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Starting at the Right Time for Efficient Energy Usage

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This piece is part of a new series that was created in conjunction with The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to help educate the real estate community about the positive impacts of Real Time Energy Management.

No two buildings are alike, from their outward appearance and interior purpose to various systems like security, HVAC and many more, and the people that keep them operating in an efficient and desirable way are buildings’ unsung heroes. These individuals and teams understand how a building is supposed to operate and the variations between that ideal and reality. This type of knowledge is a direct result from experience and probably too many lessons learned the hard way.

These building captains know the intricacies of their buildings in such a way that it’s hard, if not impossible, to replicate it on paper. Relationships between different systems can be impacted by building usage like occupancy and other conditions like weather and seasons. Don’t forget that systems operate differently as they age and everything known today might be outdated next week.

In fact, the depth of knowledge residing solely in people has become concerning as these heroes approach the age of retirement and younger generations hope to fill their spots. How do you share operational knowledge built on years of successful instincts? How do you prevent lessons from being learned the hard way twice and keep high-performance buildings operating as such? You enlist the help of technology.

Think of an office building on an August day. People start to arrive at 8:30 AM and the building is expected to be running seamlessly in the background as a well-oiled machine should. If there are any issues, the facilities management team is contacted immediately and the tenant’s day has taken a turn for the worse. If it’s too hot, tenants and visitors become agitated and distracted. There is a lot of stress on the building operators to keep everyone happy.

The easy answer is to keep the building running 24/7 with the desired 68*F temperature. Beyond being the most expensive method, it is a waste of energy in a time when buildings are required to meet certain operating standards like LEED. When studies are done and ongoing conversations are had nonstop about how to conserve energy from boiler operation and light switches to blinds, toilets and more, 24/7 operation is unreasonable if not ignorant.

The right answer is understanding what it takes to keep a building operating as it should and then evolving those processes to make them as energy efficient as possible. In this hypothetical example, the FM teams learned through a challenging trial and error process that the HVAC systems needed to be set to 68* four hours before the building starts to fill up. 

Operating buildings in their zone of maximum energy efficiency is a complicated equation with many factors. How many people are in the building drastically influences how much energy will be used from lights being on to plug load used. The range of outdoor temperatures from the start of the day until the last person leaves to go home cannot be successfully predicted more than a day or two in advance, despite weather organizations’ best attempts. In addition, power doesn’t always cost the same depending on demand, season, and where the building is located; for example, energy in New York doesn’t cost the same as in a Midwestern state. In addition, playing a “game of averages” looks good on paper when the average temperature in a building is 68*, but complaints from those where it’s 60* and those where it’s 76* will make it look like anything but a success. 

Fortunately, data available today means that the time of trial and error is behind us. Information including ambient temperature, the building’s level of insulation, whether a building is air-cooled or water-cooled, and whether the building uses variable air volume (VAV) or a constant air volume (CAV) HVAC system is all necessary to calculate how long it will take for a building to reach its target temperature and, thus, it’s optimal start time

Real time energy management (RTEM) technology has become the conduit between people and high performance buildings. RTEM continuously collects and holds performance data, both live and historical, via a cloud-based platform and uses it to discover places that can be run more efficiently. Empowering the generations working on buildings for years by finally making it possible to accomplish everything on their to-do list, these technologies make information accessible by a few finger taps instead of a few flights of stairs.

With historical and real time information readily accessible, start times for equipment so that office environments are comfortable at the start of the day and until the last person usually leaves are no longer a guess and check game. RTEM can analyze the impacts of outside circumstances like weather and seasons to modify the start time for machinery so that no energy is wasted and the office experience is a pleasurable one. Predictions for what’s going to be next can happen at regularly occurring intervals, like every 15 minutes, and as more data is made available about a building through more sensors, the accuracy of temperature control will continue to increase.

Taking the guesswork out of building operations would have only been found in dreams a decade or so ago but today RTEM gives operators the headstart they need to stay on top of and even ahead of what’s to come. The technology to support initiatives to decrease operational costs and meet pre-selected energy targets is not just nice to have, it’s necessary. With support from RTEM data, guesswork and instincts have evolved into precise calculations leading to saved energy, decreased costs, less stress, and more efficiency for everyone.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, known as NYSERDA, promotes energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. These efforts are key to developing a less polluting and more reliable and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers. Collectively, NYSERDA’s efforts aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate economic growth, and reduce customer energy bills. NYSERDA works with stakeholders throughout New York including residents, business owners, developers, community leaders, local government officials, university researchers, utility representatives, investors, and entrepreneurs.

NYSERDA offers cost-share incentives to support RTEM projects that serve customers in commercial, industrial, and multifamily sectors. Its Advanced Efficiency Solutions team evaluates and qualifies vendors to ensure high quality RTEM projects and analyzes RTEM market data to publish case studies and best practices.

Prospective customers can learn more about RTEM benefits and how to get started here. All of NYSERDA’s informational materials can be found in the RTEM Resource Center. Vendors interested in qualification should apply today.

For questions and help, email [email protected]

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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