Smart Buildings Meet the Smart Grid
Building automation technology provides building owners with the opportunity to reduce energy consumption and energy costs, and benefits only increase when coordinated with utilities' smart grids.
By William Atkinson
Until the advent of smart grid technology, building automation technologies provided a number of benefits. However, with the advent of smart grid technology by numerous utilities around the country, a lot of building automation technologies can now provide benefits over and above those that were available in a non smart grid environment.
Smart grid refers to the modernization of a utility’s electric grid, involving the use of information and communications technology to gather and act on information, such as information related to the behaviors of customers. The automation involved in smart grid technology allows the utilities to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics, and sustainability of the production and distribution of electricity to customers.
While there are dozens of various smart grid technologies, one of the most useful and promising in terms of integrating with smart building technologies is what is called demand response. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) defines demand response as: “changes in electric usage by end-use customers from their normal consumption patterns in response to changes in the price of electricity over time, or to incentivize payments designed to induce lower electricity use at times of high wholesale market prices, or when system reliability is jeopardized.”
That is, demand response activities involve actions voluntarily taken by customers to adjust the amount or timing of energy consumption. As a result, demand response provides a more cost-effective alternative for a utility than having to bring additional expensive generation capabilities online to meet peak or occasional demand spikes.
When buildings with smart building technologies are linked with their utility providers’ smart grid system, the building owners can be more effective in not only reducing energy consumption on a regular basis, but also in monitoring the building’s energy usage hour-by-hour, or even minute-by-minute, and using preset controls to shut down or curtail various pieces of equipment, banks of lights, and other energy-consuming devices during times of peak power demand for the utilities. By reducing their demand for power in response to anticipated increases in demand for the utilities (such as excess loads during excessively hot summer days), building owners can reduce their costs of electricity, since rates tend to increase during these periods of peak demand, the result of utilities having to bring additional expensive power sources online.
“When customers think about managing their energy costs, there are a lot of passive things they can do,” says Terrill Laughton, vice president of marketing and operations, Integrated Demand Resources, for Johnson Controls.
Examples include upgrading insulation, installing more energy-efficient lighting, and installing other energy efficiency equipment and materials. “These are things that, once you’re done, you really don’t think much about them anymore,” he says. “Demand response, on the other hand, is really more of an active, behavioral change that you can constantly be thinking about and involved in. You can actively participate in the program on a regular basis to reduce energy costs even more.”
A 2009 FERC report, titled “A National Assessment of Demand Response Potential,” estimates that the untapped potential of demand response in the US will be as high as 150 GW by 2019, equivalent to the capacity of 2,000 new peaking plants (the power plants that utilities need to bring online when they can’t meet existing power needs with their baseload generation plants) not needing to be built.
Here, we look at some smart building technologies, how they operate and the additional benefits that these technologies can offer when customers arrange for them to interact with their local utilities’ smart grid technologies, especially demand response.
|Credit: Merchandise Mart
Merchandise Mart, built
in in the 1930s, uses
metering integrated with
smart grid technology.
Budderfly Energy Management
“It is important for people to understand that there are opportunities beyond what is already out there, in terms of innovating beyond the current state of smart building technology,” says Ken Buda, vice president of operations for Budderfly Energy Management. Budderfly provides a granular measurement system and granular control system for energy at the user level. That is, the company’s technology is able to allocate energy expenses at a granular level, down to individual employees.
For example, in terms of measurement, the system involves installing a meter at every light switch and electrical outlet. “We can control lighting at a granular level, at the individual light switch level,” he says. “This drives expense allocation at that level, making each individual personally accountable for the energy they use.”
In terms of control, at night, when nothing should be consuming energy from an outlet, the system can turn it off. “It even works with office refrigerators, such as turning them off at 8 p.m., and then turning them back on again at 6 a.m.” if they are empty, says Buda.
The same thing can be done with computers. Instead of just going into “power save” mode, which, according to Buda, still wastes 54% of energy during the 16 hours a day they are not in use, Budderfly technology shuts off the computers.
Budderfly technology can integrate with a utility’s smart grid automatic demand response technology. “With typical demand response programs, the demand response provider comes in and tells companies what large loads they can shut down, such as air compressors, pumps, and rooftop units,” he says.
In most of these instances, the control systems that are in place to shut these down are not automated. As a result, if the utility wants to declare a demand response event, it calls the customer and asks the customer to turn certain things off.
“The customer will then run around to breaker panels to shut things off,” says Buda. “We have wireless radios in our devices, so, through our hosted software, we can execute a ‘profile,’ which arranges for the system to go into automatic demand response mode and turn things off automatically.”
The next step can be to integrate this technology directly with the utilities, providing the utilities with the authorization and control to shut certain things down in customer facilities that utilize Budderfly technology. “Of course, the customers will have to partner with their utilities in this regard,” says Buda. “Customers will provide their utility with a set of rules or conditions as to when the utility can curtail load, or allow the utility to opt in or out at its choice.”
