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System monitors energy use of multiple facilities from central location

Jul. 16, 2012 - 10:52AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments

The General Services Administration is wrapping up a two-year, $39 million project to link the building systems at 39 of its high-energy-use facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico. GSA then will be able to monitor and control all of the buildings’ heating, cooling, lighting, water and security systems from its Greater Southwest Region headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas.

The project will help control costs by monitoring trends in energy use, identifying poor-performing buildings and quickly fixing broken systems.

“If something happens to the solar panels, an email goes out to everyone involved,” said Dave Fladda, zone operations manager for contractor Siemens Industry Inc. “It used to be that some of these problems could go on for days before they were noticed.”

The integrated building automation systems and related renovations are expected to save $2.7 million annually when complete in October, he said.

The project is part of a broader effort by GSA to eventually link up about 200 of its more energy-intensive buildings across the country onto a common platform.

Agencies racing to meet federal energy-reduction mandates are working to install more advanced building automation systems to quickly identify malfunctioning systems and reduce energy use.

Agencies must meet a goal of reducing energy use in their facilities by 30 percent from a 2005 baseline by 2015, set under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.

Agencies must also make sure 15 percent of their buildings meet green guidelines under a 2009 executive order. Newly constructed buildings must use 30 percent less energy than a typical building of the same size. Renovated buildings must use 20 percent less energy.

Under an $8 million contract with IBM, GSA is also integrating 50 buildings across the country into a central program that will track energy use and system performance. It estimates it will save $15 million annually in improved efficiency and reduced maintenance costs.

Frank Santella, director of GSA’s Facilities Management and Smart Buildings Division, said when the 50 buildings are fully integrated, GSA will be able to view real-time building performance data on a dashboard and adjust systems by lowering heat, turning up air conditioning, turning off lights or identifying malfunctions in everything from solar panels to irrigation systems. And it will do so remotely from a central location.

“The installation of this new smart buildings technology will give employees and building managers a new window into building operations and launch a whole new chapter in efficient, cost-effective building management strategies while delivering important savings to the taxpayer,” acting GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini said in a news release. He said GSA hopes to add 50 more buildings to the IBM contract — halfway to its goal of integrating 200 buildings.

Santella said agencies are putting new building automation systems into all their new facilities and integrating those systems early on in the construction process.

NASA’s 50,000-square-foot sustainability base at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., was certified in April as LEED Platinum — the highest rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Program — thanks in large part to a highly sophisticated building automation system.

The building, designed to produce more energy than it uses, responds to outside temperatures and adjusts heating and cooling levels on its own, and it will track how much energy each occupant uses.

Agencies also will need to train their personnel to get the most out of these new systems. “The technology is there; let’s leverage it,” Santella said.

Patty Stolnacker-Koch, director of business development at Siemens Government Technologies Inc., said agencies are interested in more sophisticated building automation systems that can track energy and utility use in real time across multiple buildings and create custom settings for offices within a single building.

“Agencies are quickly realizing that we are not going to meet our energy goals simply by looking at them building by building,” she said.

Chris Collins, an automated building operations specialist with federal energy contractor Schneider Electric, said the biggest obstacles to installing new integrated automation systems are tight budgets.

He said many agencies are using energy savings performance contracts (ESPC) — where a vendor pays the upfront investment for building renovations and retrofits in exchange for payments from the government’s energy savings over time — as a way to install new building automation systems.

The GSA project in the Greater Southwest Region is an example of an ESPC.

Collins said even though a building may be operating as it was designed to, it could be wasting energy.

“People might think the infrastructure of the building must be up to par, and that’s just not the case,” Collins said. “If you don’t have control of your building, you don’t have control of your energy spend.”

New building automation systems can help agencies reduce energy spending by up to 30 percent under the right conditions by adjusting heating, cooling and lighting conditions in a building, he said.

And new systems give facility managers even more control.

“Everybody has a thermostat in their house they can control or set. A facility manager can have thousands in one facility,” Collins said.

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