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Adapting to a Renewable-rich Grid: Businesses Embrace Building Management Solutions

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Transitioning to the energy landscape of the future is oftentimes distilled down to a rise in renewable power generation. But the reality is that myriad industries are evolving and contributing to the foundations of a cleaner future. Here, the emergence of building technologies harnessing IT in order to fine-tune building energy profiles represents a sector of great importance and growing sophistication.

With a litany of terms in use — building energy management systems (BEMS), smart or cognitive buildings and more — the software and related control systems behind this array of technology are all fundamentally concerned with optimizing a building’s energy resources.

That objective isn’t necessarily new, but the challenge and solutions have evolved in response to changes in the broader energy system.

Renewable Energy World spoke with Greg Turner, vice president of Honeywell, about the industry’s current standing. 

“Looking at the evolution of grids, it’s now a necessity to reconsider how we approach energy management in buildings,” Turner said.

While a previous focus was on a combination of conservation and managing demand charges, Turner describes how businesses have embraced technology to adapt to, and capitalize on, newfound characteristics of grids with high shares of renewable energy, as well as in many instances on-site solar PV and combined heat and power projects.

“The impact of renewables is certainly increasing the need for a more dynamic building,” Turner said. “Until recently, we’ve thought about buildings as static loads, and varying ways to serve that load. The problem with renewables is, we sometimes need to adjust the load, rather than the source. This changed our thinking somewhat, and the solutions.”

Building energy management system interface. Credit: Honeywell

He provides an example: “Rather than peak shaving — say through switching on a gas chiller or co-generation plant — can we shift that peak to when we know we have a lot of renewable generation…there’s opportunity to perform actions from a strategic standpoint that [allow us] to harness very low cost power [that arises with renewables].”

Understanding building energy data is clearly key to success, but as is taking advantage of market conditions, explained Turner.

“If you’re aware of all possible sources of energy, and are able to dynamically shift how you consume them over time, you can have an enormous impact both on a building’s carbon footprint and on operating costs,” he said.

At Honeywell, there are three major inputs to systems: forecast load for buildings, weather forecasts, and day-ahead (and in some instances hour-ahead) tariff rates.

Aiming to adjust building energy profiles based on varying parameters, “systems integrate these [inputs] to create an operating plan for the building and then automated demand response sits on top to perform real-time corrections,” Turner said.

These types of operations are reflected in Honeywell’s product portfolio.

Honeywell’s ‘Smart Energy’ building products provide metering infrastructure, including smart grid and automated demand response software.

“Meanwhile,” Turners explained, “our traditional building controls business, and ‘Honeywell Energy Manager’ software are designed to help customers understand energy usage, forecast demand, select best sources, and then execute demand-response strategies on the building side to match up with what’s happening on the generating/source side.”

Turner described Honeywell Energy Manager —on the building-side — and ‘Enterprise Building Integrator’ SCADA — on the generation-side — as “sister products that talk to one another and coordinate dynamic response and dynamic generation.”

Turner views both commercial and industrial sectors as key customers to BEMs, and believes that all buildings stand to gain from these technologies, not simply those with on-site generation.

“With large customers in California, particularly IT companies, we’ve seen a lot of adoption,” he said. “They’ve very quickly achieved net-zero operations in 60-70 percent of cases.”

He added that a majority of Honeywell’s customers have corporate sustainability goals.

“That’s a key driver,” he said. “Others are also very focused on cost of energy, particularly in energy intensive business. IT, obviously, but hospitals, airports; these are also ideal benefactors. It’s not about how high-tech you are, but how energy-intensive you are.”

For other customers, Turner noted, BEMS installation is about future-proofing in expectation of forthcoming disruption in the way power is priced, and consumed.

This being the case, differences are apparent between commercial and industrial sectors.

“Commercial buildings tend to tolerate dynamic operating environments much better,” Turner said. “Many industrial environments utilize most energy directly in their processes — so anything that introduces transition or potential intermittency is a threat in terms of process consistency and quality. That’s a challenge.”

Honeywell, however, has delivered successful solutions to customers sensitive to such concerns, Turner said, adding: “Battery systems can play a big role here and make systems more accessible. Energy storage has become the key for many industrial customers who couldn’t tolerate process variability.

Altogether, efficiency gains and energy savings can be significant with the right solutions in place — even for companies that have already sought to improve their buildings’ energy profiles via traditional energy conservation programs and measures (ECMs).

“With these new approaches, changing the paradigm and making a building more dynamic and so on, it opens up a whole lot more options, and pathways to another 20-25 percent savings [beyond ECMs],” Turner said.

A Strong Market with Proven Solutions

The opportunities arising from BEM solutions—themselves growing ever more sophisticated and cost-effective—are driving increasing adoption of systems, observes Casey Talon, principal research analyst at Navigant Research.

“Energy management certainly has always been and continues to be foundational for driving investment in intelligent building technologies,” Talon told Renewable Energy World.

Talon added: “There’s great opportunity in integrating what’s happening inside the building with what’s happening outside and with the grid. There’s a logical progression from optimizing your building efficiency to then investing in additional resources, such as self-generating capacity. It follows to then integrate everything together.”

According to Navigant Research, global industrial energy management systems (IEMSs) revenue alone is expected to grow from $13.5 billion in 2015 to $35.6 billion in 2024.

“We see compelling business cases based off systems themselves — depending on the nature and size of the facility,” Talon said. “Certainly, costs of Internet of Things (IoT) devices [that collect and communicate data for data aggregation and analysis] and software are decreasing, and becoming more cost-effective. That certainly helps the economics. We hear of compelling savings.”

Talon added that financial support — while being fragmented across states and regions — does exist for BEMS.

“We see incentives being utilized to offset capital costs, for instance utility rebates or other kinds of local incentives,” she said. “Commercial lenders are now more comfortable with the building energy management systems and willing to finance them.”

Already delivering significant results, going forward, the maturation of energy management technologies likely will continue to catalyze their adoption. As Talon noted: “When we think of intelligent buildings space, for a long time, companies would install a pilot before rolling out across their enterprise. But there’s now enough proof of concept in the market that we’re seeing broader adoption.”

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