Building Energy Efficiency: Options In A Dynamic Environment

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of AOL Energy. Author credit goes to Jared Anderson.

It is estimated that 40% of US power consumption is attributed to buildings, and companies large and small are focusing on ways to reduce wasted energy in the places we live and work. With technological advances come new options forstreamlining energy efficiency programs.

“You have to look at a building as an organism that needs to be monitored consistently because conditions change – like weather or occupancy. A building is a dynamic entity, you can’t just build it and walk away,” Dave Bartlett, Vice President of IBM Smart Buildings recently told AOL Energy.

image via Shutterstock

IBM‘s smart building initiative was created because so many building systems now send out digital information, from things like lighting systems, CO2 sensors, security systems that monitor which doors and windows are open when, and even badge readers that can illustrate which portions of a building are occupied most and least often and at what times.

IBM is able to capture this data, run analytics on it and design optimization solutions that have been very effective in terms of saving energy and money, said Bartlett. This approach also allows companies to look across portfolios of buildings to see which are using energy efficiently, which are not – and why.

At the other end of the spectrum from a large company like IBM is a small startup that was founded out of MIT called Retroficiency. They are using computer software to improve the energy efficiency evaluation process remotely. Retroficiency CEO Bennett Fisher recently told AOL Energy that his company has been working to scale up energy analysis to evaluate multi-building portfolios and thus save considerable time and expense when compared to taking a building-by-building approach.

Retroficiency works with onsite building personnel with access to a facility’s energy usage data and in some cases Retroficiency partners with utilities to get the required information. By teaming with building staff, they are able to “leverage their data and facilitate their [building representatives] data collection,” said Mike Kaplan, Retroficiency’s Vice President of Marketing.

LEED Platinum Buildings ‘Energy Hogs’?

One of the interesting revelations that emerged from speaking with these experts on the energy efficiency front line, is that Energy Star scores and LEED certifications do not always equate to optimal energy efficiency. “We found 45% savings in a LEED Platinum building; it was actually an energy hog,” said Kaplan.

Bartlett, who is dubbed IBM’s “Building Whisperer” concurred and explained that you can have the most efficient, state-of-the-art insulation, but if you leave the windows open it’s not going to work. He said one of the problems is a lack of visbility in how the building is performing on a real-time basis. What is needed is a dashboard similar to those in cars – users can monitor the situation while speeding up, slowing down or steering towards more efficient energy usage.

Both IBM and Retroficiency are in favor of a broad, standardized asset rating for buildings, so side-by-side comparisons can be made for metrics like insulation or lighting. Fisher said his company had been selected by the Massachusetts government as a pilot group to help develop a statewide rating system. The Department of Energy is also looking into this, said Fisher.

“It’s a good idea because you can get a normalized view of efficient buildings generally and where individual structures fit – you can then publish the information and make it publicly available, said Bartlett. Name and shame is a powerful tool, because “nobody wants to be in the bottom 10%,” he said.

Bartlett believes a more holistic approach is needed, where buildings are considered within their larger ecosystems – like how they interact with water systems and power grids. “In this way buildings can become the building blocks for smarter communities.”

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