Driving Energy Efficiency in Small- and Medium-Size Buildings

August 9, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

small-buildingThe way in which energy management initiatives are approached in small- and medium-sized commercial and industrial buildings is significantly different than in large structures. Indeed, it seems that the smaller facilities often don’t get the attention they deserve.

And they do deserve it: Small- and medium-sized buildings cumulatively constitute a big market. They consume a high percentage of the energy buildings consume and, of course, are more far more numerous than large structures. The differences between the two classes of buildings – small and medium-sized structures can be grouped as one – is technology. It also is human: The smaller buildings are less likely to have a facility or energy manager solely dedicated to the task. People employed in a small building tend to be laser focused on the company’s main business.

Things are changing, however. The advent of the Internet as a commercial tool a decade ago and more recent enabling technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and the cloud make it easier and more feasible for service providers and vendors to market to these smaller venues. Energy efficiency also is something people want. It now is cool and on the top of investors’ and customers’ minds. The bottom line is that exciting new technologies increasingly are as available to small- and medium-sized commercial and industrial buildings.

Enfranchising small- and medium-sized buildings fits well with the overall goal of cutting energy use and operating in a greener fashion. In June, Navigant Research said that the value of the small and medium size commercial building retrofit market will grow by more than half — from $24.1 billion to $38.6 billion – between this year and 2025.

Commentary yesterday at ProudGreenBuildings.com does a good job of laying out the landscape. The worlds of building management and building automation systems have bypassed small buildings because of customization cost and lack of decision maker awareness of the level of waste in legacy systems and the potential benefits of encompassing efficiency. The story describes BEMOSS (Building Energy Management Open Source Software), a project from Virginia Tech, as a “scalable and broadly interoperable solution” that integrates HBAC lighting and plug load equipment and controllers across manufacturers’ lines.

There is a good deal of academic research on the topic of unlocking this market. A study was released earlier this year by Preservation Green Lab, which is a project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The most startling finding was that small structures can cut energy use from 27 percent to 59 percent, depending upon building type. The three recommendations: Identify waste and measure results; plan for improvements and to “encourage innovative new business models.” The New Buildings Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory also participated in the research.

The ability to cut a huge percentage of energy used is echoed in a case study from Procedia Engineering. The paper illustrates an eight-step procedure in a case study. The results were a savings of about 50 percent of total energy consumed, depending on what measures were adopted and investments made, the abstract said.

The big companies are in the act as well. At IBcon 2016 in Boston in late June, Intel exhibited its collaboration with three other companies on management system aimed at small and mid-sized buildings. The Intel Building Management Platform features PowerTools device and data management technology from CANDI, an operating system from Big River and McAfee security. The problems the Intel BMP is meant to solve, Intel says, revolve around the difficulty and expense of integrating incompatible legacy systems and the data they produce. IoT-based solutions to this point, according to Intel, have focused to this point on separate silos (such as lighting or HVAC), the company said.

The industry is in a time of rapid change, and this change is nowhere more deeply felt than small and medium size commercial and industrial buildings: Advanced technology holds the promise of opening up these venues to the energy efficiency measures enjoyed by large buildings. However, much work remains on systems that work horizontally across the entire premise in in inexpensive and easily managed ways. Systems are available today, but the sector still is in its early phases. In other words, companies must strive to ensure that what they buy today will be supported in the future.

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