Commercial buildings are hungry beasts. They swallow vast amounts of energy in an average 24-hour period. They require this energy to keep their occupants comfortable during the work shift. Though we have long known this to be the case, not much has been done about it because the profit margins associated with running commercial buildings have never been particularly sexy (rare is the property manager or building owner that manages or owns a single building…there is profit in numbers). Little profit typically translates into little effort to improve building performance because the cost of doing so has usually been too high.
To be sure, many utilities talk about rebates that would help the average building owner pay for improvements, but let’s be clear about this: Utilities make money by charging for the electricity consumed. So, the hoops and dodges that a building owner or manager has to negotiate may not even get the utility to actually pay out.
Yet even if the utility did pay out, the cost to reduce energy typically involves very expensive Direct Digital Controls (DDC) systems that are expensive to maintain. They are not expensive to maintain because they break (DDC is known to be reliable); they are expensive to maintain because owners feel the need to endure expensive project implementation followed by expensive service contracts because the technology is artificially complex in its deployment. There is also the concept that these systems must be upgraded over time and at the expense of the building owner.
So, commercial buildings are energy-intensive but it has been too expensive historically to do much about it. Given the state of the world in which we live and the fact that commercial building Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and lighting gobbles up about 70% of all of the energy consumed in a commercial buildings (American Physical Society…www.aps.org.), we must change that paradigm.
Last week, Markets and Markets put out a report on Smart Buildings that really illustrates the market http://www.reportlinker.com/p03028283-summary/Smart-Building-Market-by-Building-Automation-System-by-Application-by-Region-Global-Forecast-to.html) and the opportunities there are to make serious changes.
The US Government has made reduction in commercial building energy usage a priority with its Net Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative (CBI). This Department of Energy initiative (http://energy.gov/eere/buildings/zero-energy-buildings) looks to achieve net-zero energy buildings by 2025.
Heavily involved in solving the problem from a mechanical equipment standpoint is also ASHRAE (www.ASHRAE.org). They have turned their own headquarters into a living laboratory and found that energy usage can be drastically curtailed using certain equipment combined with proper equipment controls.
Clearly, the problem of consumption is an obvious one and heavy hitters are involved in tackling it, but even more obvious is the fact that it is still too expensive to attack the problem the way the market currently procures building automation systems. The only way to solve that is to drastically lower the cost of adoption and deployment of such technologies for building owners. Once we can accomplish that, everything else will fall into place.