At the Verge Boston conference put on by GreenBiz earlier this week I sat in on a “guru” session about smart buildings, led by Elaine Hsieh, Verge program director and senior analyst, and we discussed what makes a building “smart.” Is it intelligence, automation, technology or something more?
Some of the ideas participants threw out can form a well-rounded definition of a smart building. We’ve added a few of our own favorite features as well.
This is where a true smart building starts, because if it faces south to collect solar gain heat in cool months and ventilates via east-west breezes, for example, you can eliminate a lot of heating, cooling and ventilation needs and resulting energy costs. Designing a building so a majority of it receives natural light and using automated daylight dimming cuts significantly on lighting costs and makes the building a more attractive and healthier place to work. The beauty of daylighting with automated controls is that it also melds passive design with automation technology.
Thermal mass heating via solar gain can save tons of energy, as well as metal roofs on pitched structures, high-efficiency windows and curtain walls, and of course, lots of insulation. We love the motorized high-efficiency windows in the Bullitt Center and the cool Earth tubes at the Earth Rangers Centre.
Solar PV and geothermal ground source heat pumps are the most popular here. Leasing and power purchase agreements (PPAs) make solar a low-to-no-cost play in several states, while geothermal wells that bring heat from the ground and remove heat in cooler months are especially effective when used with in-floor radiant heat encased in thermal concrete mass that stores heat and coolness and releases it in the space slowly and evenly. It’s a beautiful thing.
This could be from automated lighting controls with occupancy sensing, energy management systems that turn down certain loads when energy ceilings are reached, and fine-tuned building automation systems that regulate heating, cooling and ventilation so you’re not heating and cooling at the same time (don’t laugh, it’s common).
Look to the outside
For weather information and other exterior data that can be integrated into a building automation or energy management system, enabling a building to save energy depending on exterior conditions such as temperature, humidity, sunlight and more.
Demand response programs from utilities can save energy during peak load periods, and is another example a building that looks to the outside to regulate what’s going on inside. Some companies can even monitor building energy usage virtually.
Smart buildings should perform better, in their energy efficiency, their heating and cooling, their lighting, thermal comfort and so forth.
Plug-load reduction is becoming more popular and can be accomplished using smart surge strips with occupancy sensing, and new building energy codes such as ASHRAE 90.1-2010 mandate that half of electrical receptacles be automated to shut devices off in order to lower plug loads.
Don’t forget energy monitoring—of electricity, water, gas and you name it. Dashboards in lobbies and available at workers’ desktops can give people visual cues when the building is using too much energy and help to change their behaviors. Studies show homeowners save 5 percent to 15 percent on energy just by having information on usage.
With reliable sensor technology available today, building managers can receive alerts for water breaks, humidity control, systems that are using too much energy and may require servicing, and virtually anything else they can think of. Such predictive and preventive maintenance can not only save costs in having to replace expensive systems, it can save energy as well.
Instead of having several systems all running independently, how about having one building management system control them all? Tie systems together, and you’ll realize efficiencies as systems work together and don’t conflict as much. Then tie your building automation systems, building management and energy monitoring into an energy management system, and you have the Holy Grail of smart building technology.
A smart building need not just have automated intelligence and tons of technology. It starts with a smart of passive design, smart use of building materials and better overall performance. Though having green tech like renewables and smart technologies help as well, and could be best things many existing buildings can do to retrofit to “smart.”
Have any more ideas?
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