High-performance building doesn't demand high cost

Sept. 6, 2017 | by Steve Arel

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It used to be that high-performance building was a niche market. Achieving energy efficiencies seemed a hurdle too high to get over and too costly to afford.

Not anymore.

High-performance building these days is becoming more and more the standard in commercial construction. Success doesn't require extra effort or funding; just a simple approach that takes into account the connectivity of potential performance to other areas.

Just ask Ryan Prestel, CEO and co-founder of JadeTrack, a cloud-based sustainability management platform designed to identify savings and improve efficiency. The Ohio company has helped a host of clients through utility bill management, facility benchmarking, real-time monitoring and sustainability reporting.

One of the company’s most recent projects was with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC). JadeTrack’s solution in just a couple of months has pinpointed more than $21,000 in potential savings across the organization’s 27 facilities.

But when it comes to energy savings in general, Prestel says there are all sorts of ways businesses can identify inefficiencies and bolster their long-term sustainability efforts. Building management software is just one solution.

Proud Green Building: Lighting and solar seem to be the go-to solutions for building owners looking to go green these days. Why? Is it because they are the easiest ways to make a difference, or because they can have the greatest impact on a building’s efficiency?

Ryan Prestel:
Lighting and solar are popular first projects because they are visible. Lighting projects are generally straightforward, solid investments with low risk. Solar projects can really stand out, and, as a first project, send a bold message to an organization's internal and external stakeholders. 

Both are great ways for organizations to engage in energy efficiency, but to have the greatest impact, with the best economy, I always recommend to start inside the building, with low-cost and no-cost initiatives, backed by consistent measurement and tracking. This allows building operators to get a handle on their building’s usage through leveraging and controlling existing equipment and systems. 

Once the building is running lean and mean, it’s time to change out those lights, and power things with solar.

PGB: What are three things building owners and managers can or should do to make their facilities more high-performing?

Prestel: No. 1 –
Install real-time monitoring to ensure you’re maximizing the benefit of building control systems. Controls are only as good as the programming, and even good logic can fall short under certain conditions. 

As an example, a highly efficient school in Central Ohio (ENERGY STAR score of 100, yes 100!) with one real-time meter was able to identify the following issue: The building automation system started air conditioning one day in early February. The facilities team received an automatic alert that the building’s electricity demand was unusually high, and after quickly checking that none of the building’s spaces were over acceptable temperatures, immediately turned off the air conditioning. 

Facilities then made adjustments to the controls system to ensure that this would not happen again during winter months. With good information, and quick action, they were able to avoid a costly problem.

No. 2 – Work inside out. Every piece of equipment has an efficiency associated with how it uses energy. This means that even small changes at the end-use side can have big impact on energy consumption by the building’s equipment. 

For example, if your HVAC is costing you an arm and a leg, don’t tear out your rooftop units first. Start by optimizing temperatures and schedules. You might be amazed how efficient your existing systems are when whipped into shape. This is also a more holistically sustainable approach, because it starts with a low-cost initiative and can help to avoid throwing perfectly good equipment and materials in the landfill.

No. 3 – Create a culture of sustainability. In this day and age, people care about sustainability. Embrace it. Make your building’s energy saving initiatives into a team effort. 

If people feel like they are part of the team, then you might find them turning off lights, dressing appropriately for the temperature and unplugging those contraband space heaters under their desks. 

One way to do this is by displaying useful information such as progress toward goals on lobby TV monitors. Make it a competition.

PGB: A 2011 Ernst & Young survey found that 74 percent of chief financial officers wanted their companies to go green to save some green. How dobusinesses in generalseem to be doing in that approach?

Prestel:
The difficult thing about quantifying energy savings is that there are so many variables: commodity prices, weather, production levels, etc. It’s really important to start with good measurement. 

A concept that resonates with a lot of CFOs is the Six Sigma DMAIC Methodology – Define Measure Analyze Improve Control. The key here is that Improve is the fourth step in that process, not the first.  

PGB: Your niche is energy monitoring. Scores of buildings have either installed monitoring systems or are considering them. How much of a difference-maker is such a system to a building? What benefits does it have beyond simply helping control energy costs?

Prestel:
In most cases, real-time monitoring is a huge difference-maker. We’ve seen facilities reduce consumption by over 25 percent annually. If a facility manager doesn’t have visibility into the buildings operating profile, then the only data points available are monthly utility bills, and the only explanation for changes in usage is weather. But, there are all kinds of things that can and do go wrong in buildings. 

When it comes to the benefits of an energy monitoring system going beyond controlling costs, this is partially an anecdotal response, but occupant satisfaction is improved. People, by and large, do care about sustainability and living in a building, or going to a workplace, that displays real-time monitoring on TV “wallboards,” their homepage or distributing a daily email makes them feel like they’re part of something positive.

PGB: Is achieving sustainability easy? Are there misconceptions some businesses have that keep them from becoming more energy efficient? 

Prestel: 
Yes, because just paying attention has a massive impact. The average person simply accepts utility expense as uncontrollable, and it’s not. We’ve seen that when people are armed with the right information, they’ll do the right things.
Common misconceptions or things we hear are: 

  • “It’s weather.”Yes, a big driver will always be weather, but there are a host of other things that impact usage and are within your control.
  • “We already have a building control system.” Yes, and if it was programmed correctly for your building, and if controls haven’t been overridden from occupant complaints, and if all the sensors are working properly, and if … The point is that good practice is to “control your controls” with real-time monitoring of actual usage.
  • “We have a guy that does that.” I’m sure that guy is top notch, but he or she will be even better if you can add real-time monitoring to their tool belt. Plus, don’t you want to know for certain that person is doing the best job possible, whether it’s a contractor, employee or yourself? 
  • “Our equipment is too old; it just needs to be replaced.” Maybe, but (1) you might be surprised at how efficient your equipment can be when schedules are optimized, and (2) it’s probably not all of the equipment. So use real-time monitoring to identify the problem, and go from there.     

PGB: How can the mindset of building owners and managers and business leaders be changed so that they see energy efficiency as a necessity and achievable, instead of as endeavors that are expensive and simply nice to have?

Prestel:
First, investors are increasingly searching for sustainable investments. To get the maximum value from your building and/or your company’s P/E ratio, take sustainability seriously.

From 2014 to 2016, investments in sustainability-focused funds increased 33 percent, with $40.3 trillion assets now under management. Additionally, it doesn’t take much to realize valuable energy savings. 

ENERGY STARreports that properties simply benchmarked with Portfolio Manager save 2.4 percent annually on average – information is power. 

Lastly, energy efficiency doesn’t have to be expensive. Olentangy Local School District reduced energy consumption from 2013 to 2014 by roughly 3 million kwh with low-cost no-cost initiatives revolving around real-time monitoring.


Topics: Automation and Controls, Building Owners and Managers, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Energy Saving Products, Energy Storage - Solar Energy Storage, Engineering Firms, Exteriors, Great Commercial Buildings, Office Buildings, Solar Energy & Solar Power, Sustainable Communities, Sustainable Trends and Statistics, Technology, Urban Planning and Design


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