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Custom building systems control what is heated, cooled

Mar. 19, 2013 - 12:47PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments

In 2011, Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., installed occupancy sensors in a 9,000-square-foot building so the heating and cooling system would shut down when employees left a room.

The move contributed to a 35 percent drop in energy use at the facility, and what began as a small pilot project has become an integral part of the laboratory’s energy-efficiency strategy.

The laboratory now has six buildings that feature the new system, while six more are slated to have it installed this year.

Two buildings scheduled to begin construction this year will feature the system.

The laboratory has set aside $5 million a year to promote and install energy-efficient technologies, such as the new heating and cooling systems.

“I envision that we will have the system installed in almost all of our office buildings eventually,” said Chris Evans, energy manager at Sandia.

As agencies work to cut their building energy use by 30 percent by 2015 over 2003 levels, they are increasingly turning toward customizable, integrated heating and cooling systems, according to agencies and outside experts.

Just a few years ago, most buildings were only able to turn the heating and cooling systems on or off, regardless of how many people were in the building, said Kevin Vaughn, the program manager for federal energy solutions at energy contractor Schneider Electric.

But agencies are now installing technologies that allow them greater control over what they heat and cool and when, he said.

“It’s helping to squeeze some additional savings out of their systems,” Vaughn said.

He said cash-strapped agencies are increasingly using energy savings performance contracts to replace aging air conditioners and heaters without having to fork over cash they may not have.

Under an ESPC, the vendor pays the upfront costs of such retrofits in exchange for payments from energy cost savings over time. The contractor guarantees the energy savings for the life of the contract or has to pay the balance.

“As budgets get tighter or nonexistent for agencies to upgrade their HVAC systems, ESPCs may be the only way to do it,” Vaughn said.

As part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the General Services Administration renovated three office buildings in Chicago — known collectively as the South State Street Federal Buildings — to include more highly efficient heating and cooling systems to cut costs.

The buildings will eventually house employees of the departments of Homeland Security and Labor, according to GSA.

Seth Pearce, project developer for Siemens Government Technologies, said the company has been working with federal agencies to integrate occupancy sensors into heating and cooling systems.

He said the systems can be customized for agencies’ specific needs.

The technology has become easier to integrate with existing systems, instead of requiring entirely new building controls, he said.

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