February 2008

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Tom HartmanEMAIL INTERVIEW  Tom Hartman & Ken Sinclair 

Contributing Editor Thomas Hartman, P.E. The Hartman Company

The Hartman Company was founded in 1972 as a high technology engineering and technology development firm, specializing in applying digital technology to commercial and industrial building control and energy management. Hartman has played an important role in pioneering the use of advanced network based energy management control strategies. Hartman’s most recent development is relational control strategies based on the Equal Marginal Performance Principle. Today THC helps manufacturers bring to the market more efficient products that utilize relational control concepts compatible with large scale networks. 

What is Performance Based Building Design & Operations?

That is why this position paper is a developing project that is intended to be fueled by the good ideas and concerns of all interested readers and reviewers. I hope all the automatedbuildings.com readers will join the process. We ask that all interested in this issue submit comments on the paper – and future versions as they are developed.

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Sinclair:  We now have a link to a developing position paper you have authored that advocates performance based building design and operations in order to expedite moving our industry to a more sustainable position in terms of its energy use. You are looking for industry players to review and comment on it in order to develop it further for use by public policy makers. Can you start by telling us why you developed this position paper?

Hartman: Those of us working in this industry know that the level of energy performance achieved in our buildings today - both existing and new buildings - is far below what is technically possible. Now, the global scientific community has developed a compelling case that a truly significant reduction in the current level of greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade or two is necessary. They believe such a reduction is essential to mitigate the potential for the most worrisome consequences of climate change within the next century.

It’s clear to energy experts that the only viable path to such substantial short term greenhouse gas reductions without turning society upside down involves as the cornerstone a large scale improvement in the energy efficiency of buildings. So, our industry suddenly finds itself right at the point on the front line against climate change. The purpose of this position paper is to try to initiate a discussion among a wide audience of those interested in what can be done to best succeed in this important effort so we can get the process moving – and do so quickly!

Sinclair:  Well, there are, and for some time have been, many discussions and much research within the industry about how to improve the efficiency of buildings. We both just returned from the ASHRAE/AHR expo in New York where there were numerous discussions and several new initiatives announced aimed at improving the energy performance of buildings. How is this position paper different or how does it support what has been and is being done?

Hartman: I am very encouraged about recent developments by ASHRAE, USGBC and many others. There appears to be developing a strong effort within the industry toward incorporating performance measurement and monitoring into building design and construction practices. This is an absolutely necessary first step to move forward. However, trying to improve the efficiency of our buildings with only this step and relying on the building design and construction industry to push efficiency into the market place is like trying to push with a rope. What a number of these groups, including the newly formed Commercial Building Initiative, Gridwise and others are working toward are better delivery mechanisms – something that is desperately needed. But to move the industry effectively to a more efficient future, we need another element that is aimed at pulling these developing technologies and practices into the market place quickly. Otherwise these initiatives and ideas stand a good chance of languishing and underperforming as so many have in the past. That pulling force I find lacking is an engagement with new enabling public policy which has largely been missing in industry discussions. Currently, much of the public policy on the books actually resists the implementation of efficiency improvements into the building industry. It is at this public policy side of improving building efficiency that the position paper is aimed.

Sinclair:  It would seem the most important pulling force is the market place itself. If the building industry can deliver efficiency for less, then it would be a done deal. Otherwise, it would seem any scheme might deserve to fail.

Hartman: That certainly is true. But keep in mind the utility/building energy economy is not an entirely free market. The fundamental operating metric of this industry is based on monopolies and public policy that was developed a century ago. Much policy continues to encourage the expansion of energy sales and use. We don’t need a greater degree of public policy oversight; but we do desperately need a change in direction of that policy because utilities, even those that are “decoupled” from sales, still view energy sales as the primary path to maximize their return on investment. At present there is strong resistance to a declining energy sales strategy within the utility industry. But there is also another very important point to be made about using public policy to strengthen market forces at work toward more efficient buildings. For markets to work effectively they require informed buyers. The cost associated with energy to condition buildings is generally not a major item of concern to building owners. And because of this and the technologies employed, most building owners are not knowledgeable about energy conversion systems. They rarely know whether these systems are operating efficiently or not. Any first step to a successful performance based building energy efficiency program must provide building owners with a useful method for assessing the performance of their building and to provide some frame of reference so that the owner can tell whether that performance is good or bad. This will transform building owners into more informed buyers.  An analogy to the auto industry works well here. Modern cars provide fuel mileage data to the driver. Public policy is largely responsible for this and public policy has also helped inform drivers what mileage to expect from their autos. By following public policy regarding automobile gas mileage over the last half-century we see that when these two critical elements of public policy are well coordinated - developing standards and informing the public - the results have been effective. This general direction could be replicated by the building industry.

Sinclair:  It is likely true that we do have some distance to go to get building owners more informed about their energy systems, but aren’t utilities and others already doing this with their conservation and efficiency programs?

