Smart Green Buildings

Dec. 17, 2008

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.

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.

Industry Partnerships Under Way
A key to this developing trend is the integrated efforts of electrical equipment and appliance control makers, as well as utilities and government. Several developments described in the news indicate this is happening at an accelerated pace. The government, consumers, and utilities industry have forged a fiscal plan to move forward. In the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Title XIII, a large-scale demonstration program has been authorized. Now, it’s up to Congress to fund the programs. Here are two examples of pilot projects recently announced.

Pilot Project No. 1. Constellation Energy and its subsidiary, Constellation NewEnergy, announced the creation of the NewEnergy Alliance, a group committed to driving innovation in the building-automation industry that will create smarter, more energy-responsive buildings. These buildings will be capable of reacting to changes in the energy marketplace at any time by reducing and adjusting energy consumption. “The goal is to create Energy Responsive BuildingsSM by integrating building-automation systems with real-time energy market data and pricing signals,” says Leighton Wolffe, vice president of alliances and strategy for Constellation NewEnergy. “This commitment to developing and implementing enterprise-level energy solutions and technologies will deliver advanced energy expertise and innovative tools that today’s customers need to identify and leverage the energy in our built environment.”

Pilot Project No. 2. UtiliPoint® Intl. Inc. announced the successful launch of the PowerCentsDC™ residential smart meter and smart pricing pilot, where 1,400 customers will use a combination of technology and innovative rate structures to reduce electricity usage. The pilot is sponsored by the Smart Meter Pilot Program Inc., a nonprofit corporation consisting of the District of Columbia Public Service Commission, Office of the People’s Counsel, Consumer Utility Board, Intl. Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Pepco Holdings Inc. This is the first attempt in the world to test smart metering with three different advanced consumer rate options: hourly pricing, critical peak pricing, and critical peak rebate. Each of these pricing options is coupled with technology to measure usage and bill the customers in the pilot. UtiliPoint provides project management and rate design services for the effort. The overall systems integration and testing were managed by UtiliPoint, and done in close collaboration with Pepco, the local distribution utility. “UtiliPoint is a strong believer that the distribution utility is changing not only in North America, but globally as smart grids become a reality,” says Jon T. Brock, president and COO of UtiliPoint. Todd Arnold, senior vice president of SmartGrid, and customer systems for Duke Energy, made this comment in an interview with UtilityPoint Intl. Inc.: “Smart-grid technologies will forever change our century-old business model.”

In addition, Duke Energy has launched its Envision Center in Erlanger, KY, just outside Cincinnati. The Envision Center presents a futurist public display of how smart grid, distribution automation, smart metering, home automation, electric cars, and smart appliances can work together for improved reliability, faster outage recovery, and price-responsive conservation. 

Smart Building Technology Surges Forward
Automated building energy control technology is being facilitated by a software protocol called ZigBeeTM. ZigBee is based on IEEE Standard 802.15.4, which was ratified in 2003. Zigbee defines a new open-architecture wireless personal area network (WPAN) technology that is designed specifically for linking devices that perform monitoring and control. It provides a standard for low-powered digital radio frequency (RF) transceivers that operate primarily in the unregulated industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) band at 2.4 gigahertz (GHz). For buildings, these devices can include anything from a simple light switch or thermostat to more complex security and life-safety devices. Since ZigBee-compliant products are based on an industry standard and not any one company’s proprietary system, any building monitoring and control device that is ZigBee compliant can be used. This will open the door for the introduction of ZigBee wireless building monitoring and control devices. ZigBee technology defines how these devices work together and provides a certification program to help ensure compliance. ZigBee could be the next big thing in building automation; building owners and managers need to be aware of this new wireless technology.

This overview of emerging smart, green-building technology marks the last of my contributions to Bottom Line Energy Issues. My best wishes for your future growth in energy developments.

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