumption information should be made visible to a broad audience (on display in elevators, halls, cafeterias etc.) showing actual vs. target usage. This visibility cultivates ownership among all the stakeholders and promotes energy conservation. In fact, this response is documented by the US Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) showing up to 2% reduction in consumption due to the “Hawthorne effect” — the knowledge that consumption is being observed results in short-term action by stakeholders to reduce their consumption.

Triacta has recently introduced live dashboard and desktop update capability to PowerHawk Manager (our Meter Management Software) to take full advantage of this collective drive to reduce consumption. Making information available and visible at all times sustains the short-term benefits of the Hawthorne effect, promoting long-term energy conservation.

While we work with our Institutional partners we will continue to share application and sector information in the hopes that other organisations can quick-start their own energy conservation programs.

Gord Echlin, VP Sales and Marketing, Triacta