Controls Crucial to Achieving Net Zero Energy

01/01/2016 |

How FMs can dodge pitfalls during integration

Building controls and monitoring systems

Building monitoring and control systems are necessary to achieve net zero energy consumption, according to a new report.

Monitoring systems and building controls are an integral piece of the net zero energy puzzle, according to a new study released by the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA).

Conducted by the New Buildings Institute, the study utilizes interviews with design teams for 23 net zero energy buildings in North America, the operators of six of those buildings, and 130 surveys from occupants of seven of the buildings. The diverse sample size ensured that properties of all sizes were represented, giving a clearer look at the successful strategies and past pitfalls faced by a variety of buildings that were ultimately able to achieve net zero consumption. The featured projects have an average energy use intensity (EUI) of just 22 kBTU per square foot per year.

Key Findings for FMs
The findings offer a wealth of useful information for facilities professionals, particularly those responsible for the office and institutional building types that made up most of the sample. Key findings included:

1) Controls integration was rarely seamless. Every design firm in the project says that setting early energy targets and installing control systems are both key to net zero success, but the study also found that most projects “have some control problems.” Some of the design teams suggested simplifying processes and avoiding common points of failure, but the majority felt that “system integration, extensive metering, automation, granular levels of data and feedback are ‘here to stay’ and ‘beneficial to the process.’”

2) Efficiency is a priority. The buildings in the study were designed to use 50% less energy than most new buildings today and over 75% less than the average existing building. Renewable energy sources make up for the small amount of grid energy the buildings use.
However, not all buildings have the space or finances to create large renewable energy installations, so significantly reducing the energy requirements of a future net zero building is a critical first step.

3) Occupants play a leading role. “The role of occupants on energy outcomes has never been greater,” CABA explains. Approximately 74% of the buildings place some responsibility for controls success with occupants by conducting energy awareness campaigns and giving employees access to operable windows, blinds and plug load controls.

4) FMs should get involved early. Both the design teams and the operators recommended that the controls contractor and the building operator get involved early in the design stage, during commissioning and after occupancy to ensure the smoothest transition possible.

5) Big building systems need strong control strategies. HVAC, lighting and plug loads were cited as having an impact greater than 15% on the building’s energy savings. “The success of the control of these systems means the success of the energy goals,” the authors say.

“The findings of this study will help manufacturers target improvements, design teams to better integrate controls and work with contractors more effectively, and utilities to identify program priorities leading to a next generation of buildings that can be on the path to zero,” says Ralph DiNola, CEO of the New Buildings Institute.

The full findings are available at

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