To accomplish this, the utility will create an interface with Budderfly at the customer’s location. Then, the utility can send a signal during a demand response event, and Budderfly will automatically shut things down.
“For example, if it is a sunny day, the system may shut off every second bank of lights, which still provides enough lighting for employees,” says Buda. “It can also change the set-points on air conditioners in the summer, when most peak events occur, from 72 to 77 degrees [Fahrenheit].” Customers can reap 2–4% energy cost reductions for every degree of thermostat increase, according to him.
“In sum, without access to smart grid technology, we can provide granular measurement and control to help customers curtail excess energy consumption,” he adds. “With access to smart grid technology, customers can integrate that technology directly with building automation systems.”
Currently, Budderfly is involved in about 25 pilot projects and is adding six to ten new ones a month. “The facilities that tend to be the most receptive are public institutions, such as colleges and other public school districts that are in smaller and older buildings,” says Buda. “State agencies, especially those that are viewed as a drag on taxpayer dollars, are also showing a lot of interest. The reason is that it is difficult for them to go to the government and ask for budget increases, so they are very interested in our technology, because the money they save on energy expenses can be used directly for their programs.”
In terms of utility involvement, Buda has found that the majority of investor-owned utilities tend to be conservative in this area, and the majority of municipal utilities are not even involved in smart grid technology to begin with. “The utilities that are most receptive are quasi public-private partnerships, especially those in the Northeast, such as Efficiency Vermont and Efficiency Maine,” he says. “In fact, Efficiency Vermont is sponsoring a pilot program that we are doing at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vermont.”
One satisfied customer of Budderfly technology is Ulbrich Stainless Steels & Special Metals (North Haven, CT), which has five sites in two different towns in Connecticut, served by two different utilities. “One of the utilities that serves us has the second highest cost of electricity in the nation,” says Chris Ulbrich, CEO and vice chairman. “Our energy costs in our office building are about $7,000 a month, and our factory uses $125,000 a month of electricity.”
As a way to reduce its energy costs, Ulbrich began working with an energy consulting firm, which had a relationship with Budderfly. As a result, Budderfly technology is now installed at the company’s corporate headquarters facility.
“Budderfly measures everything in the building, and we can have different things come on and shut off at different times,” says Ulbrich. “Our office building is a beta site. We are learning from Budderfly, and they are learning from us. The technology tells us when to turn off lights, computers, printers, et cetera.”
In addition, Ulbrich is now beginning to work directly with the two utilities to help them understand the company’s electricity demands and how they can be controlled better. “If we can save about $2,000 a month in our corporate office, then I believe that we can certainly save $10,000 to $20,000 in our factory,” he says.
Graph showing an insulation problem that was resolved
Johnson Controls offers the GridConnect platform, which combines near-real-time energy consumption, historic use information, and electric market pricing, allowing customers to make decisions on when to reduce or shift consumption within the context of operational constraints.
GridConnect’s dashboard displays information, such as current demand response opportunities (including forecasted energy prices), peak load and historical demand response pricing in the customer’s zone, event performance monitoring and history, three-day weather forecast, a net summary of year-to-date earnings and savings, demand response activity in the last 30 days (including savings and earnings each day), and carbon emissions over the last 30 days.
In 2011, Johnson Controls acquired EnergyConnect, Inc., another smart grid technology provider, allowing Johnson Controls to provide integrated solutions that combine building automation with easy-to-implement demand response technology. The integrated solution allows mid- to large-sized electric customers access to more opportunities to augment savings from traditional demand response standby programs, by providing increased participation in flexible price-response and reserve programs throughout the year.
With GridConnect, curtailment actions during demand response events can be manual, automated, or a combination of both.
“The GridConnect platform doesn’t require interaction with a very advanced smart grid in order to be able to allow customers to participate in demand response,” says Johnson Controls’ Laughton, vice president of marketing and operations, Integrated Demand Resources, for Johnson Controls. “All it requires is a signal from the utility or grid operator, notifying the customer that there is an opportunity to do something. This allows customers to take advantage of information from the utility, such as impending high prices, that will allow them to curtail load.”
With GridConnect, Johnson Controls also helps customers identify the assets they have in their facilities like which load can be shed, as well as how quickly those assets can respond to load shedding when there is a demand response event signal from the utility or grid operator. “We also help customers automate these responses, if they want to do so,” says Laughton. “Under this arrangement, the load automatically adjusts itself in order to operate within a certain band. Of course, if the customer wants to maintain manual control instead, they can do so.”
One happy customer is Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (Chicago, IL). The Merchandise Mart is utilizing Johnson Controls’ demand response technology and was also a customer of EnergyConnect, which, as noted earlier, was subsequently acquired by Johnson Controls.
“The Merchandise Mart is a large building that was built in the 1930s, and it has a lot of equipment,” says Mark Bettin, vice president, engineering/sustainability. “There have been a number of incentives to modernize the equipment and make it more efficient. Johnson Controls’ software helps show us the benefits of doing the things we have done and helps us feed into future upgrades and refinements.”
