This year has been something of an experiment for our buildings. Put through conditions no one could’ve ever predicted, the unprecedented situation has taught us more about our buildings than any other year. Functionally vacant offices have struggled to lower their energy usage. Highline baseline energy usage has highlighted how crucial it is for facility managers to get a grip on ballooning electricity usage before it’s too late. The lessons learned about energy usage during this year will be used to move our nation’s building stock towards a more sustainable future.
Without access to our buildings for most of the year, digital building twins have never been more useful. A digital twin can help new and potential hires be trained on new facilities and equipment from anywhere in the world, creating connectivity across all properties and into every team. Beyond the benefits to on-site staff, a digital twin can run energy simulations, model air flow, and track equipment life, saving time and money while keeping occupants in the physical building safer. At the start of the year, a digital twin was seen by many as a luxury. Nine months into the pandemic, they’ve become a necessity.
Even though the lights went out for most of our offices this year, the importance of lighting has never been clearer. Lighting is the basis of smart buildings. With uniform spacing and standardized design, a building’s lighting system creates the perfect structure of smart building networks to build around. Think of lighting as the nervous system of the body, allowing different parts of the body to communicate. Lighting networks are conduits for all manner of Iot sensors that can provide data to measure things like occupancy, temperature, humidity, and usage via motion detection. If done correctly, a properly connected lighting system can be a launch pad for future smart building upgrades.
Energy usage patterns changed dramatically this year with tens of millions of employees working from home. Electrical grids struggled to keep up with the shifting demand. In California, rolling brownouts during a heat wave raised questions about the grid’s integrity. Grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs) are a solution. Buildings with GEB technology can shift and modulate electrical loads, negotiating a give and take in real time, enhancing efficiency while protecting the integrity of the grid. Favored by the Department of Energy, more active policies to encourage adoption are needed.
Plummeting office occupancy throughout most of the year hasn’t translated into much energy savings for office buildings. Buildings weren’t designed to be turned off. Unlike your work computer, you can’t shut a building off or put it into low-power mode because doing so puts building infrastructure at risk. Buildings owners must meet their legal obligations to provide habitable space for tenants, even if they’re not there. With the right incentives to align tenants and owners, unoccupied buildings may be able to lower energy use by 50 percent, but never much lower than that, no matter how empty.
When buildings use power is as important as how much they’re using. When power usage is peaking, rates go up. The majority of a buildings electricity bill is often made up of charges during peak hours. A momentary slip up during peak hours can be costly. Real Time Energy Management (RTEM) informs and assists building operators in managing and consuming energy during the most expensive times. Integrating operational preferences with real time data optimizes energy usage at the most critical times.