Navigant Research Blog

3D Printing Providing a Boost to Building Energy Efficiency

— June 29, 2016

ManufacturingAdditive manufacturing has shown significant potential toward reducing manufacturing energy consumption and material waste. While these techniques are still evolving, the creation of objects with 3D printing, using computer models and depositing materials layer by layer into a predefined pattern, has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing. An article from Energy Policy estimates that 3D printing can provide cost savings of nearly $593 billion from energy and material savings. The applications for 3D printing span from the creation of medical devices to objects as large as wind turbine blades. In addition to saving energy and materials used in traditional manufacturing processes, 3D printing also has the ability to improve the performance of mechanical systems.

The Heat Exchanger

As its name implies, a heat exchanger is literally used to transfer heat from one source to another. For many decades, it has been a critical component in power generating stations, chemical plants, engines, refrigeration systems, and  facility heating or cooling systems. Heat exchangers have an impact in every industry, but despite its wide range of uses, the technology has seen minimal improvement or change for many years.

3D Printed Heat Exchangers

Recently, the University of Maryland used 3D printing technology to manufacture an innovative air to refrigerant heat exchanger in a single piece. The heat exchanger weighs 20% less and performs 20% more efficiently compared to traditional heat exchangers, while also being manufactured in much less time. The single-piece heat exchanger is constructed to be more resistant to pressure or leakage. From the perspective of building energy consumption, heating and cooling accounts for nearly 50% of energy costs. A 20% increase in effectiveness for heat exchangers, which act as both the evaporator and condenser in heating and cooling cycles, is a substantial improvement toward reducing building energy consumption. The University of Maryland estimates that the product has the potential to save nearly 7 quads of energy, or roughly the equivalent to 252 million tons of coal.

As 3D printing technology continues to evolve, game-changing techniques will lead to products that not only require less material, energy, and time to produce, but that also operate with effectiveness that was previously unattainable with traditional manufacturing processes.


A New Way to Evaluate Energy Efficiency

— May 9, 2016

HVAC RoofAt a high level, energy efficiency retrofits can be challenging to evaluate. Often, decision makers would like to see a rough estimate on simple payback; however, many case-by-case variables make common energy conservation measures either a quick payback for some projects or unrealistic for others. Some of these variables include baseline energy consumption, utility rate structures, facility hours of operation, climate, and implementation costs. For instance, a solar thermal water heating system would generate more energy savings for a facility that consumes more hot water and is located in a climate with high solar insolation.

It would be inaccurate for a facility manager to compare the simple payback from a different facility to their own without knowing how the operating conditions and potential install costs would vary. While payback is generally the most important factor in deciding on energy efficiency retrofits, the American Society of Heating and Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recently published a report analyzing efficiency in a unique way.

Energy Efficiency without Cost Consideration

ASHRAE has provided a study analyzing the efficiency potential of commercial and multi-family buildings if cost is not a consideration. After examining 400 measures, the top 30 were chosen for additional analysis and modeling on prototype buildings in various climate profiles already consistent with ASHRAE 90.1-2013 standards. Sixteen buildings were profiled in 17 different climate zones, and the resulting national weighted energy consumption for the buildings was nearly half when compared to ASHRAE 90.1-2013 standards.

Additional study details and the 30 measures evaluated are also available. While cost is generally the most important factor in deciding on efficiency improvements, removing the cost from this analysis provides value in allowing facility designers to realize which systems could provide the most energy savings and helping them find ways to implement those designs at lower costs. Additionally, those developing standards can better determine which efficiency retrofits may provide the most savings independent of cost.

Non-Energy Benefits

Facility managers should also consider the additional benefits of energy efficiency improvements beyond just energy costs. Efficiency can boost residual facility value by improving staff productivity and retention, marketing potential, tenant satisfaction, competitive rent prices, sales, and academic performance. Building owners looking to simplify their energy management efforts may decide to partner with an energy services company that can provide feasibility studies to help scope energy savings opportunities.


