building controls

Understanding How Building Controls Can Save Energy

A new guide shows how smarter use of building controls could improve energy savings by 30 percent.

By Dave Vigliotta, Dr. Xiaohui “Joe” Zhou, and Kevin Frost  

A Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) study indicated that building controls and energy management play a prominent role in commercial building energy performance and peak load reduction and could result in an average of nearly 30 percent energy savings. Unfortunately, there is an industry-wide knowledge gap on how to utilize advanced controls to capitalize on energy savings and to ensure that buildings run at peak performance.  

Slipstream, a mission-driven nonprofit organization headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, was awarded a grant by the Department of Defense (DoD) Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) to develop and deploy a comprehensive technology transfer initiative to bridge this knowledge gap. The project partners included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Texas A&M University and TRC.  

The ESTCP program initiates technology demonstration pilots across the DoD portfolio to identify the most promising innovative and cost-effective solutions to validate improved energy performance and cost savings. Based on several demonstrations at DoD military installations, researchers identified a significant lack of understanding of building controls and how to utilize advanced building controls and energy management practices among DoD facility managers and operators. Considering the DoD spends $4 billion per year on energy costs and has nearly 562,000 facilities, it is critical for energy managers, building operators and engineers to learn basic controls concepts and strategies.  

The training program, which is now available at no cost to DoD and non-DoD building practitioners, will increase users knowledge of building control technology and energy management and enable them to make informed decisions, better specify and commission building control systems, and manage and operate buildings more efficiently. The project will also promote awareness and allow the broader adoption of the new ASHRAE Guideline 36 “High-Performance Sequences of Operation for HVAC Systems” within DoD and across the industry. ASHRAE Guideline 36 is a first attempt to standardize advanced control sequences for the HVAC industry. This guideline could have a significant impact on the future standardization of advanced building controls, building controls specification, and building design standards. (In part 2 of this article series, we will dive deeper into ASHRAE Guideline 36.) 

The key project objective is to disseminate the comprehensive training program for basic and advanced building controls concepts and applications to multiple target audiences. In order to develop the curriculum, the interdisciplinary team of academia and industry subject matter experts gathered qualitative and quantitative data from DoD energy managers, building operators, engineers and other stakeholders to better understand the knowledge gaps, skills, competencies, education needs and major barriers to advanced controls and energy management. Based on several one-on-one phone interviews with key stakeholders and surveys across multiple military branches, researchers developed a two-pronged training curriculum — one for energy managers and another for engineers and building operators. The primary training mechanism is developing online education modules through Slipstream’s interactive learning management system (LMS) so attendees can track their performance and customize topics that are most relevant to them through a self-paced option.  

Influencing facilities standards with ASHRAE Guideline 36  

To promote the awareness and adoption of ASHRAE Guideline 36 amongst DoD and industry stakeholders, USACE engineers are reviewing published high-performance sequences and evaluate potential inclusion in the future version of its facilities guidelines and standards. Standardizing could lead to greater adoption across the building controls industry and the DoD portfolio resulting in significant energy and cost savings. Project team members also serve on ASHRAE Guideline 36 committee and will work closely with ASHRAE to promote technology transfer and guideline training to enhance future standards and codes. As indicated, a second article will go into more detail on ASHRAE Guideline 36 and share results of DoD demonstration projects and industry case studies.  

The responsibilities of energy managers and building operators have arguably changed more in the last five years than in the last 20 years. With advances in new energy technologies, Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity, ventilation and IAQ, they must make difficult resourcing decisions based on a stretched budget and staffing. Further, design engineers and commissioning engineers are required to design and commission high-performance buildings. Building operators should be able to monitor and operate their buildings efficiently to minimize energy use while maintaining occupant comfort and controlling costs. It is essential to turn these advanced controls technologies and concepts into assets rather than running the risk of liability.  

Many building professionals are often unaware of the latest technologies, relying on building control vendors and contractors to recommend and implement control strategies and troubleshoot control issues when problems occur. When energy managers learn the basic concepts, principles, and cost-effectiveness of the latest advanced building controls and energy efficiency measures, they will understand energy impacts and cost benefits to help them make informed decisions. Engineers and building operators need systematic training in advanced controls, common strategies, energy management and monitoring, and commissioning and re-tuning, so they can better design, specify, commission, and operate building control systems. A comprehensive training program like this will greatly reduce the need for and cost of hiring control vendors and contractors to troubleshoot problems.  

