Technology in the Race to Zero Energy: Identifying Energy Inefficiencies

Session 2 of “The Race to Zero Energy” series, on June 23, was held at Carnegie Robotics in Lawrenceville. The state-of-the-art facility, formerly a warehouse from the steel era, houses the design of robotic products with heavy commercial and research applications. Here, attendees gathered to learn about new technologies impacting energy use in the building sector. This month’s session taught us that the key to energy reduction is identifying where and when energy inefficiencies are happening.

There are tremendous energy-saving products on the market, but the first step to making significant cuts in energy use is knowing which improvements are right for your building. Our panelists presented technologies that shed light on low-performing areas of buildings, helping facilities managers, owners, and occupants make evidence-based decisions regarding capital investments, load schedules, and behavior.

From left:

From left: Anna Siefken (GBA), Tim Thiel (Covestro), Greg Puschnigg (Boss Controls), Todd Sandford (Direct Energy), Azizan Aziz (CMU), Quinn Zeagler (GBA), and Isaac Smith (GBA).

Tim Thiel, Industrial Marketing Manager at Covestro, demonstrated ways to dramatically save energy and money through preventative maintenance and upgrades to the building envelope. For many buildings, the first step will be an energy audit, including a check for air leaks using a blower door test or an infrared sensor. Repairing leaks is a great passive way to reduce energy use. Further steps include upgrading roof and wall insulation, and installing high performance windows. The recommended R-value for insulation is R-10 to R-15 for walls and about R-40 for roofs. Tim cautioned that even small issues like exposed metal rooftop fasteners can cause thermal leaks.

Greg Puschnigg, CEO of Boss Controls, identified the Internet of Things as an opportunity to bring greater control to facilities managers and building occupants, reducing energy consumption and optimizing operations. His argument is that frequent data collection at the plug level can reduce unneeded load from individual appliances. Boss Controls is leveraging the Internet of Things to do just this. They offer a WiFi-enabled wall plug that collects data from an individual wall socket, pushes the data to the cloud, and presents it via an online platform. The product allows facilities managers to reduce energy use at times when areas are unoccupied. The company is currently retrofitting a school district with 112,548 Smart Plugs, with an expected payback period of 2 years.

RTZ2 - Sandford

Todd Sandford, Head of Energy Solutions at Direct Energy

Todd Sandford, Head of Energy Solutions at Direct Energy, also praised granular energy data analysis as a method to identify energy reduction opportunities and spoke about data collection at the circuit level. With traditional energy meters providing just one data point per month for total energy consumption, a lot is left to the imagination regarding which equipment is actually using the energy. Facility managers are often making educated guesses when it comes to pinpointing the changes needed to reduce their energy bill. Direct Energy recently installed their product, Panoramic Power, at Carnegie Robotics. This sensor connects to the building’s circuits and collects a data point every 10 seconds. It sends data from these sensors to the cloud and then delivers insights on a dashboard. Solutions like this can help facility managers identify occupancy and behavioral opportunities where energy consumption can be reduced. Increasing visibility of energy consumption patterns allows buildings to reduce wasted energy.

Azizan Aziz, Assistant Research Professor at Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture

Azizan Aziz, Assistant Research Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture

Azizan Aziz, Assistant Research Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, explained a data analytics platform that has spun out of his building performance research. The platform presents data for four different audience types: building owner/executive, facility manager, occupant, and general public. Different data visualizations are necessary since each stakeholder has a different relationship with the building: executives make capital investments, managers optimize operations, and occupants control the environment. The hope is that this platform will enable each group of stakeholders to know how much energy they are using, connect the usage information to the outcome applicable to them, and learn how they can improve their results.

Identifying inefficiencies is becoming increasingly accessible with a number of products and technologies being introduced to the market to help prevent energy waste. Read more about Race to Zero Energy Session 1 on Passive Strategies. You can also register for our upcoming events, Race to Zero: Renewables on July 21, and Race to Zero: Financing Strategies on August 25.

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