Matt Gates is vice president, energy management services and solutions for Trane, a brand of Ingersoll Rand.
Matt Gates is vice president, energy management services and solutions for Trane, a brand of Ingersoll Rand. 

While the efficiency of commercial buildings has improved significantly in recent decades, the building industry has only begun to tap the energy reserves trapped in underperforming facilities, according to Trane, a global provider of indoor comfort solutions and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand.

Trane, which is celebrating 100 years of HVAC innovation in 2013, foresees a wide range of groundbreaking innovations in high-performance building technologies, operating practices, and intelligent building services that help create better, healthier, more comfortable, and more productive indoor environments.

Opportunities Abound

For the foreseeable future, the greatest energy, operating, and service-performance improvement opportunities can be found in the world’s inventory of existing buildings, which account for about one-third of the electricity consumed and generate about 18-20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Energy Efficient Buildings Private-Public Partnership.

Commercial buildings are a target-rich environment for energy-efficiency improvements, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), which notes that HVAC consumes almost half of the energy that a typical building uses, with space cooling and refrigeration representing 22 percent of total energy consumption.

Thus, this is a watershed moment in the evolution of the high-performance building movement as technologies and practices mature and the body of evidence supporting adoption of these principles continues to grow. High-performance buildings use 20-30 percent less energy and cost as much as 50 percent less to operate over their full occupied lives, compared to conventionally equipped and operated buildings, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Here are some of the factors driving adoption:

• Continuing improvements in the economy will likely cause organizations to resume historic levels of capital investment, including new construction, building additions, and HVAC system retrofits.

• The expanded capabilities of building-modeling software make it easier to analyze and predict the long-term impact of choosing high-performance building alternatives during the design and construction phases. Meanwhile, the green premium is shrinking; the USGBC estimates that the incremental cost of choosing high-performance building features ranges from 0-6.5 percent. Trane has found that the cost of implementing energy conservation measures is recouped many times over a building’s long occupied life.

• Evidence continues to grow that better-performing buildings yield better-performing organizations. For example, research by Michigan State University shows that workgroups moving into Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings achieve higher levels of productivity. A CoStar Group study found that commercial buildings with Energy Star or LEED credentials commanded premium rents, achieved higher occupancy rates, and sold for higher prices.

• Building automation systems, the key enablers of optimal building performance, automatically perform tasks that used to require human intervention. Wireless communications technology, applied in these systems with open communications standards, will prove to be a breakthrough in improving controls and energy optimization. Moreover, new technologies will make it easier for operators to personalize comfort settings for individuals, and reduce energy costs by avoiding cooling or heating vacant areas at the same level as occupied ones.

• Government regulations driving environmental performance go hand-in-hand with energy efficiency. While exact rules, reporting requirements, and milestones are up in the air in many jurisdictions, most organizations are expected to be compelled to comply with more stringent requirements.

• More organizations will adopt commissioning, re-commissioning, and continuous-commissioning strategies as performance of even the best-designed and operated buildings degrades over time. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) advocate continuous monitoring, fault detection, diagnosis, and commissioning to keep buildings operating at their original design performance (ODP) levels.

• Many of tomorrow’s buildings will generate some or most of their own energy onsite, often using alternative generation methods such as solar, wind, or fuel cells. An alternative to large regional power plants, this distributed generation model enables buildings to sell any excess power they generate to the public power grid, realizing the potential of a net-zero building that creates more energy than it consumes.

Numerous Advantages

Building owners and operators can realize a wide range of benefits by adopting high-performance building technologies and operating principles, including higher levels of energy efficiency, better overall performance, lower lifecycle costs, and a smaller environmental footprint. Just as importantly, better-performing buildings also help organizations accomplish their missions by creating better, healthier, and more productive places for people to work, learn, teach, live, heal, shop, stay, and visit.

Publication date: 5/6/2013 

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