Overcoming the Building Big Data Challenge

— March 1, 2016

Network switch and UTP ethernet cablesAs the cost of sensors has dropped and the amount of computational power and data storage has increased, the amount of building data available has increased considerably. Moore’s law observes that overall computer processing power doubles every 2 years. There is value in having large amounts of data and processing power, but how to manage and get useful information out of the data is a challenge. With dozens of equipment vendors, sensor manufacturers, and building automation systems, data sets often come back with various formats, naming conventions, and syntaxes. While the potential for using large data sets to improve energy and operational efficiencies is significant, the difficulties of organizing and understanding the data is still being overcome.

Government Initiatives

The Standard Energy Efficiency Data (SEED) platform was built by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to gather, sort and analyze complex building data. The software helps users combine, organize, and authenticate data from multiple sources. The data sets can then be shared among platform users with the intent of developing methods to calculate and demonstrate economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency initiatives. The SEED platform is also useful for generating benchmarks and displaying key metrics for facilities. In late 2015, the DOE extended the SEED platform to the SEED Collaborative to encourage the partnership and participation of states and local governments. The collaborative includes several major cities, including New York and Atlanta, in addition to the California Energy Commission, and Washington, D.C. to name a few. The strategic partnerships between the SEED Collaborative and states and cities will help the platform reach additional software developers and service providers to improve interoperability and data transparency.

Open Source Efforts

Project Haystack is a corporation formed with the intent of developing semantic modeling solutions for smart device data. The open source effort includes a variety of automation software companies and associations working together to map existing building data models and taxonomies, with the aim to improve the cost-effectiveness of creating value from the data sets. Project Haystack intends to standardize semantic models for all building systems and other intelligent devices. If facility owners, systems integrators, and software providers use common naming conventions, they can expect easier integration for value-added services that facility data can provide.


What Does El Niño Mean for the Energy Industry?

— November 6, 2015

One of the strongest El Niño climate patterns in the past 50 years is active and causing irregular weather patterns globally. El Niño is characterized by above-average ocean temperatures in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean. The weather pattern began to develop in March 2015 and is expected to peak between December 2015 and April 2016, when the equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures are warmest. What sort of impact will El Niño have on various sectors of the energy industry as it begins to peak?

Reduced Natural Gas Demand

Temperatures are expected to be above-average during the winter in large areas of the Northern Hemisphere as a result of El Niño. In terms of natural gas (NG), the three largest consumers are the United States, Russia, and China. North America tends to see greater increases in temperature during an El Niño event when compared to Asia, but both areas are forecast to have a warmer-than-average winter in significant NG heated areas. In much of the Midwestern and Northeastern regions of the United States—areas that tend to have the strongest demand for NG—a warmer winter is expected. While much of the Southern United States may see slightly colder weather, this will not cause a significant increase in NG demand. Overall, decreased NG demand does not bode well for an already decimated NG market. Inventories for NG are expected to reach all-time highs this winter.

Less Wind Energy

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind power generation fell 6% during the first half of 2015, despite an increase in wind generation capacity of 9%. The forecast shows more of the same until the spring of 2016, with wind power producing over 4% of electricity generation nationwide. Wind farms have been operating near one-third of capacity so far in 2015 and should expect more of the same through early 2016.

Increased Hydroelectric

El Niño leads to heavy rains and snow along the western coast of the Americas. While this can provide some drought relief, flooding also becomes a major concern. For markets that generate significant electricity from hydroelectric dams, the increased moisture and snow pack from El Niño are a welcome sight.

Potential Reduction in Crops for Biofuels

Palm oil is a primary feedstock for biodiesel production. Over 85% of the world’s palm oil exports are produced in Malaysia and Indonesia. For Southeast Asia, El Niño means warmer, drier weather. This can lead to drought and increased fires in the Indonesian peatlands. Haze from the fires stunts fruit growth and palm oil production. While palm oil is only one of several sources of vegetable oil used in biodiesel production, increased prices of palm oil may lead to higher production prices for biodiesels. Although the fires in Indonesia have some impact on biofuels prices, it is having a much more significant toll on greenhouse gas emissions and air quality across Asia.


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