To Get To Zero Energy, Human Element Remains Critical
The machines can't do it all. From managing plug loads (and they people who use them) to IoT and BAS training, FMs have the most crucial role in getting a building to zero energy.
As much as technology can help, getting to zero energy isn’t just about fancy machines: The human element remains a key piece of the zero energy puzzle. That’s true not only in managing how plug loads are used in a building but also in terms of expertise in optimizing these Building IoT and machine learning systems to make sure they’re not going off the rails.
Managing plug loads is crucial. In ultra efficient buildings, plug loads can be as much as 50 percent of an overall energy budget. So reducing the energy used at the plug is of utmost importance for zero energy goals.
“Behavioral things drive the best outcomes,” says Knight. “How you present this challenge to encourage better behavior is the key.” A few suggestions, according to Knight, are using power-saving schemes on laptops, and enforcing rules about what can and can’t be charged from an occupant’s personal arsenal of electronics.
Higgins also mentions desk-level ambient comfort strategies, like heat radiating panels at workers’ feet. “If you can make ambient comfort acceptable at each worker’s level, you can reduce overall setpoint by five to six degrees,” she says.
Another possibility is giving each occupant an energy budget, and if they want to charge at their desk or raise the setpoint a degree in their particular micro-zone, it counts against their energy spend for the month. With Building IoT, such a system is much more possible. But getting occupants on board with it is all in the delivery.
The technical expertise of those running these systems plays perhaps the most critical role in energy efficiency goals. Or put another way, the facility manager’s willingness to take on these new technological challenges is what will drive success.
“There’s no plug-and-play piece of software that just goes and tells you everything you need to know about your building,” says Knight. ”These tools are still complicated and need to be used by an expert to get the most benefit.” Even machine learning systems, he says, need to be taught what to do, or they’ll train themselves in wildly improper ways. “You could have the greatest software in the world telling you what’s wrong, but you have to have a program in place to fix those things,” he says.
Though in many cases Building IoT makes efficient buildings easier to run, the technology itself is more complicated. This is quite the double-edged sword, says Higgins. “The technology cuts through isolated items and makes building systems better integrated and controllable,” she says. “But it’s more complex, and the volume of data is bigger.” Facility managers now brag about how many data points they have, she says. But what are they doing with that data? “Automated does not mean decreased interaction,” she says. “Human interaction can be the Achilles’ heel of building performance.”
So even though much progress has been made, challenges remain to making zero energy buildings even more possible. “FMs are like teachers,” Higgins says. “There’s an increased pressure based on performance, but their salary doesn’t keep up.” Facility managers have to learn about this technology, but still make sure the stairways are clean, she says.
At the same time, “buildings have never been more interesting,” she says. “They’re no longer just stand-alone boxes.” As many more facility managers are learning this, zero energy buildings — previously only a pipe dream — are increasingly becoming a reality.
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