Navigant Research Blog

An Energy Cure for Hospitals

— August 12, 2014

When it comes to energy reduction in buildings, friendly competition is a strategy that gains a lot of visibility.  In recent blogs, here and here, we’ve discussed how the U.S. Department of Energy has set up competitions for financial institutions and office buildings to become as efficient as possible.  Companies like Opower rely on peer pressure to help communities lower their residential energy bills.  The latest to join in the fray are U.S. hospitals.

The Energy to Care program, run by the American Hospital Association, takes a slightly more advanced route to creating an energy reduction competition between buildings.  The Better Buildings Challenge relies on buildings uploading their ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager data (either automatically or by hand) into the system and then submitting the results to be a part of the competition.  In Energy to Care, the ENERGY STAR benchmarking data is only the first part of the competition, and the approach used can be adapted as a real building energy management system (BEMS) to aid in ongoing energy savings.

Cost Reductions

The latest Energy to Care program is built on top of Lucid Design’s BuildingOS platform, a BEMS solution that makes integrating data from building energy systems easy and fast.  Lucid Design made its name by engaging through the development of their dashboards, commonly found in universities and government buildings.  BuildingOS offers tools to integrate data from multiple sources, including building automation systems, plug-load monitors, and renewable power generators.  Along with the data integration are visuals and analytics that can aid facility managers and sustainability professionals in their efforts to improve building performance and reach sustainability goals.

Hospitals are in need of this kind of care.  As the second-highest user of energy among all building types in terms of energy intensity and the consumers of 4% of all U.S. energy, hospitals need to leverage these tools to reduce the $8.8 billion a year in energy costs the industry shoulders.  Given the competiveness in the healthcare market, every dollar saved on operations is welcome.

In Energy to Care, the Portfolio Manager data is incorporated in BuildingOS.  Depending on the richness of the data uploaded, the hospital then has access to analytics and graphics that can quickly identify problems associated with energy use in the building.  Hospital energy managers can understand which systems are consuming more power and when power use varies beyond expected levels over the course of a day or week.  The ease of integration of these tools will make energy conservation measures easy to identify and their effectiveness measurable in the long run.  While Lucid Design will benefit from the widespread deployment of its product, the hospitals, and in turn the public, will benefit from reduced costs.

 

Ending the Office Climate Wars

— July 17, 2014

For some commercial building tenants, interacting with the heating, cooling, and lighting of their offices has been a challenge.  There are the dummy thermostats, the inoperable windows, the buildings that are running heating and cooling at the same time, and the hot and cold calls from the corner office.

Many cubicle dwellers use space heaters in summer to keep their overly cooled selves from shivering, while others need fans to mitigate afternoon sun – even in the winter.

Improved automated buildings controls, networked light sensors, occupancy sensors, and re-commissioning have all helped office workers be more comfortable in their workplaces.  Yet, the overarching problem remains.  This is due in part to the challenge of keeping old and complex systems running optimally.  The other challenge gets back to the dummy thermostat: you can’t keep all people happy (or warm or well-lit) all of the time.  It’s no simple matter to gain an understanding of people’s comfort levels and equip a building to serve those different and diverse needs.

My Chair, My Climate

The University of California Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment (CBE) has led a number of research efforts that try to determine how comfortable we are when sitting at our desks.  CBE has developed prototypes of office chairs that incorporate user-controlled fans and thermometers.  These climate-controlled chairs, known as Personal Comfort Systems, aim to take some of the balancing load off the HVAC system.  A 1-degree expansion of a building’s deadband (the temperature range where HVAC systems do not have to heat or cool) can result in energy savings reductions of 5% to 15%.

CBE also conducts regular occupant surveys in buildings of all kinds.  One recently found that occupants of LEED-certified buildings feel no more comfortable than those in buildings that lack the LEED plaque.  An interesting observation is that, over time, LEED-occupied people report less and less comfort.  Perhaps there’s a honeymoon period for green buildings when people seem to feel more comfortable.

The Goldilocks Strategy

For some occupants, the proximity to windows is an attractor, while others find the glare and the heat disruptive.  The smart glass company View has created a mobile application that enables users to remotely control their windows’ opacity from their desks.  The app allows a user to schedule tinting depending on personal need – for instance, when it’s time to wake from an afternoon nap.  For more on smart glass, see Navigant Research’s report, Smart Glass.

Meanwhile, a startup called Building Robotics is attempting to solve the collective comfort puzzle using an algorithmic technique.  Its innovative occupant comfort product, called Comfy, asks users to rate their comfort simply: too hot, too cold, or just right.  Comfy then tunes a building’s HVAC system to deliver maximal comfort based on occupant feedback instead of predetermined setpoints.  Using machine-learning algorithms and facility management guides, it can create user-focused HVAC schedules based on what feels good to most users, not what temperature air is being delivered.

Comfy will likely prove to be a disruptive technology, reducing the engineering focus on setpoints and increasing the striving for customer satisfaction (i.e., comfort).  As these types of technologies spread, office workers will be more comfortable.  And in serving them, buildings will use less energy.

 

Silicon Valley Tackles the Energy-Water Nexus

— June 18, 2014

No two systems in the built environment are more tightly linked than energy and water.  It’s hard to identify a pathway of conversion, conveyance, and utility of energy and water that does not touch the other system in one way or another.  This is commonly referred to as the energy-water nexus.  A recent Navigant Research report, Smart Water Networks, touched on this topic, in the context of water network innovations and their link to recent changes in the smart grid.

