BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
Thomas Hartman, P E
A snapshot of our industry today shows a lot of talk but still not much movement toward sustainable buildings. It remains rare to find buildings that actually meet advanced energy performance targets. Designers, contractors and operators continue to be frustrated by the convoluted processes and outdated practices dictated to them for projects that drag down their ability to deliver high performance results. The significant improvement in building performance that our industry desperately needs to succeed in realigning itself to sustainable principles continues to be elusive. Thus, the current picture shows our industry still largely running in place against barriers that look to be as sturdy as ever.
Into this scene has come the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), the first truly large scale efficiency plan that is aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses with a wide range of energy efficiency strategies for a growing list of cities lining up to join. The CCI is a most welcome force for change and it has the potential of becoming quite literally a planet changing movement because it has the size, support, financing and, most important, because it has started in the right direction – placing its emphasis on actual performance and accountability, elements missing from nearly all other current building efficiency programs.
But as I look at this snapshot of our industry, even with the CCI now on the starting blocks working to roll out its program, I am concerned that this new initiative does not appear nearly bold enough to get our industry moving toward where it needs to get in the time we have. So this is an open letter to those involved or who have influence with this important initiative, to urge an expansion of the current development efforts in the following two critical areas:
First, for the CCI to be effective for buildings it must become much more engaged with electric and gas utility regulators, and through them the utilities themselves. Utilities have their own financial plan for the future, and right now, nearly every utility in the US and most throughout the world are focused on acquiring more greenhouse gas producing resources to distribute throughout their service areas. Huge sums of money are or will soon be committed for this purpose. Without a much closer working relationship with local regulating commissions, once the CCI demonstrates its ability to significantly reduce building energy consumption in participating cities, the utilities will soon be working counter to the initiative to protect the investments they are in the process of making. We’ve already experienced this problem when thermal storage systems were developed in areas to mitigate high electric demand charges. The serving utilities often changed rate structures to maintain revenue. But their new rate schedules also undermined the thermal storage investments. Fortunately, utilities are regulated to act in the public interest, so the CCI needs to have from the start a much stronger engagement with utility regulating agencies (and the utilities themselves) to ensure they work cooperatively with regional energy planning efforts and that the public interest and the financial underpinnings of the Initiative are not undermined by financial conflict as the initiative is implemented on a large scale in its partner cities.
Another reason for a stronger engagement with serving utility community is the strong commitment the CCI has to measurement and verification for performance assurance. This is an important element of the Initiative, and the growing electric and gas meter networks utilities employ to serve each building are by far the most economical means to evaluate and assure performance for its building efficiency projects over time. The expense to establish and maintain independent networks for effective long term performance monitoring and verification would otherwise be substantial and add unnecessary overhead to the initiative. Working with local utilities to incorporate metering network based M&V into the Initiative can reduce that overhead substantially.
Finally, effective engagement with the utilities and regulators can solve a huge problem that has always plagued efficiency improvement programs. Maintaining high building operating efficiency over time is a widespread problem. Studies that have looked at efficiency improvement projects over longer terms show the savings often fall substantially over time. There are a variety of reasons, but fundamentally they revolve around the fact that efficiency is not a focal point for building owners, operators or management. Working with local utility commissions to implement “excess use” rate schedules and/or other services over utility networks aimed at supporting the efficiency and demand limiting improvements for initiative participants can help to dramatically improve the long term success of those projects and can also be employed to make potential projects more attractive to start.
In short, a much stronger engagement with the regulating agencies and utilities that serve participating cities offers the promise of true synergy between the goals of the initiative and the utilities. This is not a simple process. Utility regulation and oversight in recent years leaves much to be desired. But part of any bold initiative that desires real change requires hard work that effectively addresses such challenging opportunities, and working more closely with the serving utilities is certainly one of those that offers enormous potential benefits to the Initiative!
The second missing component in the Clinton Climate Initiative is the lack of a truly aggressive push to incorporate new technologies in their building efficiency improvement planning. Industry leaders are beginning to recognize the barriers that stifle new technologies and now understand that radical and revolutionary approaches are needed to overcome them. The CCI could be such an important catalyst for this change. However, to date, the CCI looks to be much too conservative, restricting its conversations primarily to only the larger and less innovative industry players and organizations. Those planning the CCI program approaches should understand our industry has been at a tipping point in a technological revolution for some time now. Without question many of the technologies currently employed for building efficiency improvements are significantly out of date. This Initiative has the clout to break down the barriers holding the industry back from much more significant efficiency gains. But to do so, it has to develop a complete and realistic vision of what systems and implementation processes on the other side of the tipping point will look like - to see what new technologies should be applied and how best to apply them. New comfort system technologies that better coordinate the operation of building systems and focus comfort services on people rather than spaces are so attractive that the CCI simply must find a way to lead by incorporating them in their developing program.
A few months ago in this publication, I urged those with influence in the CCI to help ensure the program has strong accountability. From what I have learned about the developing Initiative planning, I think this feature is being embedded into the Initiative and I applaud that commitment. But I also cautioned about the CCI relying on over polished but only marginally successful approaches of large industry players. This element continues to cause me concern. The goal of this initiative is to achieve a genuine and conspicuous decrease in building energy use as it is applied in cities, and a resulting steady decline in greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades. The energy saved by those improvements will provide a plentiful and moderately priced energy source for growth over the next several decades without requiring new power plants while cleaner sources of energy are developed. This, I think would be everyone’s dream - and it is all technically possible. But it cannot be realized with current efficiency improvement approaches. To succeed will take bold steps by those contributing to this Initiative to configure the CCI approach so all that can be done today to reduce building energy use is done and done well. A great many in this industry want to help where they can to ensure the Initiative is successful. I call on those directing the Initiative to broaden its development effort to better employ the vast resources for change available to them. It isn’t just a few who want this Initiative to succeed. All of society wants it to succeed and is watching us to see if we can work together well and hard enough to be certain it will!
Be sure to attend the
Engineering Green Building Conference in Las Vegas September 17&18 and hear Mr.
Hartman’s Keynote address on Tuesday morning titled “Leadership: Your Most
Valuable Contribution to Sustainable Projects”
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