Navigant Research Blog

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.


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.


GSA Tackles Building Energy Management Challenge

— 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.


BEMS Booms in Japan

— April 16, 2013

The Japanese market for building energy efficiency technologies has been strong for decades, thanks in large part to the 1979 Act Concerning the Rational Use of Energy, the foundation of Japan’s stringent building energy codes.  In the 2 years since the Fukushima earthquake and the ensuing energy crisis – which has caused a 17% increase in the price of energy for non-residential customers of TEPCO, the monopoly utility that serves the greater Tokyo region – demand for energy efficiency technologies in Japan has grown significantly.

In particular, demand for building energy management systems (BEMSs) has grown as much as 30% to 40% year-on-year over the last few years, according to discussions I’ve had with market participants and key industry players in Japan.  Although the concept of BEMSs is mature in Japan, given that it is a requirement of the Act Concerning the Rational Use of Energy, the concurrent timing of the energy crisis and the market availability of software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based BEMS software has led to a surge in its adoption.   (It should be noted that the concept of BEMSs in Japan overlaps significantly with the concept of BEMSs in Europe and North America, though BEMSs in Japan often include additional technologies such as building-to-grid connections, smart meter technology, and others that are often considered part of the smart grid in other regions.)

Driving DR

At the recent World Smart Energy Week at the Big Sight in Tokyo, I was focused on learning more about the adoption of technologies such as building energy management systems (BEMSs), direct digital controls (DDCs), demand response (DR), and other intelligent building products in Japan within the 3rd Eco House & Eco Building Expo.

I attended several sessions of the event’s Smart Grid Technical Conference, where representatives from organizations such as Itron, NEDO, and Toyota discussed smart building technology in the context of the increased intelligence of the utility grid.  In particular, the increased growth of PV and wind in Japan will continue to drive the country’s emerging DR market, which will expand further through the adoption of smart building technology.  As Taichiro Kawahara of Hitachi put it, “Demand-side energy management in Japan must be promoted through demand-side management and demand response.”

The conference not only explored the application of these technologies in Japan, but also compared and contrasted similar successes and challenges with smart grid integration experienced in Europe and North America.  This perspective is critical for ensuring that the adoption of smart grid technology in Japan unfolds as smoothly as possible and for providing Japanese technology developers with important insights into the market landscape in other regions into which many Japanese companies are looking to expand.  This sort of international forum is critical for spreading market-leading technology – and ensuring that the industry doesn’t make the same mistakes twice.


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