To Improve Energy Performance, Improve Operations
It sounds easy. A Texas A&M University study indicates that energy use in existing buildings could be reduced by 10 to 40 percent simply by improving operational strategies. But such energy-saving operational strategies can only be implemented, says Bill Harrison, ASHRAE’s newly installed president, if building owners and operators know how.
“You can’t blame an operator who was educated in the 1980s if they get 1980s results from 2008 systems,” he says.
Harrison sees operational improvements — not merely throwing money at perfectly good equipment — as a vastly underutilized energy efficiency strategy.
“Much of our initial efforts in energy efficiency have been in design,” says Harrison. “But the vast majority of buildings that will exist in 2030 also exist today. So it’s also important that ASHRAE look at reducing energy in existing buildings through operational improvements and education.”
To that end, ASHRAE plans to unveil a new certification program at its winter meetings in January 2009. Called the Operations and Performance Management Professional, the new certification is designed to test building operators on their knowledge of building systems, operations and maintenance. The accreditation is intended to complement ASHRAE’s existing High-Performance Building Design Professional certification.
Harrison also plans to propose a research project on the energy performance of high-performance buildings over time. Some recent studies have shown that even high-performance buildings don’t operate as efficiently as intended. A recent New Buildings Institute study, for instance, reported that 42 percent of LEED-certified buildings studied failed to meet their energy targets. But there isn’t much data on whether high-performance buildings are really more efficient in the long term than their traditional counterparts. Harrison hopes such a study will show why education about building systems is so critical. “As education improves, the long-term drop-off in building performance isn’t quite as prominent,” he says.
Retro-commissioning is an important part of preventing that drop-off too. Harrison sees building information modeling as a perfect tool for returning equipment to its original specifications. “BIM is the ultimate answer,” he says. “Not only do you have great information on the building, you have a permanent record of how systems are supposed to function.”
While currently BIM is being used primarily by architects as a design tool, Harrison sees real value in facility executives and building operators learning the software and incorporating it as part of their building operating management.
According to Harrison, ASHRAE’s efforts to emphasize building operator education, its commitment to research and its endorsement of BIM are all part of continued industry efforts to close the gap between how buildings are designed and how they’re operated. The ultimate goal, he says, is buildings that don’t need grid energy at all.
“ASHRAE is recognizing the importance of research and preparation for the design of net-zero-energy buildings,” he says. “But we also recognize, for now, the importance of wringing energy out of buildings already built.”