With the enactment of the Energy Act of 2020, smart buildings are finally making their debut in US clean energy and climate policy. Section 1007 of the bill, titled “Smart Building Acceleration,” directs the Department of Energy (DOE) in consultation with the General Services Administrator (GSA), to establish a Federal Smart Building Program to implement smart building technology and demonstrate the costs and benefits of smart buildings.
The new law defines a “smart building” as a building, or collection of buildings, with an energy system that is flexible and automated; has extensive operational monitoring and communication connectivity, allowing remote monitoring and analysis of all building functions; and takes a systems-based approach integrating the overall building operations for control of energy generation, consumption, and storage. A smart building also communicates with utilities and other third-party commercial entities; protects the health and safety of occupants and workers; and incorporates cybersecurity best practices.
DOE will follow Federal Energy Management Program guidelines to evaluate which advanced building technologies are most cost-effective and show the most promise for increasing building energy savings, increasing service performance, and reducing environmental impacts. The program will also survey privately-owned smart buildings throughout the United States and work with private-sector property owners through the Better Buildings Challenge to develop smart building accelerators. These accelerators are initiatives that will demonstrate innovative policies and approaches to speed the transition to smart buildings in public, institutional, and commercial buildings sectors.
The General Services Administration (GSA) Green Building Advisory Committee established a Data-Integrated Building Systems (DIBS) Task Group in 2019 to identify opportunities and challenges in leveraging DIBS to improve Federal buildings’ performance. Performance benefits include reduced energy use and enhanced indoor environmental quality, occupant health and performance, and organizational effectiveness. The task group found that Federal implementation of DIBS lags due to procurement guidelines that favor standalone systems, risk aversion in the contracting chain, and cybersecurity concerns. Other significant challenges include the lack of training and education, interoperability standards, systems specification and procurement guidelines, and life-cycle cost and impact data.
Fortunately, the provisions in Section 1007 address a number of the DIBS task group’s recommendations. These include implementing demonstration projects in Federal buildings to quantify the costs and benefits of smart building installations, supporting systems interoperability Standards development and testing, investigating cybersecurity concerns, and providing guidance for system specification, maintenance, and security.
Despite the challenges in implementation, the market for smart building technology is increasing. In the 2020 Energy Efficiency Indicator study of U.S. facility and energy management executives, 56 percent of respondents said they planned to invest in building system integration in the next 12 months. Another 29 percent of organizations plan to invest in integrating building technology systems with the utility grid in 2021, up from 13 percent in 2020. One of the key drivers of this market demand is the importance of reducing energy use and carbon emissions in buildings.
A recent study in Europe estimates that smart building technology can save up to 23 percent of office buildings’ energy use. In another study, integrated building systems including heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), lighting and plug-loads were estimated to save eight to 18 percent. In the Better Buildings Smart Energy Analytics Campaign, Energy Information Systems achieved a median three percent in energy cost savings across 100 organizations. Fault Detection and Diagnostic applications saved an additional nine percent of energy costs, resulting in a combined two-year payback on investment. Another study evaluated 58 smart building measures and predicted more than 25 percent annual energy and maintenance savings from measures with less than a five-year payback.
In response to the increased market demand for smart buildings, NEMA has established a Connected Building Systems Section that focuses on thought leadership, outreach, and the development of codes, Standards, and policy. UL and the Telecommunications Industry Association have just introduced the SPIRETM Smart Building evaluation and verification program which covers power and energy, health and safety, life and property safety, connectivity, cybersecurity, and sustainability. Additionally, the Alliance to Save Energy Active Efficiency Collaborative is planning to explore policy, regulatory, and market mechanisms to accelerate interest and investment in smart buildings.
These initiatives are exciting additional steps in demonstrating that smart buildings are a critical element of emerging smart energy and climate policy.
By Clay Nesler, Vice President of Global Energy and Sustainability, Johnson Controls