January 2014
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The Future of Building Energy Savings

Uniting Building Automation & Utilities

Zach Denning
Zach Denning
Engineering Sales
Western Allied Mechanical

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Many studies have been conducted regarding energy costs and building operation since the birth of automated building control systems. The upgrade from pneumatics to Energy Management Systems (EMS) has allowed operators the ability to closely monitor and control key energy consumers within a buildings; thereby reducing energy consumption through mechanical and controls retrofits. Taking the concept further, some facility owners examine power consumption in comparison to historical data in order to identify problems and optimize equipment usage. So what is the next great milestone in energy management? What if you could correlate your control system and your utility provider to optimally reduce consumption at peak energy usage hours? Although Auto Demand Response (ADR) and load reduction strategies have been around since the early 2000s, they have become more pivotal with the increased demand and cost of energy.

So what is ADR and how is it implemented? Auto Demand Response was a collective effort between technology companies and utility providers to reduce grid consumption during peak energy usage hours. With the increase in energy consumption and decommissioning of power plants nationwide, the cost of energy will continue to rise more drastically. Known as Peak Day Pricing (PDP), utility providers can forecast days where energy consumption will exceed their generation capabilities. In these scenarios the provider must “borrow” energy from other utility companies and resell it to their consumers; often pricing it at triple the normal cost. To curb the energy demand, utilities can now provide numerous signals to building automation systems, reducing consumption during these periods with what is known as a DRAS (Demand Response Automation Server). Interfacing the DRAS to a building’s ADR client found in the automation, the building can now shed equipment load based on pretested sequencing. Sound too futuristic yet?

Unfortunately load cutting implementations are not as easy as plugging in a “black box” and flipping the switch. In most cases, automation control contractors struggle with reduction strategies from sequence execution to predicted savings. Typically, a controls contractor will partner with a mechanical design or energy analysis firm to deliver correct equipment sequencing and energy reduction verification. Here is a quick checklist to see if your building is applicable to be integrated for load reduction:

Do you have zone level control or zone monitoring capability?

If your site utilizes air handling units, do they currently have variable control strategies setup?

What kind of power monitoring do you have setup for your building?

Can your current control system be optimized with an ADR client?

So you’ve decided to go with a peak pricing program for your building, now what? The first step is to consult with an energy or mechanical design firm to understand how your building operates. Correct power reduction entails more than just turning equipment off or limiting staging. Here are some considerations and pitfalls of peak pricing programs:

What level of climate impact are your tenants worth sacrificing?

Can you verify actual energy savings during an event before disclosing the information to your utility provider?

How much sequencing is being re-engineered as part of the initial project?

Control Solutions, Inc Do you want your facility managers in charge of the program or will it be fully automated?

Are mechanical upgrades necessary to reduce power incrementally throughout your building?

Figure 1

Figure 1: An example of power reduction during peak hours on an event day.

So how can you offset the capital cost of integrating load reduction strategies? Although most software related strategies have a high ROI (Return of Investment), the addition of mechanical upgrades can lengthen that return. Most utility providers are in support of load reduction strategies during peak hours and help to fund the upfront capital necessary for integration. Providers like PG&E pay up to $250.00 per kW saved with payment plans spread over the life of the project. Funding is in relation not only how much energy is saved, but in the manner it’s reduced. By signing up on a fully (ADR) versus partially (Operator enabled) automated reduction plan, a facility can get up to 20% more funding per kW saved.

The future of power generation is dependent more upon how much can be saved rather than produced. Power plants are currently surpassing original life expectancies and are being decommissioned throughout the United States. With the dramatic increase in population, most homeowners are revoking utility providers the ability to build new plants. Yet, with more people and less power, how can blackouts and excessive energy costs be prevented? Power reduction integrations throughout commercial properties will continue to increase due to utility support and the decrease of power generation.


About the Author

I currently maintain an engineering sales position at Western Allied Mechanical. Our business is consulting customers on energy consumption and reducing costs through a joint mechanical and automation venture. I’m an avid follower of the industry and am always open to new opportunities and approaches. You can reach me at zdenning@westernallied.com or my cell at 650-798-4154.


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