Smart Green Buildings

12/17/2008 | By Lew Tagliaferre

In addition to the growing interest in sustainable green buildings over the past few years, a new energy ecosystem is emerging that connects smart, green buildings with a smart grid to optimize energy flows. I’ve explored the emergence of the “smart grid” in past newsletters; this time, I’ll discuss practical use of this rapidly emerging development.

As the technologies of smart buildings and smart grids meet, they’ll provide huge benefits in terms of more efficient energy use, integration of on-site energy demand and generation with the grid, and better-functioning buildings that are better and safer places to work and live. Automated green buildings represent a significant opportunity for energy efficiency and mass-scale renewable generation, as well as automated demand-response (DR) systems: While some demand is shifted to lower-cost, off-peak times, the peak power generation that’s avoided often comes from the most polluting power plants. The systems that enable DR are a cornerstone of overall energy-efficiency programs – they provide detailed energy use information that makes for smart energy decisions overall. Until now, a building manager gets a call from the utility and literally walks around to turn off equipment and appliances. Smart, green buildings will have digital control systems that automate the process. A new green-energy ecosystem will be the result.

Technology innovations are making investments more economically practical. They center on new software protocols that integrate disparate control systems with wireless technologies that eliminate the need for costly rewiring. “I firmly believe that smart buildings are green buildings,” says Jack McGowan, president of Energy Control Inc. and chairperson of GridWise Architecture Council (GWAC). GWAC is a U.S. Department of Energy effort aimed at developing protocols to link various pieces of smart-grid technologies. McGowan called out goals for significant growth in net-zero-energy buildings enshrined in the new Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. Such buildings are energy generators as well as users, providing as much energy to the grid as they draw from it. “The idea that buildings could give and take energy – that’s where the opportunity presents itself,” he says. McGowan believes that interest in net-zero-energy buildings will grow, as will the emphasis on intelligent buildings that measure and manage energy and revenue flows.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system does not directly credit building automation, though it does credit the efficiencies that automation can provide. Creating a new green-energy ecosystem requires linking today’s heavily “stove-piped” separate systems within buildings, as well as creating links between buildings and the electric power grid. It also means expanding the definition of green buildings to include the digital smarts that connect diverse systems. A problem is that building intelligence does not have a singular rating system. The Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) is promoting its “Building IQ” metric and is working with the USGBC to update its LEED standards. A revised LEED standard is expected in June 2009 to provide more credit for building systems. CABA is also staging its own “Convergence of Green and Intelligent Buildings” research initiative.

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