Breaking Down the Tower of Babel

Breaking Down the Tower of Babel

You never call ... you never write ...

I can just hear our buildings saying this to us as we allow newly minted green facilities to "drift" into inefficiency, or never actually begin operate as designed.

Research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recognized that buildings can lose up to 20 percent of their savings post-retrofit without proper monitoring, which concerned many utilities at the height of the first wave of demand-side management programs in the late '80s. LBNL recommended the development of a protocol to ensure that ongoing building performance was staying close to the expected baseline.

Thus was born the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP). It was anticipated that IPMVP would provide much more persistence in savings, as well as a baseline for evaluating building performance over time. But even with a protocol, the measurement and verification process is a daunting task.

This is because our buildings give us a torrent of information, most of it either ignored or misunderstood. HVAC, lighting, vertical transportation, pumps and motors, now can all let us know how they "feel" but seldom do they speak the same language. Indeed, even within systems, getting pieces of equipment from different vendors to communicate and cooperate often begins with a round of finger-pointing as to where is the problem and whose responsibility it is to fix it.

As buildings evolve from mere passive consumers of energy to active consumers engaged in demand response or time-of-use programs and even to being distributed energy generators, the complexity of managing these various elements seems overwhelming.

As briefly mentioned in last week's piece, the babble may eventually be brought under control with a flurry of new products designed to give system-wide, building-wide and even portfolio-wide control and tracking of energy consumption and as well as carbon footprint.

Most recently, Cisco Systems announced the introduction of the "Mediator," which allows communication across all platforms, within and between buildings. Some early case studies are indicating savings of millions of dollars in large users.

Scientific Conservation Inc.'s SCIWatch software not only integrates across platforms, but it heuristically analyzes the information it receives and gives operators essentially continuous commissioning feedback on the building, which enables them to identify, track and fix problems, often even before they affect energy performance.

For people wanting to make sense of the froth around the green stimulus package and figure out what's available where and for what, you need to go no further than our own Marc Gunther's excellent piece on the Onvia stimulus tracking site www.recovery.org.

And our friends in the state and local government will certainly be grateful to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) for their new stimulus package jobs creation estimator when trying to hit the August 10 application deadline (any bets on an extension?). ACEEE's website has a host of terrific resources for inquiring minds wanting to know everything and more about the stimulus program.

Finally, props to the Mexican food chain, Chipotle for the first-ever LEED Platinum restaurant in Gurnee, Illinois. Check them out, they make a mean carnitas burrito.

Rob Watson is the executive editor of GreenerBuildings.com. You can reach Rob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @KilrWat.

Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder — Images from Wikimedia Commons.