Hartman: There are a lot of talented and dedicated individuals working in these programs, but as I noted earlier, at the upper management level, utilities believe their future requires ever increasing energy sales. As one executive once told us – to think otherwise is self-cannibalization. When placed in charge of energy savings programs, utilities are in the catbird seat because they exert enormous control over both sides of the meter. In areas employing separate responsibility for efficiency programs, utilities can be found working in subtle ways to limit the effectiveness of those programs. Let me give you an example on the power generation side. Solar power is a very important near term energy resource because it provides clean power when it is most expensive. But through often complex rules, regulations and practices, nearly every utility hugely undervalues the worth of solar power to interested building owners and makes it difficult to connect to their grid when the opposite should be true. Why? Well, at least part of the answer is that the most economical location to install such a solar power option is on the rooftops of buildings. But this approach, because it is largely independent of the utility, could reduce utility sales and revenue, so utilities resist attaching full value to this very attractive near term strategy. We have seen the same resistance when large scale thermal storage programs have been developed. In response, utilities have developed new rate structures that tend to undermine the potential savings of these programs.

We need to recognize that there are legitimate concerns about such decentralized power or conservation initiatives. But such concerns can be easily addressed and uniformly incorporated into a new direction for public policy. However, if we continue ignore public policy in developing energy saving initiatives, or to rely heavily on utilities’ recommendations to develop public policy, as is common practice today, potential solutions that are not seen by utilities as in their interest are unlikely to be fairly considered.

contemporary Sinclair:  I’d like to touch upon something you said earlier. You seemed to indicate that the industry cannot initiate a substantial improvement in energy efficiency on its own. That it requires a change in public policy to “pull” higher performing buildings into existence. Why do you believe that is the case?

Hartman: If we look at the nature of our industry and how it is structured, I think the limitations preventing bold industry initiatives become quite clear. First, at the design and construction level, the building industry is highly fragmented with many independent players. There is nothing wrong with this. It gives owners and developers a lot of choices and enhances competition. But what it also means is that it is very difficult to initiate meaningful change because there is no central authority that can dictate new policy to all the players. Even industry organizations tend to be consensus driven and generally reactive rather than proactive. Energy service companies were developed decades ago to better manage and cut through the complexities associated with delivering more efficient building systems, but they have largely failed in that effort because they have been forced to structure themselves and operate in accordance with standard industry practices. Thus, they have not been able to establish an effective chain of accountability. The real powerhouses are the utilities which as I noted earlier strongly resist almost all near term declining energy use scenarios. So there is a lot of activity, with a great many concerned individuals and much well thought out work being done. But by the very nature of our industry, there are too many stumbling blocks and conflicting interests that act against change coming from the industry on its own. My own personal experience is that building owners are also very risk adverse when it comes to energy issues because energy is not seen as a crucial element in the economics of building projects. So, any of the multitude of participants in a building project raising the slightest concern or doubt about a new more efficient option can easily lead to its demise. It’s that hard to initiate change from the bottom up.

Sinclair:  So then, what is your vision for what the industry and for what public policy advocates should be doing to promote more efficient buildings?

Hartman: At this point, it is really a collaborative vision. In a nutshell, here is the approach that seems to be developing as I receive comments and incorporate them into this position paper. The industry needs to focus on developing building energy performance parameters that are as universal as possible, easy to measure, and give a simple but good appraisal of the comparative energy performance of buildings and their energy systems. Then, it is essential the industry ensure performance parameter reporting is a component of every new building project or upgrade. Also, the industry needs to develop benchmarks for what level of performance we should expect from various types of new or existing buildings and building systems as new technologies are developed and introduced into the industry.

Simultaneously, public policy needs to be developed that ensures the owners of residential, commercial or industrial buildings are provided energy use data for their buildings in a form that shows at a glance the comparative performance of their building with others of its type, and is detailed enough so that they have a good idea of what system(s) should be focused upon to improve that performance. Next, public policy should provide some level of incentive or penalty to hold each building owner accountable for achieving a minimum level of reasonable energy performance that can easily be applied to all buildings. Keep in mind there is so much wasted energy in buildings today that the cost to building owners to save enough energy to fuel our growth for the next half century is far less than the cost they will pay to build and operate all the new power plants utilities want to construct. And this approach will lead to a far more successful program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over that time. So, effective public policy aimed at establishing performance based building design and operations is not only a key component of any overall greenhouse gas reduction program, but it is also the least cost path forward for our energy future.

Sinclair:  Well, it sounds easy. But all of us who have spent any time in this industry know it is not. Designing, constructing and operating buildings to maximize efficiency can be very complex and uncertain processes. Nearly every building is unique in some way and it is very difficult to fit them into universal categories.

Hartman: What you say is absolutely correct. That is why this position paper is a developing project that is intended to be fueled by the good ideas and concerns of all interested readers and reviewers. I hope all the automatedbuildings.com readers will join the process. We ask that all interested in this issue submit comments on the paper – and future versions as they are developed. It is encouraging to see all the good ideas that have already contributed to its development thus far. As our society and technologies grow, it takes cooperation among ever increasing disciplines and elements within society to truly succeed in needed change. I ask everyone to become a contributor to creating a more efficient building stock that contributes to a significant but cost effective reduction in greenhouse gases over the next few decades.

Sinclair:  We agree. Let’s see what we can do to help.

Hartman: Thank you!


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