In terms of integration with smart grid technology, the Merchandise Mart has metering in place to take advantage of real-time data and day-ahead pricing of power. “The utility is offering the flexibility for customers to get more dynamic in terms of how they operate their buildings,” he says. “The old view of demand response was that it was effective in a crisis mode, which might happen once or twice a year. Today, the technology allows us to opt in or opt out an hour at a time, looking at every hour of the day every day of the year to see if there is an opportunity to opt in.”
InStep Software provides software directly to utilities. It also provides software to industrial, commercial and government customers that is designed to collect data to reduce energy consumption for these customers. “A lot of our customers are manufacturers and universities,” says Sean Gregerson, director of business development.
One of the company’s technologies is called eDNA, an enterprise data and storing solution. It plugs into smart grid devices to allow utilities to effectively operate their grids and efficiently produce power.
“We use the same technology on the customer side, which involves buildings and campuses that consume a lot of energy,” he says. “They leverage our technology to monitor their levels of energy consumption at the building and campus level. The reason they use our software is because they have invested in smart building technologies and are trying to get the most from those investments.”
According to Gregerson, the majority of energy management packages are effective at looking at meter data on a 15-minute interval basis. “However, they can’t coordinate this raw utility meter consumption data with the data in the building automation system to provide a holistic view of energy consumption in each building,” he says.
InStep software plugs into all of the smart devices in a building, such as electronically enabled utility meters and the building automation systems. “We collect all of the data from these different data sources in real-time, and then archive it to make it available for trending, reporting, and analysis needs,” he says. “For example, if a customer has a peak demand at a certain time of day, the technology can identify some operational efficiencies that can be managed within the building automation system that will reduce peak demand as well as overall consumption.”
Another technology the company offers is PRISM, which integrates with the historical data information. PRISM is a predictive asset analytic technology that provides early warning detection of equipment problems, identifying when equipment is behaving abnormally and thus using energy inefficiently.
“In terms of the smart grid, our software provides building owners with the ability to understand their building energy consumption profiles, so they can understand the potential gains and benefits from implementing a demand response program,” says Gregerson. “In other words, before they decide whether or not to sign up for a utility’s demand response program, they can know in advance how useful this would be.”
Distech Controls’ EC Smart
Vue with four integrated
humidity, CO2, and motion
Distech Controls offers a Web-based building automation platform, as well as field controllers, sensors, and other equipment for complete energy management. “Being Web-based allows for seamless connectivity with any third-party application, including a smart grid,” says Caroline Cadieux, director of marketing and communications.
For example, if a facility exceeds its agreed-upon amount of energy usage as part of a demand response program with its utility, the system provides this message in real-time.
“The customer can set the system up to either receive an alarm and then manually create whatever control sequences they want in order to reduce energy consumption to the acceptable level of energy usage, or the customer can integrate with the smart grid and automate that control sequence to reduce energy usage to the acceptable level,” says Cadieux. “Certainly, a customer wouldn’t want to shut off air conditioning or heating in the middle of the day when employees are present. However, the system can be programmed to reduce energy in other ways, such as dimming the lights in areas where employees are working, and shutting lights off in areas where no one is working, using occupancy detection sensors.”
While much of the technology that has been discussed is useful for large and medium-sized facilities, the technology being offered by Ecobee is well-suited to small facilities. Ecobee specializes in selling programmable thermostats to buildings of less than 25,000 square feet. It frequently works with retailers, fast food restaurants, schools, churches, and banks.
“Our technology is particularly useful to retailers and restaurants that have individual thermostats in their buildings, but have a large number of locations, as well as school districts that have a number of different school buildings in their districts,” says Stuart Lombard, CEO. “We fill the niche between a stand-alone thermostat and a full-blown building automation system, which can be expensive and complicated to manage.”
Ecobee helps customers create standard operating procedures across all of their locations, making sure that they have the right occupancy schedules at the right times, so they can determine the right temperatures at the right times.
“Some locations may have thermostats set as high as 79 [degrees Fahrenheit] and as low as 65, but not realize that these wide variations exist in their different locations,” he says. “We can create the right temperature set points to make sure customers and staff are comfortable, but, at the same time, not waste energy. In other words, we can optimize for comfort when buildings are occupied and optimize for efficiency when buildings are not occupied.” The company’s technology can also identify units that aren’t operating at peak efficiency, so they can be repaired or replaced.
“We work with a number of utilities,” says Lombard. “Some utilities offer rebates to offset the costs of purchasing and installing our units. In addition, if customers participate in demand response programs, the utilities can help customers save money on days when energy is most expensive.”
As noted, building automation technologies can provide significant benefits that are ongoing. However, when these technologies are integrated with utilities’ smart grid technologies, especially demand response, benefits can increase even more, and building owners and managers can make decisions each and every day to help save even more on energy costs.
Author’s Bio: Guest contributor William Atkinson specializes in topics related to utilities and infrastructure.