Rocky Mountain Institute

Grid-interactive, energy-efficient buildings offer major innovation opportunities

Buildings connected by strings
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According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, grid integrated buildings have a holistically optimized blend of energy efficiency, energy storage, renewable energy, and load flexibility technologies enabled through smart controls.

What if buildings could communicate with the electric grid to save money and reduce their environmental impacts?

Buildings drive up to 80 percent of the peak demand on the grid, and peak demand drives grid investments in generation, transmission and distribution assets, so there is a huge opportunity to balance building demand with electricity system supply.

Grid-interactive energy-efficient buildings (GEBs) leverage technologies and strategies to address this issue through demand management and load flexibility. GEBs include an optimized blend of energy efficiency, energy storage, distributed energy generation and load-flexible technologies that can match the needs of our evolving electricity system over time.

The result is a more flexible building energy load profile with lower peaks that reduces building operating costs through demand-charge savings.

Grid Interactive Buildings graph
RMI

Grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs) use energy efficiency, storage, load flexibility and renewable energy strategies to reduce costs to buildings and the utility

GEBs can provide a win-win solution for the building owner, utility and society as a whole.

  • Building owners can benefit as a result of energy and demand charge reduction. This will reduce a large commercial user’s electricity bills and operating costs while improving the building’s performance. Some building owners also may be able to sell electricity back to the grid, benefit from utility demand response programs or leverage price arbitrage on wholesale energy markets.
  • Utilities can benefit, as GEBs can help shift energy demand to times when cleaner and/or more affordable power are abundant. GEBs also can intensify the severity of major peaks or dips in demand that can be hard for utilities to accommodate. These qualities are especially important as more renewable energy and energy storage is added to buildings and the grid. Balancing load more effectively can help decrease costs for utilities, by avoiding investments in additional transmission, distribution and generation assets.
  • Society benefits, as GEBs help increase resilience, reduce the amount of fossil fuel generation needed and save on energy bills. GEBs help the grid run more smoothly, and any cost savings that utilities see ultimately are passed on to customers who may enjoy lower electric bills as a result.

Earlier this year, RMI published a report in partnership with the US General Services Administration (GSA) showing the business case for GEBs to building owners, the impact on the GSA’s portfolio and the potential societal value.

This report shows how the GSA, the nation’s largest landlord, could save $50 million in annual cost savings and generate $70 million in value to grid users if it implemented these strategies. To take this work to the next level, RMI is supporting a federal effort to request information from industry to advance the state of knowledge and practice in GEBs.

Advancing GEBs: GSA Proving Ground and DOE HIT Catalyst move the needle

The General Services Administration Proving Ground (GPG) and the Department of Energy’s High Impact Technology (HIT) Catalyst programs have released a Request for Information (RFI) seeking technologies and solutions that cost-effectively will implement more comprehensive GEB strategies. The GPG and the DOE HIT Catalyst programs have a history of pushing the industry to research, develop and deploy leading-edge technologies that could experience a broad rollout across industry.

This RFI is a first of its kind, as it is supporting GEBs strategies, which could be made up of a number of technology or controls solutions that coordinate the control of multiple building end-use systems, rather than one specific tool.

The GSA Proving Ground (GPG) is a program that has evaluated dozens of new building technologies in real-world operational settings and implemented them in federal benefits. This program helps technologies move from the R&D phase to widespread market acceptance while saving energy costs for the GSA and US taxpayers. To date, the program has yielded $16 million of annual avoided costs.

The Department of Energy’s HIT Catalyst program supports research and development in building system optimization and technology solutions for ultra-low energy buildings. The program provides technical resources and assistance to identify integration research and development priorities.

If you have any questions about the solicitation, we recommend that you review the information on the RFI solicitation page or the GSA website for this opportunity. Responses are due by 11:59 PM PST Dec. 9.

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