Navigant Research Blog

GSA Tackles Building Energy Management Challenge

Benjamin Freas — May 6, 2014

The keynote of this year’s Building Energy Summit was delivered by Dan Tangherlini, the administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).  It provided a refreshing look at how the federal government is in many ways a leading adopter of innovative building energy technology.  Tangherlini showcased a variety of energy-saving measures that have come out of the Green Proving Ground program.  The most interesting by far was GSALink, a building energy management system (BEMS) aimed at improving building operations.  This tool provides information on the performance of a building, including its envelope, heating and ventilation, lighting, plug load, water use, occupancy, and other critical resources.

The advances the GSA is attempting to make in energy management seem challenging.  Under President Obama’s Executive Order 13514, the GSA is mandated to reduce energy consumption in the buildings it manages by 30% by 2015 compared to a 2003 baseline.  This is a daunting task, as the agency manages 360 million square feet of buildings, with many historic and iconic buildings in its portfolio.  GSALink is one of the approaches being used to meet this ambitious target.  By flagging spikes in energy or water usage and providing operators with possible causes and solutions, buildings can operate more efficiently.  The system went live in June 2013 and won the FedScoop 50 Award for Technology Innovation of the Year.

Strange Bedfellows

With over 400 active players in the global BEMS market, the range of options for connecting with building systems is nearly as diverse as the number of players.  As pointed out in Navigant Research’s report, Building Energy Management Systems, a leading model for BEMS vendors has yet to be established.  The early players in the space are each adopting different approaches, with solutions available from building control systems vendors, enterprise-level data IT integrators, utilities, and facilities operators.  One of the questions is whether energy management will become a facility management application or whether facility management will become an energy management application.

The GSALink contract was awarded to IBM, SkyFoundry, Environmental Systems Inc. (ESI), Tridium, and several other firms, with IBM leading the project.  The GSA appears to have opted for an IT systems integrator approach, treating the data fed from a building as a potential big data problem suited for such an integrator.  Other approaches include relying on the companies whose products generate and transmit building data, like Johnson Controls, Schneider Electric, and Siemens, and relying on utilities to provide submeter-based analytics.  GSALink hasn’t provided a definitive answer as to what building model will lead the BEMS market.  But at the least, the 32 million square feet of buildings currently covered by GSALink and the potential additional areas will solidify IBM’s presence in the BEMS market.  It will be interesting to watch how these developments affect this nascent vendor landscape.

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