April 2009

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Getting There From Here
Here is my list of areas that need our help with fresh thinking for new directions for us to get out of the rut we’re in.

  Thomas Hartman, P.E.
The Hartman Company

Contributing Editor

Remember the old joke about the urbanite lost in the country who asks a local for directions to get to back to the city? After taking a lot of time starting on a series of conflicting directions he finally says “I guess you can’t get there from here.” I think of this often as I look at what’s being proposed for improving the energy performance of buildings to help lower greenhouse gas emissions. Like that local fellow in the joke, our industry has been delivering a lot of ideas. But many of us know that if we follow them, we are unlikely to get anywhere beyond where we’ve always been – buildings that in reality do not perform as projected. It is frustrating to many of us to watch, and it means we all need to work harder and more effectively together to get our industry moving in a direction that really can get us where we need to go. Here is my list of areas that need our help with fresh thinking for new directions for us to get out of the rut we’re in.

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ENERGY ANALYSIS TOOLS: The sorry state of analysis tools is the biggest disappointment I have in our industry at this critical time. We already have a history of poor analysis; cumbersome fill in the blanks simulation programs that don’t allow designers to consider creative new ideas. Nor do they provide project teams with useful benchmarks to assess the actual performance of specific HVAC components. Is it any wonder engineers have little idea of how systems should be most optimally configured or what the basic design parameters for HVAC system components should be? These approaches to energy analysis are truly counterproductive and we need to work to get them expunged as a requirement in government and institutional efficiency programs and replaced with new more effective analysis tools that can be used not only to accurately estimate energy performance of systems, but also as verification and troubleshooting tools to be certain the projected levels of operating efficiency are attained and maintained over time.

ENERGY PERFORMANCE STANDARDS: Nearly all of the energy performance standards in force today are based on “projected” building energy use. As used by the industry today, this is about as honest a way of characterizing building energy use as Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme was for investment projections. Even the auto mileage standards require cars to be driven to show that their efficiency claims can be verified. This longstanding dishonesty in developing building performance criteria has allowed the whole building performance process during design to become a charade wherein projections have almost nothing to do with real building use. Here we need a new direction in which building owners are accountable for achieving specific building energy use and that responsibility is then shared by the design team when buildings are designed or upgraded. The missing component has not been more analysis, but accountability. We need to think of ways to make this change quickly and effectively.

Reliable Controls UTILITY/BUILDING NETWORKS: Emerging concepts for integrating building controls with or into utility networks, sometimes called demand response networks show a lack of understanding that the networks themselves will drastically alter the characteristics of the demand events they are intended to mitigate. Such events are caused by the lack of connection between the electric distribution systems and the loads they serve. Our industry needs to better understand and apply the dynamics such networks offer for altering the characteristics of electric loads even without a specific focus on demand response events. The fallacy of existing proposals for smart grids is that the effects of network integrating or aggregating loads together alone is too often not fully considered and results in proposals that are far too complex and convoluted when much simpler and straightforward approaches could be implemented more easily. We need to apply clearer thinking to the whole idea of “smart” grids.

EFFICIENCY PROGRAMS: A lot has already been written about the inadequacies of these programs and most of us have seen them first hand. There are a wide range of efficiency programs sponsored by governments and utilities. A few can be useful, but altogether too many cannot. The most fundamental problems with efficiency programs are their bureaucratic nature and that they too often do not focus on steps that will actually achieve and maintain the desired energy savings over time.

There have been a number of books about problem solving. One of the greatest obstacles their authors seem to agree upon to effective problem solving is the failure to properly define the true nature of the problem. That is nearly the only way a real solution can be developed and implemented. We are unlikely to develop and propose effective solutions for large scale building energy improvements until each, in the industry, comes to realize that much of what we are doing today is actually what is preventing the needed change. Without this first basic step, we just can’t get there from here!

 

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