The Spectrum of Building Analytic Tools

by ‐ Tags: alternative energy, building science, green living

The United States consumes 20 percent of the world’s energy – 40 percent of this quantity comes from our residential and commercial buildings. As obvious as it sounds, reducing our buildings’ energy use will go a long way in minimizing our carbon output and ensuring a sustainable environment for our homes and workplaces.

But, where do we start? Is there a one-size-fits-all model to address our building stock on a large scale?

Let’s take it one step at a time. Before we choose a path to success, we must determine if there are similarities between building types. Each building has two similar but unique pieces of information – building characteristics and energy data. Ranging from information regarding the year it was built and its size to energy systems and equipment specs, building characteristics describe the type of facility. Though sometimes difficult to gather, this information is readily available either directly from a building owner/manager or from an energy audit.

Energy data, a history of consumption and performance, comes in varying degrees of detail. In its most basic form, monthly utility bills can be accessed from a metering device. However, with advanced devices, access to minute-by-minute or hourly interval data becomes available on both a whole-building and zone level. Taking these analyses one step further, a sophisticated building automation system with millions of data points on specific assets, including HVAC and lighting equipment, gives us extraordinary insight into the real-time performance of complicated systems.

Given that building characteristics and energy data are readily available, what’s the right way to utilize this information to understand energy performance and make energy-efficient improvements? Are there specific technologies that every building should utilize?

The short answer is no. Each building is unique in its design, occupancy, energy systems, and technology. Much like a growing child who must be understood and cared for on an individual basis, each building must be treated with appropriate, applicable technology. This is not necessarily the same approach that the building next door uses.

The quality of building analytic tools that can digest and distill building characteristics and energy data continues to develop. The spectrum of solutions is wide, ranging from simple whole building consumption analytics to more complicated asset-level granular diagnostics. Macro level tools that use basic building characteristics and energy data can provide quick, inexpensive, and valuable views into a portfolio of buildings. This allows an owner to isolate outliers and areas for improvement with ease. Micro-level tools, which use equipment-level characteristics and analyze changes in data to diagnose operational anomalies, such as simultaneous heating and cooling, can consistently tune a building to its optimal efficiency and preserve investments. Making organizational decisions about where to start and how to progress can be challenging. However, it is clear that the various options are not necessarily diametrically opposed; rather, both merit consideration in order to make sustainable investments and reduce our buildings’ energy footprint.

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