March 2014

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EMAIL INTERVIEWHoney Berk and Ken Sinclair

Honey Berk, Technology Specialist, Building Performance Lab, CUNY Institute for Urban Systems

Honey is a LEED AP O&M specializing in building operations and maintenance, with a background in technology, data analysis, and communications. As the BP Lab’s Technology Specialist, Honey identifies new ways to utilize technology in research, training, fieldwork and education. In addition, she manages the Lab’s technology projects and instructs student interns in energy data analysis methods. Honey’s introduction to high-performance building came in 2001, when she was retained by the Battery Park City Authority to help chronicle of the development of the first LEED-certified high-rise residential building in the U.S. Honey holds an undergraduate degree from New York University, with a focus in psychology and computer science.

Building Performance Lab

BP Lab’s work is focused around three core areas: research, training, and collaboration and service.

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SinclairWhat is the Building Performance Lab?

Berk:  The Building Performance Lab was created in 2006 through a two-year seed grant from the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), with the goal of creating a permanent institutional base for the study and promotion of building performance and enhanced operations within New York City. Since its inception, the Lab has received additional NYSERDA support for specific initiatives and significant leveraged funding from local, regional, and federal sources. BP Lab is led by Director Michael Bobker, an energy engineer with three decades of experience in NYC buildings.

In my role as Technology Specialist, I manage the BP Lab’s technology projects, which are primarily focused around building automation systems and energy data analysis. As an example, I direct the Open Collaborative Lab (OCL) program, a partnership with the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which trains student interns from the CUNY campuses in energy data analysis and measurement and verification protocols. I also head up the Lab’s Field Equipment Lending Library, a public resource stocked with a full range of field equipment that can be loaned out to industry professionals, current students and alumni of our energy management courses, and workforce development organizations to help advance high-performance building operations and practices in the existing commercial and public real estate markets.

BP Lab’s parent organization is the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems (CIUS), a university-wide institute at the City University of New York (CUNY) led by Dr. Robert Paaswell, a distinguished professor of civil engineering and a nationally-recognized infrastructure expert. CUNY is the largest urban university in the U.S., with 24 campuses across New York City that service over half a million degree-credit, adult, continuing, and professional education students.

SinclairWhat type of work is the Building Performance Lab involved with?

Berk:  BP Lab’s work is focused around three core areas: research, training, and collaboration and service. Our goal for research is to address knowledge gaps in the high-performance building market, as identified by our industry partners and guided by the Building Performance Stakeholder Consortium. Most recently, our research has been focused along two major tracks: Building Automation Systems, including collaborations with Johnson Controls and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL); and energy data analysis, in the context of measurement and verification of retrofit projects for NYC facilities through the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS).

Our training initiatives address long-term workforce development through curriculum development, internships, and other technology training. BP Lab capitalizes on CUNY’s ability to deliver education and training to multiple audiences: degree programs for students in engineering, sustainability and related disciplines; and continuing education for practicing engineers, operators and real estate professionals. Our internship program gives students exposure to the many professional pathways presented by advanced energy management; while our commercial building training emphasizes the nationally-recognized Building Operator Certification, PNNL’s Building Re-Tuning (BRT) protocol, and other related programs. Our courses are offered via DCAS’s Energy Management Institute, in partnership with the CUNY School of Professional Studies, as well as through other public and private channels. In addition, we collaborated on the development of Advanced Energy Performance, an online, NYS-accredited program that equips commercial real estate asset managers with the knowledge and skills needed to make long-term, asset-based energy decisions.

At the core of our mission is building and maintaining strong relationships with like-minded entities in the public and private sectors. To this end, BP Lab has partnered with governmental agencies (e.g. the City of New York), nationally-based organizations (e.g. ASHRAE, ACEEE), educational institutions (e.g. University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Carnegie Mellon), and industry leaders (e.g. Johnson Controls, Vornado Realty Trust) on a range of collaborative initiatives that address issues such as resiliency, acceleration of new technology, building efficiency, and integrated building design and development.

SinclairCan you elaborate on your research with building automation systems?

Berk:  We are currently working on a number of overlapping BAS-related research projects, some of which include an explicit training component. For example, we are engaged in multiple projects that involve PNNL’s Building Re-Tuning protocol, with support from NIST and the NYC Department of Education. BRT is a methodology for using building data drawn from a BAS to identify and troubleshoot energy-related faults in building system operation. Using this technique, which emphasizes the graphical interpretation of large amounts of trend log data, an operator can implement an ongoing commissioning process resulting in energy use reductions of 5-20%.

We have been employing the BRT protocol at a few of the CUNY campuses since spring 2013, and recently added in a sample of commercial facilities owned by Vornado Realty Trust. In addition, our BRT training kicked-off last fall, with a class sponsored by DCAS and attended by operators from a wide range of NYC agencies.

We have also partnered with the CUNY Institute for Software Design and Development (CISDD), in the development of a structured database and a more sophisticated means of analyzing the BAS trend log data, beyond the BRT protocol measures. Our collaboration with CISDD has produced working prototypes of two web-based data visualization tools with the potential to vastly simplify the BAS trend log analysis process, and thus increase accessibility and usability for building operators and facility managers.

A third BAS-related project is the Building Automation System Assessment Tool (BASAT), an application designed to help provide a standardized approach to evaluating existing building infrastructure relative to desired BAS features, including selection of sensors for monitoring specific systems, opportunity for demand response, system interoperability, data analytics and visualization, and more. BASAT was created to address the problem of slow adoption and under-implementation of advancing BAS features. We are currently in the process of beta-testing the prototype at a range of publicly- and privately-owned facilities, and are working toward migration to a web-based platform after testing has been completed.

SinclairCan you share some of your research findings with us?

Berk:  I can’t yet share individual project findings, but I can definitely discuss some common findings we are seeing across much of our BAS work, regardless of the type of system. First, we have definitely seen an underutilization of BAS functionality in many of the facilities we have visited. Typically, the operators use a limited set of screens to monitor a limited set of sensors, such as temperature setpoints or CFM, and they often have alarms set to notify them of certain operational conditions. Few of the operators we have come across – whether in our BRT classes, on site visits, or in survey responses – are using trend logs to their fullest extent, if at all. At a few facilities, the operators have never received training on the BAS, or they have problems with the system but lack a service contract and therefore cannot remedy the situation.

We have also encountered considerable difficulty in automating trend log data collection. Some of the systems have automatic trending capability, while others do not – and some have the capability but it has not been enabled. Further, we have not been able to develop a consistent method for remotely collecting trend log data, and are currently looking at running a pilot with a third-party hardware vendor to accomplish this task.

Finally, we have been struck by the lack of standardization in naming conventions throughout the BAS industry. Last summer, we looked at the possibility of developing our own taxonomy and took some steps in that direction. However, a few months ago we discovered Project Haystack, which I know supports through the Connection Communities Collaboration. I was thrilled to discover Haystack’s established tagging conventions and taxonomies for building equipment and operational data; and the fact that the project is open source and collaborative was a huge bonus. We are currently running some tests using the Haystack taxonomies, with the hope that the project will solve one of our most challenging BAS data issues.


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