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Commercial buildings are one of the major sources of a city’s greenhouse gas emissions. With climate change becoming a global concern and widespread regulations to reduce carbon emissions, sustainable buildings are not just a good idea, but a necessity. Yet, sustainable building operations are usually not among the key priorities of building owners or facilities managers.
It is widely assumed that creating an environment-friendly building requires significant investments or occupant sacrifice to maintain greener infrastructure and facilities. But operating a building with sustainability in mind is not just about feel-good metrics for future generations. Improved energy efficiency across operations like lighting and HVAC can play a critical role in lowering overall operations costs.
As younger generations enter the workforce, and the buildings that house them, tenant priorities in the commercial real estate industry are shifting, too. Many tenants now prefer to work in buildings that are open about their energy consumption and those that go the extra mile to achieve certifications like LEED, Well, and Reset Air. Especially in this pandemic-rocked industry, bringing tenants back to their office spaces will require new incentives and sustainable operations will become more relevant than ever.
Thanks to initiatives such as the United Nations’ Global Compact and C40, interest in reducing operational carbon emissions is growing exponentially. These emissions are directly related to power, lighting, and HVAC operations in buildings and produce approximately 28% of all carbon emissions annually.
In recent years, U.S. federal, state, and local governments have taken steps to curb these emissions through voluntary and mandatory energy efficiency standards in an effort to fight climate change. For example, in 2018, New York City mandated commercial and residential buildings of 25,000 square feet or more to display energy efficiency grades under Local Law 33. As part of the Climate Mobilization Act, the grading system penalizes building owners if their premises do not comply with energy efficiency and emissions standards.
Standards like these make sustainability goals a necessity for buildings, compelling facilities managers to find energy conservation opportunities throughout their operations. However, taking steps to reduce energy doesn’t just have to be about meeting minimum standards; it can improve facilities management for both staff and occupants:
When your building meets energy efficiency standards, you may benefit from various state and local financial incentives and programs. These incentives typically take the form of grants, loans, property-assessed clean energy financing, or sales tax benefits and may help you take further steps toward sustainability, such as switching to renewable energy sources.
There may also be non-financial benefits to going green. For instance, Local Law 33 doesn’t just penalize building owners whose buildings receive poor efficiency grades, it can also award Energy Star certification to buildings with high scores. This certification can enhance the appeal of buildings and boost their value to occupants.
HVAC and lighting are typically the two most energy-consuming parts of a building and lead to significant carbon emissions. Upgrading to high-efficiency HVAC and LED lighting systems can go a long way toward reducing energy use and costs, particularly when they are part of a thoughtful strategy for improving efficiency. For example, heating, cooling, and lighting based on occupancy rather than time of day can drastically reduce energy waste and reliance on manual intervention. In other cases, energy use can be automatically managed to avoid peak prices.
In addition to helping you meet sustainability goals, such automated demand control can improve the experience and comfort of occupants by making the building responsive to their needs. And if occupants are responsible for utility payments, improved efficiency could make a big impact on their financial health.
While solar power has historically been cost-prohibitive in many commercial buildings, falling equipment and installation costs along with the rising price of grid-supplied energy are making solar a smart choice for many facility managers.
Using solar panels for day-to-day energy needs may put a net-zero carbon footprint within reach, reduce the need for grid energy purchases, and shield you from unpredictable price increases. This self-sufficiency improves the resiliency of the building; with enough energy generation and storage, you are no longer vulnerable when the grid goes down. While this can be invaluable in virtually any commercial building, it is particularly attractive in areas prone to brownouts and subject to rolling blackouts (such as those that are becoming a standard part of California in the fall), which can deeply disrupt building operations and occupant activity.
The environmental impact of designing green buildings, the implications for facilities maintenance and occupant experience are often overlooked. But a comprehensive strategy to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions can add real value to both.
The key to sustainable building operations lies in the configuration and maintenance of the interconnected system of equipment designed to optimize energy consumption. To maintain and further improve the efficiency of a building, data analytics and smart systems integrations offer innovative solutions that allow sustainability to become a core part of facilities management rather than a chore.
onPoint Analytics helps facilities managers understand the way buildings function and make smart decisions that promote greater sustainability while improving operational efficiency. For example, by continuously collecting and analyzing data from equipment and sensors, onPoint can monitor building equipment and conditions to correlate heating, cooling, and lighting patterns with variables like occupancy. It can then make automatic adjustments to optimize energy consumption while ensuring occupant comfort—all without the need for human intervention. This can have a significant impact.
Case Study: Pembroke Lakes Mall
In 2016, Buildings IOT completed a comprehensive upgrade at Pembroke Lakes Mall that included the installation of a solar array, high-efficiency HVAC, and LED lighting. Using onPoint, they were able to gain deep insight into energy consumption patterns and create a custom control solution to more effectively manage grid energy usage. As a result, the property saw a 67% reduction in grid energy purchases.
Case Study: Woodlands Mall
onPoint can also be instrumental in reducing energy demand during peak hours, as observed in the Woodlands Mall in Texas. To reduce energy usage in common areas during peak hours, Buildings IOT created a demand management strategy that included automatic demand control of the HVAC system based on energy consumption. Within three days of implementation, the mall saw a peak reduction of 100kW even as outdoor temperature soared into the 90s. When peak demand prediction and pre-cooling algorithms were added, energy costs were reduced by another 30%.
Meeting energy efficiency standards, reducing carbon emissions, improving the comfort of occupants, improving operations, and saving energy costs all at the same time might seem too ambitious. But the right technologies make it possible to seamlessly combine facilities management and sustainability strategies and take meaningful steps toward a healthier future.
Natalie writes about trends in commercial real estate technology, building data analytics, master systems integration and controls for building systems.
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