New Ideas for Building Energy

Integrating Building Systems for Sustainable Energy

Danfoss believes that “Buildings will become smarter and the utilities of the future will become dramatically different providers than the ones of today,” according to Lisa Tryson, director of corporate communications. "Changes facing our industry, energy infrastructure, and commercial buildings will test our technologies, standards, and goals.”

At an event hosted early last month, industry participants gathered in Washington, D.C., for the 24th Danfoss EnVisioneering Symposium, “Integrating Building Systems for Sustainable Energy.” The forum topics included connectivity, a large challenge as more renewable and efficient products come on line.  At the community-level, there are questions on regulations and how those will fit within the existing utility infrastructure. Since the belief is that new building-grid dynamics are forming a path to a future of buildings that will be very different than the existing built environment, these questions are increasingly critical to maintaining energy systems.

As Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who serves on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, said in his opening remarks: “A national agenda doesn’t need to be energy source specific. We instead need to focus on a few things: workforce development to ensure properly trained and educated workers are available for the high-tech jobs in the clean energy industry and the infrastructure of the energy industry – whether it be demand response technology or physical transmission assets. The regulatory environment that prevents new technologies also needs to be streamlined. Energy efficiency is great because it’s often a simple and affordable way to help meet the energy demands of our nation. “

Integrating Technologies & Changing Behavior

Turning to developments in research and the commercialization of new technology, Azizan Aziz, assistant research professor at the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon University, and Mike Schell, vice president of marketing and business development at AirTest Technologies Inc., outlined new possibilities in remote building management and increasing occupant control which drive higher building energy performance. According to Aziz, returning building control to occupants while advancing energy performance is possible through the development of building designs where data, intervention, and occupant education and behavior change are considered.

Schell specifically looked at how the shift to wireless technology can open new possibilities for low-cost installations and at how sensors and connectivity put high-performance/high-comfort buildings within reach. Instead of building for the future, he suggested modifying the buildings of today. 

Tracking Performance 

The symposium addressed the macro performance levels that are put within reach when building design and management is moved to the community level – either the city level, as discussed by Marshall Duer-Balkind, program analyst at the District Department of the Environment, Government of the District of Columbia, and at the campus level, as showcased by Thomas Nyquist, executive director, engineering and campus energy, at Princeton University.

In the District of Columbia, government has taken an active role to make the city green and livable. By 2032, the city has a target of reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, and increasing the use of renewable power to 50 percent of the total source. Today, Duer-Balkind explained, D.C. is first in the nation among large cities in LEED- and ENERGY STAR®-certified square footage per capita, first in the nation among total ENERGY STAR® buildings and the number of LEED projects, first in solar energy per capita among states, and first in green power purchasing for the past five years.

At the campus level, Princeton University has set a target of reducing its energy use by 1/3 and reducing CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Reaching this level of sustainable energy use depends on the use of a distributed generation microgrid system that includes cogeneration, chilled water and thermal storage systems, solar photovoltaic electricity production, and biodiesel fuel oil. According to Nyquist, Princeton also relies on the tracking of demand on the local utility in order to be able to adjust and reduce capacity costs, which has saved the university approximately $1.6 million annually.

The Grid-Utility Relationship

New territory opened when Dr. Shelley Norman, a regulatory economist in the Electricity Division of the Maryland Public Service Commission, outlined a central challenge of the building performance-grid equation, the changes in traditional ratemaking approaches when faced with more distributed generation with and without grid reliance. While distributed generation, she explained, can have significant benefits for the grid and society – including reliability/resilience, cleaner power, load shaping, and congestion drops, it can impose costs depending on where it is installed and how it functions within the grid. Distributed generation also raises the risk of stranded investments shifting even unchanged costs to those unable or unwilling to participate, Dr. Norman explained. Developing a regulatory framework for sustainable funding is critical moving forward.

The 24th EnVisioneering Symposium made clear that buildings of the future and the industries that deliver them will be very different than today. Forces already in motion are driving profound change. Industry watchers know that big change means big challenges. Participant discussions seemed to agree that it also means big options and big decisions lie ahead – and perhaps not as far ahead as was once thought.