Smart Buildings and Smart Communities Bring Measurable Results

Technology and Partnerships Help Buildings Perform Better

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Lisa Petterson, AIA, is a partner with Sera Architects of Portland, Ore.

Tom Shircliff of Intelligent Buildings, LLC, in Charlotte, N.C., is chairman of the Envision: Charlotte Steering Committee.

Ray Rapuano, AIA, is business development manager for CISCO's San Jose, Calif. office.

Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 3:52 pm | Updated: 2:31 pm, Mon May 12, 2014.

Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is a key step in a community's journey toward sustainability, and public/private partnerships often play a vital role in that transformation. This was the message delivered by three speakers at the National Association of Counties' 76th Annual Conference and Exposition held recently in Portland, Ore.

In a session entitled "Smart Communities and Smart Buildings: How They Improve the Economy, Environment and Experience," Lisa Petterson, Tom Shircliff and Ray Rapuano highlighted examples from Portland to Charlotte, N.C., and beyond.

Why buildings?

"Buildings are responsible for more carbon and CO2 emissions than either the transportation or industrial sector," said Petterson, AIA, partner with Sera Architects, of Portland. She added that the United States emits four times more CO2 than Russia, its next closest competitor.

"Only China, which is going through a radical restructuring and is experiencing a building boom, has more CO2 emissions than the United States. So, this is a dangerous trend and something that we want to see reversing. When we look at what's happening today, we do see a reversal in this trend in the energy generation sector," Petterson added, pointing out the recent emphasis on wind, solar and biogas facilities.

"Another trend we're seeing is a trend toward energy conservation," she said. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2006 references the Architecture 2030 Initiative, which asks architects to design buildings that are fossil fuel neutral by the year 2030. The building industry has also responded to the challenge, by implementing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program through the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council.

Petterson said LEED-certified buildings have been linked to increased productivity, less absenteeism and lower operating costs to businesses that use them.

The Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland is one example. Originally built in 1974, prior to America's first "energy crisis," the 18-story, 512,400-square-foot concrete building was built without any insulation.

A retrofit funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act began in 2009 with the goal of turning a climate-neutral building into a climate-responsive building, Petterson said.

"We have removed the concrete from the façade of the building, getting it ready for the new, high-performance façade that will have shading devices that are tuned for each elevation. The concrete is being recycled and will become roadbed throughout Portland and the state."

The goals for the project include reaching an Energy Star score of 97, which will place its energy performance in the top 3 percent of all U.S. buildings. The building also must achieve a 20 percent reduction in indoor potable water and a 50 percent reduction in outdoor potable water. Other requirements include a 55 percent reduction in fossil fuel consumption and a 30 percent reduction in energy usage. A total of 30 percent of its energy consumption must come from solar thermal energy.

"The project has a LEED requirement of gold and a goal of platinum. I'm happy to say that we are well on our way to achieving that goal," Petterson said.

"One of the first things that we see with these high-energy buildings is that we need to be able to track performance. Metrics become very important. So, when we start designing a project, we look at the energy utilization intensity (EUI) index. A lower EUI number is better. This is measured in kilo-BTUs per square foot."

Petterson explained that the national average for office buildings is 94 kilo-BTUs per square foot. Portland has a relatively benign climate with cool summers, so the existing building has been performing better than the national average with an EUI of 77 to 83 kilo-BTUs per square foot. The target range for the renovated Edith Green Wendell Wyatt building is 32 to 38 kilo-BTUs per square foot.

"The first thing that architects look at is how we can get to a climate-responsive design. We needed to think more like architects did 100 years ago, when they were using natural daylighting and ventilation, and of course, every façade of the building needs to respond differently," Petterson said.

She said data and computer simulation tools were used to design the project. Physical tools were also used, where architects could see and feel the results. Water conservation is also an important part of this project.

Because the building housed the FBI, it had an old gun target range in the basement. The concrete room was 170 feet long, 15 feet high and 20 feet wide. "When I thought about that, I immediately thought water tank," Petterson said. The tank is used for treating rainwater for re-use in toilets, irrigation and mechanicals.

"Through these strategies, we were able to far exceed the goal of 50 percent reduction of outdoor potable water, achieving a 62 percent reduction," she said.

But, she said, perhaps the most interesting innovation in the building is its "brain" - a single interface that networks all the various systems in the building, from lighting to heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Designed by CISCO, it uses motion sensors to dim lighting and adjust the HVAC systems when rooms become unoccupied.

Ray Rapuano, AIA, business development manager for CISCO's San Jose, Calif. office, discussed leveraging existing networks in order to monitor and manage energy consumption. CISCO is a multinational corporation that designs and sells consumer electronics, networking, voice and communications technology and services.

Rapuano said real estate is probably the second costliest item for most counties.

"Most counties have 200 buildings. Dade County, Fla. has 2,300 buildings. Los Angeles County has close to 10,000 buildings. So how do you start having a platform for monitoring and managing all of these buildings? You have networks in each of your buildings. You have a network for e-mail, accounting and payroll. You have networks that transport information. So, let's leverage that network," Rapuano said.

In Charlotte, a unique public-private collaboration between the city, county, local utilities, CISCO, Verizon and a number of other organizations intends to make Mecklenburg County a global model for environmental sustainability and measurable community results.

The Envision: Charlotte program will make the city a living laboratory to foster innovation and first-of-its-kind programs in energy, water, air and waste management.

"We want to focus on measurability," said Tom Shircliff of Intelligent Buildings, LLC, in Charlotte and chairman of the Envision: Charlotte Steering Committee. "We are doing that through the creation of model programs; very innovative, groundbreaking programs that can be scaled and replicated," he said.

Detailed measurements will be taken to document qualified efforts that simultaneously improve the environment, the business conditions and the overall quality of life in communities, he said.

"We want to leverage our regional strength. Charlotte has a history of cooperation between government, business and utilities, and we also have a very fast growing energy sector," Shircliff said. He went on to explain what is currently being done.

"We are installing smart meters in every downtown office building - and Charlotte has 70 of them. We are connecting all of those buildings to a smart energy grid. We have signed contracts and we will aggregate that information from all 70 commercial office buildings 24 hours per day, in real time. We will know the heartbeat of Charlotte's energy in that sub-market, all of the time."

The wireless network, provided by Verizon, connects to monitors in all 70 buildings, which show occupants how much energy is being consumed in real time. That awareness, Shircliff said, will help occupants see when energy use reaches peak levels and take action to reduce it. The effort is intended to reduce overall energy consumption by at least five percent.

"It didn't cost the building owners anything. The utility, CISCO, and Verizon made the investment, and now if we do what we all want to do - and that is reduce energy consumption - then there's a repayment back for that investment as part of the business model," he said.

This, and other smart-building projects implemented by public/private partnerships like those in Portland and Charlotte, are conserving energy and other resources throughout the country, Rapuano said.

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