Building energy costs are a significant expenditure for businesses and the public building sector. The smart building industry is responding with products and services that can help, but there are hundreds of choices. However, we have some great examples of smart technology that can get you up to speed. So let’s take a closer look.

We’ll start with some projects at educational facilities, a sector that’s seen great progress in energy efficiency, but one that also faces many challenges. According to a new study commissioned by Schneider Electric and the Alliance to Save Energy, energy efficiency is recognized among US higher education institutions as key to fulfilling their schools’ core mission. However, while 92% of respondents stated that their school had a culture that encourages energy efficiency, they still encounter organizational barriers, such as insufficient funding and lack of a clear definition of success.

The situation at these institutions is complicated by the fact that their buildings are old. The study found that 59% of the respondents reported that the average age of their buildings exceeds 15 years, and only one in five reported an average age of buildings below 10 years.

“A majority of the higher education buildings that stand today are expected to be in operation for the next few decades,” says Tara Canfield, Education Segment Director, at Schneider Electric. “The university segment is focused on how to develop sustainable plans for future infrastructure needs. As we work with these facility managers, the main point is collaboration across the divisions, so systems can be integrated and made smarter to help facilities managers to be more efficient. One of the things we do is look at space usage. The needs for space are changing. About 50% of the time on average, a space is not being utilized. One of the simplest principles of energy management is to turn off systems that are not in use. But turning things off can be daunting. Smart building technology simplifies that process by incorporating scheduling systems with building management systems. That way it’s not a manual process to change setpoints on HVAC systems and ligh ting.”

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For a fully automated solution, Schneider Electric offers StruxureWare Building Operation, a software application for the company’s SmartStruxure solution suite. StruxureWare Building Operation provides integrated monitoring, control, and management of energy, lighting, fire safety, and HVAC to ensure facilities are energy efficient and effectively managed. The software transforms system data at the automation level into valuable business information, to maximize building efficiency and reduce operating costs across the entire lifecycle of a facility.

“Valuable business information can drive the adoption of energy efficiency programs,” says Canfield. “Facilities managers often need help with their business case, and one of the fastest things they can do to create a business case is to use reporting. Another option is to overlay building analytics, which helps analyze the data, and it gives the managers some added intelligence, which helps with decision making. Systems can also draw from, for instance, a weather data source. So you can add third-party data and now look at an upcoming storm or temperature change and know, based on the length of the event, whether to change set-points.”

For institutions that are looking for a simpler approach, Schneider Electric has a room controller that’s more than a smart thermostat. It’s designed to be low cost and easily installed, yet they have sensors and can stand alone room-by-room, for use in dormitories, classrooms, and offices. “They are programmed to be out-of-the-box ready, so even a facility team that doesn’t have the capabilities or want to hire a contractor can still easily install it,” says Canfield. “You have menus and you can arrange your set-points, so it’s very easy to follow and it can be wired or wireless.”

For a different approach to controls that are targeted for education and other small- to medium-sized facilities, Intermatic Incorporated, Spring Grove, IL, recently introduced its ET Basic+ Series of electronic controls. The ET Series Basic+ offers low-maintenance, automated control of interior and exterior lighting, bell ringing, water features, signage, and other load-consuming equipment. Designed to meet the needs of schools, small hotels, retail stores, restaurants, and small offices, the ET Basic+ Series features easy scheduling control and flexibility. A backup feature maintains power, function, and information carryover, for up to 100 hours.

Operators have the flexibility to accommodate complex schedules and the capacity to handle future changes and facility expansion. Configurable outputs allow for the ability to combine various types of applications and control these with a single unit. There’s even a cut-and-paste style function—the ET Basic+ Series has a USB port to easily copy and paste schedules from one control to another or simply to backup existing schedules.

The concept of easy setup and pre-installed programming is spreading, and these benefits were key selling points when the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) chose Cree LED lighting to upgrade lighting at its administrative offices. Using Cree’s high-performing LED lighting with SmartCast Technology, SDCCD retrofitted more than 1200 fixtures with an intelligent system that consumes up to 75% less energy.

As part of the upgrade, SDCCD installed Cree CR Series troffers with SmartCast Technology. The system uses Cree’s innovative OneButton commissioning, and allows luminaires enabled with SmartCast Technology to create their own secure network, adjust light output according to their environment, and automatically form functional groups to maximize savings, all with the push of a single button. SmartCast Technology eliminates additional design, control wires, and the setup time often associated with complex control systems. The new lighting system also offers up to 100,000 hours of life expectancy, resulting in maintenance reductions and savings lasting up to 10 years.

The OneButton learning phase is unique, according to John Casadonte, vertical marketing manager, lighting at Cree Inc. “In the past, you had to worry about where to place your occupancy sensors, and ambient light sensors,” says Casadonte. “But the sensors are actually embedded in our product, which provides maximum energy efficiency benefits by enabling each fixture to react to movement or external light sources. Typically, fixtures are laid out in the interior and perimeter of a building. During the setup, each fixture determines the amount of ambient light in its area. The fixture will take measurements of the light that’s generated from other sources such as sunlight. This phase happens during the commissioning, but it takes a snapshot that will remain in the memory of the lights until it is asked to do a recalibration. The recalibration can be done as often as the building owner wishes, i.e., once a week, once a month, or once a year. So as an ex ample, the building owner may want to recalibrate during the change of seasons, when sunlight projects from different angles and produces more or less light in areas of a building. Re-optimizing the fixtures will guarantee maximum energy savings with just the right amount of light output.”

The new automated sensors are saving about 70% of the energy used by the previous system, according to Christopher Manis, vice chancellor, facilities management, SDCCD. “We have a lot of glazing on our exterior walls and the natural light is strong, the function of the fixture to measure that window light and dim itself gave us additional savings. We were also surprised by the reduction in HVAC system operations due to the cooler LED lighting. We’re estimating about a 7 to 10% reduction in those costs.”

The HVAC cost reductions were estimated by comparing utility bills. But that task, and many others, could be automated by building automation software. For example, Ascent Compass Software, from Alerton, Lynnwood, WA, is designed to simplify building automation. Compass is part of the Alerton Ascent building automation suite of products, for monitoring and controlling building systems, including HVAC, lighting, security/access control, fire and life safety, elevators and escalators, and more.

With so much power, such a system might appear daunting, but according to Kevin Callahan, a product owner and evangelist for Alerton, the company’s latest release, Compass 1.2, features an enhanced navigation tree that enables each user, or group of users, to tailor the building automation system to only present features pertaining to their work. The interface is simpler and reduces the number of steps required to complete a task. Another feature is context-specific menus that provide relevant data and tasks wherever a user is within the system. This allows users to easily view, create, and edit alarms or any system data points controlled by Ascent.

“This latest Compass version delivers complete user management of trend logs, alarms, and schedules, via a Web browser,” says Callahan.

The Web access is a significant convenience for common tasks that managers find most important.

“A property manager is typically interested in the overall operations and needs know if there are alarms hotspots and cold spots for problems going on in the building,” says Callahan. “But an energy manager might want to look at trend logs or energy logs to see the current performance of buildings. An onsite maintenance person might want to just go in and raise or lower the temperature or change schedule for a building if somebody has to work late. A mechanical contractor might come in to look at tasks such as correcting or troubleshooting the system. So they could look at system graphics to find out what’s operating correctly and where there are problems.”


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