September 25, 2013
The big business of smarter buildings
Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk
There was a time not too long ago when, if you wanted to save on energy at your workplace, you simply turned the thermostat down a bit and your employees wore sweaters. In the summer, you turned the thermostat up a bit and your workers wore short-sleeved shirts.
It was a pretty hit-and-miss system, and as energy prices rose, owners and managers began to look for better, more economical ways to maintain a comfortable workplace. Back then, saving on energy costs was nice; now it’s imperative.
Building materials and design have been changing, building codes modernized and new standards, like LEED and Green Globes and Living Buildings, have emerged as a reflection of new needs and expectations. And all these things have become a driving force for higher building performance.
The Internet, with all of its associated gadgetry and applications, is changing how buildings and the people who work in them function. That in turn, has created a demand for more and more embedded intelligence, communications and interoperability of systems and products. The “smart” buildings we all read about 25 or 30 years ago are here, either as new buildings or as retrofits of older ones. And they have become big business.
We are told by the National Research Council of Canada that owners of our institutional and commercial buildings invest billions of dollars in technologies every year, aiming to reduce their annual energy bills.
Put a bunch of new things together — sensing and automation, the emerging smart electrical grid, dynamic building envelopes and we can now put up buildings that generate more energy than they consume. If the owners can sell that surplus power to the grid, then energy, rather than being a cost, flips to a revenue source.
As you would expect, a lot of firms have jumped into the market, and some buyers are finding it difficult to know whether to buy Product X or Product Y. So the NRC has stepped into the breach, with an industry-led research program that will help Canadian firms bring new products to market.
The NRC will collaborate with industry clients in three areas: dynamic building envelopes, intelligent building environmental control, and interactive platforms connecting building energy systems and the smart grid.
A host of new and improved technologies will be tested, including vacuum and advanced insulation for wall and roofing systems, engineered curtain walls incorporating sensors, high-thermal resistance and dynamic solar-load control and advanced roofing systems with high thermal resistance and integrated photovoltaic materials.
There will be research on LED-based lighting controls, wireless platforms for environmental control systems, and HVAC units with small-diameter delivery systems.
While all this is going on, work will be done on whole-building energy management systems with a smart grid interface. The IRC will also collaborate with industry on full-scale demonstration projects to showcase technologies building owners need in order to make significant reductions in energy consumption, even buildings that will produce electrical energy as a source of revenue.
The High Performance Building Council, an offshoot of the U.S. National Institute of Building Sciences, will be continuing its work in establishing precise measurement of high-performance buildings. With all the talk of high-performance buildings, one might well ask just what they are.
U.S. legislation defines a high-performance building as one that “integrates and optimizes on a life-cycle basis all major high-performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality and operational considerations.”
That’s a big mouthful, but what it really means is a building that performs well in all respects in a warming world in extreme weather is becoming more frequent, and in which energy costs continue to rise.
Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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