Navigant Research Blog

There Is No Cookie-Cutter Approach to Energy Efficiency

— January 11, 2017

Energy efficiency is a resource available in abundance, no matter the location. It is the lowest cost option of energy investment, beating all other forms of generation. But if energy efficiency is so beneficial, why is its implementation not standardized across platforms or locations in some form or fashion? Can’t similar measures be prescribed for all buildings, old and new? Is it possible to take a boilerplate project and implement that across all buildings to gain the present efficiencies? For example: Fix these components, install this equipment, follow this process, and you’ll have an efficient building. Sounds simple, right?

It may not be that easy. There are so many variables to an energy efficiency project or engagement that one prescribed set of technologies, process improvements, or maintenance services will not be optimal across all buildings in general.

One size does not fit all. The profile of the end-use consumption of standard building components is dramatically different in cold climates versus moderate to warm climates. So, when analyzing a building for an efficiency project, all of these factors—and many, many more—must be taken into consideration.

Transition to Sustainable Buildings, Strategies and Opportunities to 2050

(Source: International Energy Agency, 2013)

Efficiency performance requirements, codes, and standards have been proven to work as prescriptive guidance for both new construction and retrofits. Defining these locally is important for the same reasons that each efficiency project is unique. For example, heating codes may not be as important or effective in a warm climate as in a cold climate.

There is still a long way to go until the value of energy efficiency is maximized around the world. A full 70% of global energy consumption is not covered by any energy efficiency performance requirement. This is despite the fact that the International Energy Agency found that performance measures are the most effective action to take in the optimal pathway to a decarbonized energy system. The good news is that, although most projects are unique to a situation or location, energy efficiency experience can be transferred to other groups, countries, and regions. The diversity of experience created by project uniqueness adds to this body of knowledge, making energy efficiency accessible anywhere and for any application.

 

Meeting Global Challenges with Energy Efficiency

— January 9, 2017

Energy CloudAccording to the International Energy Agency (IEA), efficiency is the only energy resource that all nations possess in abundance. Similar to other resources, energy efficiency must be mined. Not from the ground per se, but by examining the available opportunities and by implementing a holistic plan that looks at methods and actions appropriate for the locale, climate, population, demographics, and a host of other interrelated inputs.

According to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2013, every $1 invested in efficiency saves $2 in new power plants and electricity distribution costs. Globally, buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of energy use (including 60% of electricity use), 12% of water use, 40% of waste generated by volume, and 40% of material resources. This vast amount of resource consumption provides a significant opportunity that amounts to more than mere cost reductions for building owners, managers, and tenants. Energy efficiency competes on price with the cheapest of energy generation technologies.

Example End Use Consumption of Standard Building Components in Different Climate Zones

(Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy)

This value has consistently held up over time, making it a stable and relatively predictable alternative to new generation sources of any kind. Overall, investments in energy efficiency enable more effective capital utilization to help meet difficult global challenges such as accelerating urbanization, climate change, national energy security, energy access, and worker productivity, to name just a few.

Opportunities in Buildings Efficiency

Navigant Research’s 2015 Global Building Stock Database report noted that residential and commercial global building stock was expected to reach 160 billion square meters in 2016. There are many opportunities to expand and extend the value of this resource, and the world is making progress. Gross domestic product and population growth has been largely decoupled from the demand for energy, the energy intensity of nations has decreased, and energy efficiency policies covered 30% of energy consumption (up from 11% in 2000). All this has happened despite the fact that oil prices fell as much as 60% in 2014.

Overall, progress continues to be made on efficiency gains in developed and developing nations, and regional and country specific momentum may be strong enough to withstand the temporary political climates that could serve as a hindrance.

 

Moving Toward Building Systems Integration with New Market Offerings

— September 26, 2016

HVAC RoofThe More Things Change?  

Energy efficient building market trends in 2011 included the increased adoption of intelligent systems throughout commercial buildings. The main focus of these systems was to more effectively manage energy consumption. Today, most vendors serving the commercial buildings market have moved toward intelligent building systems and controls. These systems not only manage building energy consumption, but also critical aspects of a building’s operations, including tenant comfort, asset management, wayfinding, predictive maintenance, and a host of other functions. It’s now a strategic necessity for commercial buildings to have some form of software monitoring, data collection, visualization, and control of key systems as this market evolves.

The Convergence of Building Equipment and Operational Silos

The industry as a whole is recognizing the benefits of taking a more holistic view of managing disparate building systems and processes. New construction design is made simpler by dealing with fewer vendors and systems that may not easily communicate with one another. Retrofits can also be made simpler and less costly with Wi-Fi wireless networking technologies. Overall, maintenance and serviceability can be managed more easily, and duplication of sensors, software monitoring solutions, controls, and other system infrastructures can be eliminated.

