January 2016

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The Way Forward from Paris is Via Automated M&V

Investment dollars to transform commercial building energy wasters into high performers are there, but won’t be tapped until bankers are confident in the measurement and verification of savings.
Therese Sullivan
Therese Sullivan,

BuildingContext Ltd

Contributing Editor

The Way Forward From Paris

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The Paris Climate Agreement is “the beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel era,” according to one negotiator, Marcelo Mena Carrasco of Chile. I just hope it’s the beginning of the end of the logjam in commercial building energy efficiency.  Will adoption of data-driven strategies finally accelerate in 2016?

There was a Buildings Day at the outset of the Paris Climate Summit as well as a sidebar Climate Conference for Local Leaders.  Action on transforming urban buildings was front and center at both of these events. Panama Bartholomy, ICP Europe Director, addressed the efficiency community in his report Paris Update: New Commitments and Funding for Building Efficiency.  The key numbers Bartholomy sites are “100 banks, managing a total of $4 trillion in assets, calling for a doubling of energy efficiency by 2030.” The way to that money, however, is via a dark mysterious passageway in the eyes of many, M&V.  Bartholomy, founder of the Investor Confidence Project, summarizes the situation as follows:  

"Never before have so many large and small, public and private investors come together to find ways to give us the financing we need to meet our building renovation goals. The consensus is crystal clear: the lack of a standardized process for developing and underwriting projects is the biggest barrier to confidence in our industry. What we are now doing is bringing together the owners, financiers, engineers and governments to develop exactly that process. The financiers have finally made a clear ask - how will we respond?"

A few smart building practitioners are tucked into all those disciplines that Bartholomy wants to orchestrate, likely in the ‘engineer’ category. They are distinguished by the fact that they have a day-to-day understanding of how to actually use building data to measure and verify performance. Most Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing design engineers are more than two degrees of separation away from this familiarity. Most Operations & Maintenance engineers haven’t been trained to interpret Building Automation Systems (BAS) data or write BAS rules. Most HVAC contracting firms don’t offer services that pertain to facility data science and information systems. Many engineers working inside of building equipment manufacturing companies aren’t concerned with data streams outside their own walled gardens. And, many software engineers inside IT departments that are being charged with the management and security of buildings data aren’t interested in searching for insight there. In short, today, the segment of the energy efficiency community ready to discuss M&V is actually very small. 

If you’re reading the digital pages of automatedbuildings.com, consider yourself among the fortunate few. You may have the interest and experience to get through this LBNL-developed Assessment of Automated Measurement and Verification (M&V) Methods.  (Automated M&V because I think we can all agree relying on highly-skilled engineers running around with clipboards is not going to scale the Eiffel Tower.)  This is a 2015 study of “public-domain whole-building M&V methods, focusing on more novel baseline modeling approaches that leverage interval meter data using a large set of buildings.” If you were an algorithmic keyword search bot analyzing this dense text you would find many mentions of “monitoring-based commissioning”, “FDD”, “energy management information systems (EMIS)” — in other words the core topics we cover here at automatedbuildings.com.

But bankers are not us and they are not keyword bots. Investors didn’t face such a steep learning curve when determining how to price financing options — loans, PPAs, leases and cash — for solar projects. I don’t think this LBNL paper or any of the other latest automated M&V literature is for them. I don’t even think the majority of ‘engineers’ in the energy efficiency community are ready to soak in that level of detail. For the wider EE community, the entry point to energy-efficiency tracking is whole-building energy performance assessment software. This burgeoning category takes many shapes and forms which I wrote about in a September 2014 article, Four New Ways to Scan Your Whole Building for Energy Waste.

This month I have a new entry for that list: the proposed ASHRAE/ACCA Standard For Energy Audits. Open to industry comment until January 4th, the proposed standard is intended to drive adoption of common data formats for building energy auditors. This announcement from the DOE and ASHRAE about more standardization of energy auditing is important because it supports city energy use disclosure legislation. And toothy legislation is needed for Paris promises to be realized. 

The DOE’s NREL has formalized its guidelines into a tool called BuildingSync XML.  BuildingSync was developed using the standard energy data terminology defined in the Building Energy Data Exchange Specification (BEDES). Like the Automated M&V research, BEDES was developed with leadership from researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. 

According to this transcript from the latest BEDES webinar  ”BEDES first use cases center on energy efficient investment decision-making. It is aimed at managers using building energy performance information to assess capital operation opportunities. That's mostly whole building data, whole building characteristics, and so on. Likewise, building performance tracking."  They also say “data around controls is not in the scope of BEDES.”  As automated M&V does concern ‘data around controls,’ the work of the international Project Haystack Community gives commercial building project teams the fast track to achieving the ultimate goal of Investor Confidence. 

BEDES developers emphasize the same point that Toby Considine explains in this interview: Semantic Spaces: a single universal data exchange schema is not a practical goal now or in the foreseeable future.  Each of these approaches to semantics is being built for open, easy information interchange. LBNL has been tasked by the DOE to provide technical support to socialize the standardization and sharing of common terms. By this they mean, LBNL will continuously publish and push out on social media channels mappings to the BEDES dictionary provided by adopters. This is not unlike the Project Haystack forum pages and the soon-to-be published Haystack e-zine that will share use cases of Haystack models and methods.

Today this is how the buildings industries are working together toward open energy auditing, automated M&V, and energy management information systems that exist along a continuum. Teams that use these tools should be supported by an uninterrupted workflow and easy exchange of data.  With research provided by LBNL, the DOE is also reaching for government leadership with its High Impact Technology (HIT) Catalyst project.  Among the few technologies on the HIT list are Packages of Building Management and Information Systems (including submetering, control and automated fault detection and diagnostics).

The Paris Agreement is a significant first in how governments and non-governmental organizations around the globe came together on goals. The sidebar meetings made clear that building efficiency in densely populated cities and regions is among the first, if not the first, focus area of the signers. So my post-Paris 2016 prediction is that this year is going to be all about federal-government initiated, big-bank-financed, big-tech-equipped, big-property-manager-planned/manned, and big-city-piloted projects. Whoops there is no big-building brains in that line up.  So you'll find some of the smaller companies with the building automation know-how actually leading the charge when it comes to bringing the M&V. The money is there to accelerate, if the players can line up behind the projects.


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