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Making Buildings Energy Intelligent

Buildings account for 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption--more than any other sector—and their energy use is projected to increase at the fastest rate.

Photo courtesy of Steven T. Bushby

Editor's Note: Steven T. Bushby of NIST will speak at the Energy Times Executive Briefing in Washington the morning of March 19. Below he outlines some of the key themes he will address on how the government is ready to inspire a drive for building energy efficiency in America.

Buildings account for 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption--more than any other sector—and their energy use is projected to increase at the fastest rate.

Buildings are, by far, the largest user of electricity, accounting for 72 percent of total national consumption.  About 84 percent of the life-cycle energy use is associated with building operation rather than the materials and energy used for construction.

As the transition to the smart grid progresses and use of intermittent renewable energy sources increases, occupants of buildings will require actionable energy consumption information, and building systems must become collaborative partners in maintaining the stability and reliability of the grid. Responsive, energy-efficient building management and operation will be essential.

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Embedded Intelligence in Buildings research program is addressing these needs by providing the underlying measurement science and capabilities needed to achieve energy-efficient building operation through integrated building systems.  These systems will feature distributed, embedded intelligence that can optimize building system performance, detect and respond to faults and operational errors, and enable integration of building systems with smart grid technologies.

The research program consists of interrelated projects that focus on key measurement and standards needs, including:

Communication protocol standards that enable practical use of integrated HVAC, lighting, security, energy-management, and other systems to achieve increased comfort, safety, and energy efficiency;

Software tools that improve the building system commissioning process;

Laboratory testbeds capable of emulating whole buildings: these will enable reliable assessments of normal operation and a variety of faulty and hazardous conditions. They also will support development and testing of automated fault-detection and diagnostic tools; and

Laboratory and simulation tools for developing intelligent agents that can optimize the control and performance of building systems.

Collectively, these projects will provide a range of public domain algorithms and software tools, methods for testing product performance, new industry standards, and best-practice guidelines.  These outputs will enable a radical transformation in building-system design and operation. An example of past success is the widespread adoption of the BACnet communication protocol standard that enables integration of building control products from different companies. This standard is now used in building control products made by over 800 companies around the world.

Embedded intelligence in buildings can significantly reduce energy consumption.  For example, HVAC energy use—the largest category building energy consumption—can be pared by at least 20 percent.  At the same time, it will facilitate home and building-system integration with the smart grid.

The Building Integration with the Smart Grid project is providing consumers access to energy-usage information through the Green Button initiative.  It includes development of reference implementations and testing tools for Green Button products.

The project also supports development of key standards for building-to-grid integration identified in the NIST Smart Grid Roadmap.  Anticipated outcomes are new control strategies for managing electrical loads and local generation. These capabilities and others enabled by a NIST-wide effort will open the way to a new era of dynamic electricity pricing, increased use of renewable energy sources, and building electrical load management that is responsive to needs of the smart grid.

Steven T. Bushby is U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology’s  leader of the Mechanical Systems and Controls Group within its Engineering Laboratory.

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