Earlier this month, Acuity Brands, Inc. introduced the nLight ECLYPSE controller, which allows the integration of commercial building lighting systems with a building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) controls onto one common platform. Acuity follows Daintree Networks, which offers ControlScope, a programmable wireless HVAC thermostat that connects to any conventional or heat pump HVAC system. These advanced tools give building owners and managers the ability to configure, monitor, and control an integrated set of critical building equipment systems using a common interface. With real-time data acquisition and monitoring, the efficiency of critical building systems and operational processes can be maximized while maintaining optimal energy consumption.

Adoption Hurdles Still Exist

These benefits do not preclude the presence of hurdles to the adoption of integrated building systems. As with any technology adoption cycle, early adopters see the benefits of these types of technologies, but others are slower on the uptake. Facilities managers can be hesitant to change and be trained on the most effective use of integrated systems with a common interface. The vast amount of data collected by a multitude of sensors is effective only if it is being used, and used appropriately. Connected devices of any kind increase the risk of security breaches, necessitating the coordination of facilities management and IT departments—a historically uncommon pairing. Finally, proving that the financial ROI and payback period estimates are within acceptable corporate standards continues to be a significant vendor challenge.

Acuity Brands and Daintree Networks have taken an important strategic step with their integrated technology offerings. It all makes sense and should see increasing adoption in the market over time. But commercial building operations has been one of the industries that is historically slow to adapt to technological change. With strategies and technologies that help vendors access both new construction and retrofits in commercial buildings, it may be inevitable that fully integrated building systems become commonplace in the coming decade.

 

The White House Leading the Way to a Greener Future

— August 5, 2016

HVAC RoofOver the past couple of weeks, Americans have tuned in to watch and listen to speeches at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and hear each party’s endorsements of their presidential candidate nominees. In her speech at the DNC, First Lady Michelle Obama stated, “I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves,” a statement that has been the center of many conversations since then. The White House was, in fact, built by slaves, along with several other American structures that exist today. The purpose of this blog, however, is not to take a political stand on the first lady’s statement, but rather to examine the transformation of the White House through energy efficiency efforts.

Greening the White House

On a global scale, commercial and residential buildings account for 37%-45% of total energy consumption, and improving the efficiency of buildings to reduce overall energy use has been an increasingly important policy focus worldwide. Historically, buildings were not constructed with many of the energy saving technologies incorporated in new buildings today. Retrofits to improve a building’s efficiency focus on energy efficient lighting, HVAC, building controls, and water efficiency, among other building functions.

The Clinton Administration’s Greening the White House initiative, announced on Earth Day in April 1993, aimed to improve the energy and environmental performance of the White House and Old Executive Office Building by analyzing, designing, and implementing an energy saving program. The program consisted of an audit, feasibility study, early actions, demonstration spaces, long-term initiative, and technology transfer/outreach. Components implemented as part of the initiative include improving energy and water efficiency, utilizing renewable energy sources, reducing waste streams, improving indoor air quality, and improving overall building comfort and performance. Clinton’s administration replaced the White House’s incandescent bulbs with CFLs and changed out all windows in the Eisenhower Executive Office with double-paned glass windows. The improvements implemented saved $1.4 million in 6 years.

President George W. Bush continued Clinton’s work, and in 2003 installed the White House’s first solar electric system in the maintenance area of the main building. Additionally, Bush executed a recycling program for office paper and added additional solar systems that heated the water in the pool cabana.

The Current Administration’s Initiatives

Reducing America’s carbon footprint has been an important policy initiative of President Obama. Obama’s initiatives started in the White House and included the planting of a 1,000 SF garden and solar panels added to the roof of the White House in 2014, which generate 6.3 kW of energy. The Obama Administration has set a goal to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2025, an objective that is part of the country’s overall aim to reduce GHG emissions by 26%-28% from 2005 levels by 2025.

The U.S. Department of Energy launched the Better Buildings Initiative in 2011, partnering with organizations to increase investment in energy efficiency, reduce energy bills, and avoid carbon pollution. Initially 60 organizations with roughly 2 billion SF of building space accepted the Better Buildings Challenge to improve the efficiency of their building portfolios by 20% or more. Through this program, the government committed to $2 billion in third-party financing. More than 310 organizations representing 4.2 billion SF and 1,000 industrial facilities that have participated in the program, with public and private financing commitments of over $10 billion. The partners have shared their confirmed strategies, increasing overall success of energy savings in buildings.

The White House has historically served as a symbol freedom and democracy, but now also represents the efforts of the federal government in its goal to reduce the environmental impact of buildings.

 

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