February 2018

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Systems Thinking is the Defining Feature of Sustainable Design

Peering at the world of Smart Buildings, Smart Grid, Smart Cities and Industry 4.0 through a Silicon Valley lens. I’m for open protocols and industry standards.

Therese SullivanTherese Sullivan,
BuildingContext Ltd

Contributing Editor

Originally Published New Deal

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Developers, architects, engineers, and builders have for decades recognized their responsibility as urban environmental leaders, and they’ve launched and supported movements like the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system and concepts like Zero Net Energy (ZNE) building design. However, it is only recently that a vanguard of new construction and retrofit teams have come to the realization that they need to procure controls expertise and tools early in the design phases of their projects. As Thomas Kaufman, Director of Corporate Real Estate for United Therapeutics, said about managing the largest ZNE project in the United States, “Once controls technology was not even on our radar. Now we know we live or die by controls.”For this Baltimore-based project team and other similar teams around the world, it is sinking in that analytics on top of a BAS platform is the only path to optimization at a whole-systems/whole-building-level. To deploy analytics at this level of abstraction, you need the three pillars of the New Deal: open standards, digital twins, and service transparency.

Advocating that every corner of the buildings industry get behind open standards and figure out how to talk to each other, the Alliance to Save Energy recently published “Going Beyond Zero: A Systems Efficiency Blueprint for Building Energy Optimization and Resilience.” The SEI Blueprint recommends ways that manufacturers, associations, and policymakers can look for systems-level savings. One of the problems it documents is that popular green-building rating systems around design and construction and those around operations and maintenance don’t connect, with the result that the feedback loop on design decisions is broken. One recommended answer is for standards organizations for architects and engineers (BIM), smart grid (OpenADR) and BAS (BACnet, Project Haystack, EdgeX Foundry) work together on open standards that promote unobstructed data flow.

Once you have data interoperability, the digital twin concept becomes possible. The visibility that systems-level analytics tools provide can enable a LEED or ZNE project team to work more closely and efficiently in an integrated design process. For example, an energy use intensity (EUI) target established at the earliest phases of design can pull a team together. However, according to the “Old Deal,” energy models were simply building code-based, taken from a specification with generalized parameters. Unlike a digital twin, these models were not conceived to be ‘living models’ that constantly update. Simulations with these models did not inspire confidence that the EUI target was real and achievable, and they didn’t provide solid decision-support for mechanical, electrical, lighting and other systems designers striving to optimize for energy and environmental quality. New Deal-era models will contain rich, granular information, eventually including not only BIM documents, but real operational data from the building. LEED and ZNE project team members will be empowered to make better decisions together when digital twins can be consulted because the models will be dependably accurate, automatically evolving along with the design and construction process.

Keeping a LEED Platinum or ZNE buildings operating as designed over its lifetime is going to have to be affordable too. This is one of the reasons for the service transparency imperative. Building owners need to be able to put out competitive bids and allow market forces to determine fair pricing.

contemporary These concepts are not just ‘nice-to-haves.’ In some cities and regions, there is legislation, like California’s Executive Order, B-18–12, which sets all state agencies on the course of achieving net-zero energy building portfolios within a few decades. The authors of this law had the foresight to decree that all buildings over 5000 sq ft should deploy monitoring-based commissioning. Likewise, the City of Seattle has an alternative building code based on outcomes. This means project teams are asked to predict a certain level of performance and then to demonstrate that they’ve met the performance level once the property is built and occupied. These are just some of the ways that the Energy Efficiency and Sustainability movements are supporting the need for the tenets of the New Deal.


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