A recent blog by my colleague Eric Woods emphasized the future trends in water at a global scale.  According to the United Nations, water demand will increase by 55% by 2050, with drastic increases in the manufacturing sector.  At the same time, more than 40% of the global population is projected to be living in areas of severe water stress through 2050.  On the energy side, energy consumption is set to grow as well.  According to the 2013 International Energy Outlook, world energy consumption will grow by 56% between 2010 and 2040, mostly in the developing world.

(Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration)

Stresses on the System

And where do energy and water meet?  For consumers, look no further than your daily shower or dishwasher.  Heating water consumes 7% of commercial and 12% of residential energy in the United States.  With common appliances, it’s clear that making them more water or energy efficient cascades to savings of the other resource.

Another clear linkage in the energy-water nexus is hydropower.  In 2010, 16.1% of the world’s energy was generated using hydropower, and four countries – Albania, Bhutan, Lesotho, and Paraguay – generated all of their power from this source.

Looking back upstream in both energy and water, the linkages are equally impressive.  15% of all water is used for the energy sector.  Conveyance or pumping consumes more than 3% of the world’s energy, and in California alone, 7.7% of energy is used for water infrastructure.  Both systems are under stress from increases in demand, as mentioned earlier, but also from droughts, energy scarcity, and in some regions, political vulnerability (virtually all major river systems pass through more than one country).

Open Water Dive

Industry is taking notice.

At a recent Silicon Valley Leadership Group Energy and Sustainability Summit, I moderated a panel on how the cleantech space is making strides to manage the energy-water nexus in California and globally.  Chris King from eMeter (a Siemens company) discussed the need for open water data, analogous to the Green Button initiative.   Cynthia Truelove of the Center for Collaborative Policy argued that the disruptive technology that has made Silicon Valley so successful should carry over into creating disruptive policy that enables joint energy-water regulation that accounts for carbon impacts.  David Koller, from the Coachella Valley Water District, chronicled a pilot study that enabled customers to drastically cut down on water by providing them with smart water meters and relevant feedback in their bills.  From Imagine H2O, a water startup accelerator, Scott Bryan identified how WaterSmart, a company in its portfolio, is demonstrating success at becoming the “Opower for water.”  Some utilities are achieving a 5% reduction in residential water use in 6 months.

The discussion highlighted the need for a concerted effort among industry, policymakers, and end users to tackle the multifaceted challenge of the energy-water nexus of the present and the future.

 

Workspace of the Future: Less Space, More Workers

— June 9, 2014

Since the days of George Jetson’s sprawling desk at Spacely Space Sprockets, the concept of the “Office of the Future” has been the subject of much speculation.

Today, offices have shifted from the staid cubicle and corner office model to other dynamic layouts, with a myriad of names and flavors.  Open floor plans, where there are no cubicle-type walls, create a bullpen-like environment, with some senior staff located on the perimeter (see Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton Branch layout).  Hoteling is a process of “checking out” a desk on a first-come, first-served basis (though some spaces can be reserved a day in advance); employees’ personal objects are wheeled to the desk for the day’s activities.  Flex space, project-based configuration, and dynamic space all refer to space that can be reconfigured to suit collaboration and changing needs of employees on an hour-by-hour basis.  The new GSK building in the Philadelphia Navy Yard features “neighborhoods” where even the CEO can be found out in the open.

Closer In, Please

The driving force behind these new layouts is the urge to make workers more satisfied and efficient.  Other shifts, like the rise of telecommuting and wireless technology deployment, enable laptops to rise as the tool of the day.  Also behind the shift to new space configuration is the desire for companies to rent less space, thereby reducing operating costs.   All of these changes are driving some cascading impacts in the building industry.

First is the need for retrofitting space.  And with office retrofits come upgrades in lighting (and networked lighting), heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), and other space improvements.  Secondly, these changes have led to an overall increased density of people in offices, even with the new layouts.   This trend has been reported in Arizona and across the United States.  In 2013, Gensler reported that average square feet per person dropped from 225 to 176 from 2010 to 2012, and could drop to as low as 100 square feet per person by 2017.  A 2013 report by the British Council of Offices cites that in some buildings, worker density has risen from 12.5 square meters per workspace in 2008 to 9.6 per workspace in 2009, though the trend may be leveling off.

Is It Hot in Here?

One surprise leader in dynamic space is the United States’ real estate manager, the General Services Administration (GSA).  The GSA has recommended freezing the size of the U.S. government’s real estate footprint and has touted its newly renovated headquarters in Washington, D.C., as supporting more than twice the number of employees than it did pre-renovation.

What do denser spaces mean?  While the cost per square foot is an easy win for tenants, there are other impacts that may be challenging for building energy mangers.  With denser space comes the need for differentiated lighting and air conditioning.  More people and laptops per square foot can trigger more cooling.  While many buildings already operate with HVAC systems well over capacity, the new changes in density can lead to challenges in tuning a building to its needs.   All of these changes will make the jobs of energy and facility managers more challenging.  That said, more advanced and portable tools are now available in the market.   While it is evident the office of the future will be no single layout, the needs and comfort of tenants will always be dynamic, making intelligent building management ever more important.

 

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