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Potential Energy Savings Drive Interest in Intelligent Buildings

By Rita Tatum - January 2013 - Energy Efficiency


To facility managers who have been in the industry a while, the idea of an intelligent building is nothing new. In fact, terms like "intelligent building" or "smart building" might seem like nothing more than buzzwords that keep getting recycled every few years. Whatever name they're called, the fact remains that a new generation of technologically sophisticated buildings that offer potential energy savings is cropping up across the nation. High IQ buildings aren’t all new construction; renovations and installation of new systems are putting some older structures at the head of the class.

The technology that underpins these buildings isn't necessarily brand new. While intelligent buildings sometimes use relatively new technology — like the deployment of sophisticated analytical tools such as fault detection and diagnostics on practical and accessible dashboards — they also depend on use of familiar technology like BACnet and other open or standard protocols, or middleware to link subsystem data into a main network backbone.

The corporate interest in energy efficiency and sustainability features is helping to drive interest in intelligent buildings. U.S. commercial businesses spend an estimated $100 billion on energy annually. Experts estimate greater use of intelligent building technology could reduce this cost by $20 to $25 billion annually.

Those industry wide numbers are gaining support where it counts — in the performance of individual buildings. One study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory looked at a food services company with locations across North America. The company used analytics to cut its portfolio energy use 28 percent. Interestingly, 18 percent of that savings came from low- or no-cost fixes identified by the analytics. And Microsoft estimates that it will save $1.5 million in energy costs this year from the use of intelligent building technology.

 

Smart People for Smart Buildings

 

Just because intelligent-building software exists in the marketplace, it does not mean the smart components will operate properly in the building. To accomplish that, someone needs to police the specifications, says Jack McGowan, president of Energy Control, Inc. "You need to make sure the capability is going to work."

The people operating the building also need to understand how to use intelligent technology and how to optimize it. Otherwise, after commissioning, building staff may circumvent or disable crucial elements of the system. "Eventually, those intelligent technologies may not be allowed to do the work they were installed to do," says McGowan.

GSA understands the importance of building operators and managers. In fact, people operating the building are one of GSA's three pillars for intelligent buildings, along with the building itself and technology.

"We can engineer to get data out, and software applications can identify areas for improvement and energy savings," says Frank Santella, director of smart and sustainable buildings for GSA’s Public Buildings Service. But he believes it’s even more important that people are positioned to extract those benefits.

 

Levels of Integration

 

Intelligent buildings feature three levels of integration, says Jim Sinopoli, managing partner at Smart Buildings. The first layer is physical integration at the cabling and infrastructure level.

Next is integrating various building systems, such as HVAC, fire, access control, elevators, lighting, pneumatic tube systems and other conveyance equipment, etc.

The third level of integration takes building information beyond simple facility management into asset management, preventive maintenance, external energy market data and beyond, using analytics and fault detection, says Sinopoli.

— Rita Tatum





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