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Berkeley Labs: Smart Building Analytics to Save Energy and Money

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Commercial buildings are full of hidden energy-savings potential, and building owners are now tapping into this potential and reaping the cost-saving benefits of data analytics through the use of Energy Management and Information Systems (EMIS).

What are EMIS?

EMIS are the broad and rapidly evolving set of software tools that monitor, analyze and control building energy use and system performance. EMIS are used to help building engineers and energy managers make good use of their data, or as a part of a monitoring-based commissioning process, often led by a commissioning provider.

EMIS typically have one or more of the following areas of functionality:

Energy information systems (EIS) and advanced EIS: The software, data acquisition hardware and communication systems used to store, analyze and display building energy data. All EIS focus on meter-level monitoring of energy use. Advanced EIS incorporate analysis that typically includes predictive energy models using interval meter data.

Fault detection and diagnostic systems (FDD): Software that automates the process of detecting faults and suboptimal performance of building systems and helps to diagnose their potential causes. Building Automation System (BAS) data is used by the FDD tools to analyze the duration and frequency of faults, cost and/or energy impacts and fault priority levels.

Automated system optimization (ASO): Software that continuously analyzes and modifies BAS control settings to optimize HVAC system energy usage while maintaining occupant comfort. These tools read data from the BAS and automatically send optimal setpoints back to the BAS to adjust control parameters. Two-way communication with the BAS distinguishes ASO solutions from FDD.

Many EMIS include both EIS and FDD functions within the same software tool. Some software includes all three functional areas. What sets EMIS technologies apart from the previous era of energy analysis tools are the visualization and analytics now available. Viewing a building portfolio’s energy use in near real-time (typically 15-minute intervals) allows for timely analysis; tracking monthly utility bills is insufficient to detect problems. Mainly installed to track HVAC system performance, fault detection algorithms embed expert knowledge to continuously evaluate system data at a detailed level.

The largest dataset of EMIS savings, cost and outcomes

The Smart Energy Analytics Campaign, an initiative from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings program, has collected EMIS use data from buildings throughout the United States; the commercial office sector represents the largest group represented, with about 40% of the 567 million square feet of floor area participating in the campaign. One of the contributions the Smart Energy Analytics Campaign has made to the field of energy data analytics is to gather real-world information from building owners in the campaign on the details of how EMIS tools are used, energy use at buildings with EMIS, and actual EMIS costs. Over the last three years, the campaign has assembled the most comprehensive dataset available on EMIS installation and use.

Based on data from campaign participants and from previous studies, building owners with EIS achieved a median energy savings of three percent ($0.03/sq ft), and participants with FDD achieved a median savings of nine percent ($0.24/sq ft). The savings are not solely attributed to operational measures since savings may include some changes to the building that are not directly related to the use of the EMIS.

The base cost for software installation and configuration and annual costs were collected and results shown in the table below.

Considering both the base cost and the cost to fix issues found, a cost-effectiveness analysis showed a two-year simple payback period for both EIS and FDD. The campaign recently released its final report titled Proving the Business Case for Building Analytics, with more detail on the measures identified through the use of EMIS and the savings achieved, the costs that were analyzed and trends in the EMIS market.

Recognition spotlight

Several commercial real estate organizations have been recognized for their exemplary work with EMIS in their buildings. These include:

Jamestown, in partnership with Jamestown Urban Management, embarked on an effort to make their energy data more transparent and easier to analyze. Jamestown worked with their advanced EIS vendor, Aquicore, to configure user-friendly dashboards in 13 of their properties to display energy performance metrics and charts updated in real-time. Ed Bassford, Director of Operations, said, “Providing easily accessible data to our building engineers is key. They can see immediately if energy use exceeds expected levels, which helps us proactively manage energy rather than waiting for the utility bills.” With visibility into how the buildings are operating, Jamestown averaged 4% savings in the first full year after their EIS was implemented, and five of the properties achieved savings from 16% to 21%.

LBA Realty is implementing a comprehensive EMIS; their Yardi Pulse software includes advanced EIS, FDD and ASO at six properties. The LBA Realty team values how the ASO software continuously alters setpoints to optimize air handler and chilled water system operations without user intervention, saving time for their building engineers. Their software vendor continuously monitors the system and meets monthly with building engineers to troubleshoot issues. The EIS portion of the software has an embedded energy model to estimate savings relative to a baseline. While getting their legacy BAS connected to the EMIS was not easy, the hard work at the outset has allowed LBA to monitor all their system performance in one place.

How to stay on top of developments with EMIS?

Webinars, technical resources, templates and case studies are available through the Smart Energy Analytics Campaign Toolkit. Building owners who are interested in joining the Better Buildings Alliance are encouraged to contact bba@bb.ee.gov.

Hannah Kramer, Affiliate, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Hannah Kramer is an Affiliate to the Building Technology and Urban Systems Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Ms. Kramer holds a master’s degree from the Energy and Resources Group from UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on building energy performance monitoring and diagnostics and supporting how owners implement monitoring-based commissioning. Ms. Kramer has been the author of numerous studies and resources on commissioning and building performance.

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