Dave Vigliotta is director of strategic partnerships for Slipstream. Dr. Xiaohui “Joe” Zhou is director of research & innovation for Slipstream. Kevin Frost is energy engineer for Slipstream. Slipstream is a mission-driven nonprofit organization that is leading this technology transfer project. USACE is its government partner, and the Texas A&M University and TRC are its project partners from academia and industry, respectively. Slipstream works closely with the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, national labs, cities, states and utilities to advance climate solutions for all.  

Readers can access this training resource today. It is currently hosted at Slipstream’s Learning Management System (LMS) platform. The education materials are available at no cost to DoD and non-DoD building practitioners and stakeholders and is applicable to military installations including public and private commercial buildings. For more information and to register, click here

Sidebar: Training modules and topics for energy managers 

Many federal and non-federal energy managers face a lack of training funding and restrictions on attending live events. They also need to balance multiple priorities and have extremely limited time for continuous education and training. Therefore, the main training delivery approach for energy managers is through a series of 15-minute virtual trainings that summarize the essential key building control system concepts, components, control strategies, and economics. Downloadable PowerPoint slides and fact sheets are also setup to host each recorded webinar and establish two-way communication channels with the audience. Using multiple DoD advanced controls demonstration projects as real-world examples, energy managers will have a better understanding of key concepts and cost benefits. There have also been workshops on specific topics of interests related to advanced controls at various DoD conferences and symposiums such as the DOE Energy Exchange. (One such session will take place at Building Operating Management’s upcoming NFMT event in Baltimore).  

The training topics for energy managers cover four modules and a total of 17 high-level, short courses: 

1. Fundamentals of Building Control Systems 

  • Introduction to Building Automation System Architecture 
  • BACnet, LonWorks, and Niagara Framework 
  • Basics of HVAC Controls - Components 
  • Basics of HVAC Controls - Control Loops 

2. Advanced Control Strategies 

  • Energy Savings of Advanced Controls 
  • Introduction to Optimal Scheduling 
  • Introduction to AHU Supply Air Temperature and Pressure Resets 
  • Introduction to Economizers 
  • Introduction to Demand-Controlled Ventilation 
  • ASHRAE Guideline 36: Overview, Benefits, and Field Demonstration 
  • ASHRAE Guideline 36: What It Covers 

3. Energy Modeling, Intelligent Building Operation, and Advanced Energy Performance 

  • Building Energy Modeling 101 
  • Smart Building Operations through Optimal Control and Energy Performance Monitoring   

4. ESTCP Technology Demonstration Projects 

  • Demonstration of Tiered Trim and Response Method 
  • Energy Performance Monitoring and Optimization System for DoD Campus 
  • Scalable Deployment of Advanced Building Energy Management Systems 
  • Multi-Zone Unit Control

Sidebar: Training modules and topics for engineers and building operators

For DoD engineers who design and commission new buildings, and facility engineers and building operators who manage daily operations of existing buildings, we developed in-depth topics that are closely related to their main job functions based on the training modules above. Each webinar is about 1-hour in length and an extra module on existing building commissioning was also added. These topics are intended to help engineers and building operators understand basic HVAC equipment, basic controls, control project design and implementation process, control integration and cybersecurity, and advanced control strategies. This will help them better design, specify, and operate building HVAC systems, especially for DoD facilities. Continuing education credits such as professional development hours (PDH) for licensed engineers are offered for each of these recorded sessions. Credits through the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) are also offered for select courses. 

The training topics for engineers and building operators will cover five modules and a total of 22 in-depth online courses. 

1. Fundamentals of Building Control Systems 

  • Basic HVAC Equipment and Systems 
  • Basic HVAC Controls 
  • Building Control System Design 
  • Building Control Project Implementation 
  • Utility Monitoring and Control System Front End and Integration 
  • Facility Control System Cybersecurity 

2. Advanced Control Strategies 

  • Optimal Scheduling 
  • Pressure and Temperature Resets 
  • Economizer 
  • Demand-Controlled Ventilation 
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis 
  • ASHRAE Guideline 36 Field Demonstration 
  • ASHRAE Guideline 36: What It Covers 

3. Energy Modeling, Intelligent Building Operation, and Advanced Energy Performance 

  • Building Energy Modeling 101 
  • Intelligent Building Operations through optimal control and energy performance modeling 
  • Building monitoring, data analysis, and troubleshooting 

4. ESTCP Technology Demonstration Projects 

  • Demonstration of Tiered Trim and Respond Method 
  • Energy Performance Monitoring and Optimization System Scalable Deployment of Advanced Building Energy Management Systems 
  • Multizone To Variable Volume Control Retrofit 

5. Existing Building Commissioning 

  • Re-tuning 
  • Continuous commissioning


Contact FacilitiesNet Editorial Staff »

  posted on 3/22/2022   Article Use Policy

Related Topics: