Resilience Is Not a Byproduct of Sustainability or ‘Green’ Thinking
Envisioneering Symposium attendees discuss the definition, importance, and challenges of resiliency
WASHINGTON — For the past 12 years, experts from across the country have gathered in the same room for a dinner table style discussion on the most critical issues and trends impacting the HVACR industry. During the 31st Danfoss Envisioneering™ Symposium that recently took place in Washington, D.C., that topic was Resilience Solutions in Buildings & Energy.
Greg Pavlak, assistant professor of architectural engineering at Penn State University, pointed out that several notions of resilience exist; there’s resilience as preparedness, attenuation, and adaptability, just to name a few.
And the definitions of resilience span multiple research disciplines, including city planning, infrastructure, engineering, economics, and psychology, according to Jared Langevin, research scientist, commercial building systems group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
In an effort to truly capture the meaning of resilience and how it is affecting not just the HVACR industry but all industries around the globe, the presentations were broken down into three main sessions: urban resilience; utility response to resilience: generators, distributions, storage, and building interface; and the resilient building.
“The world is changing,” said Gail Sussman, managing director for U.S. public finance at Moody’s — a company that provides credit ratings, research, tools, and analysis of global capital markets. “There are physical evidences of changes in the environment. Climate is the biggest one that we can see. And our evolving physical and social environment really does have an impact on credit.”
According to her, those impacts are experienced in two ways: shocks and trends. Shocks come in the form of natural disasters — hurricanes, tsunamis, wildfires, etc. — while trends are more long term, like global warming and rising sea levels.
“So our definition is the difference between robustness and resilience thinking,” said Sussman. “We define robustness as a defensive, in-depth approach that will minimize the disturbance. Resilience thinking is a way to think about building systems that have the ability to absorb the disturbance and bounce back.”
Though the link may not be a direct one, the level of resilience in a municipality will influence investors’ decisions based on how prepared the city is for possible future hazards, how well it’s able to reduce the magnitude of the disturbance, and how well it can adjust to new conditions.
“I think where the term ‘resilience’ is right now is reflective of the fact that it’s really about systems thinking,” said Kevin Bush, chief resilience officer, District of Columbia. “And a property of a healthy, functioning system is that it is resilient, right? And cities are frankly nothing more than complex systems of systems. You have social systems, you have transportation systems, and you have building systems, and you can’t look at them in silos.”
An example both Sussman and Bush pointed to was the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
According to Bush, FEMA had spent a lot of money in the New York/New Jersey area to provide diesel generators to critical infrastructure. Several hospitals had these generators stored in the basement, where they became flooded.
He went on to further explain that although the definition for resiliency and what that means to specific industries or sectors throughout the world has been around for years and years, the concept of it in terms of urban planning is still in its infancy. And so it’s necessary to think of everything — buildings, systems, transportation, utilities, cybersecurity, economics, racial equality, demographics, the IoT … the entire infrastructure of a city inside and out — working together as one unit in order to achieve resilience, and that starts first with a shift in mindset.
Utility companies have functioned on a strictly linear path up until a few years ago, according to Jason Handley, director, smart grid emerging technology and operations, Duke Energy.
“We’ve had one-way power flow forever,” he said. “So today’s grid is really inflexible; it’s been built to distribute from centralized out to our customer.”
However, that has all changed due to what he refers to as “the hairball of complexity” — wind, solar, microgrids, battery storage, fiber networks, the IoT … all intersecting with each other at multiple touchpoints on a more circular trajectory.
As a result, researchers like Pavlak are working toward developing ways to balance the grid load, reduce energy consumption, and increase energy efficiency.
“I think some of these technologies that we could deploy for resilience perhaps also provide us energy efficiency and operating expense savings, so opportunities to leverage technologies that can do multiple things and serve multiple roles is a critical piece,” he said.
Using model predictive controls, Pavlak discovered that optimizing buildings individually uses more energy and costs more money than if they were grouped together in a building portfolio. The challenge with this approach is that while the sum of the energy use and costs may be less for the whole, there could be an individual building within the group that consumes more energy and, therefore, costs more.
“So it’s important to look at different mechanisms to incentivize optimizing,” he said. “If we know there are opportunities for improving operations through this enhanced coordination between neighbors, multiple buildings, then how do we communicate that? Because I think that’s really the piece that having centralized optimization has — this level of communication between buildings and resources that allows them to best dispatch the available resources.”
With the same goal in mind but a different approach, Richard Sweetser, senior advisor, Mid-Atlantic CHP technical assistance partnership, U.S. Department of Energy, introduced the use of combined heat and power (CHP).
“Energy delivery systems are changing rapidly,” he said. “CHP can be used in different strategies, including critical infrastructure resiliency and emergency planning.”
CHP allows continuous supply of thermal energy, enhances grid stability and relieves grid congestion, withstands multiday outages, and enables microgrid deployment for a diverse generation mix.
In referring back to superstorm Sandy, the town of Fairfield, Connecticut, has since invested in a community microgrid to improve the resiliency of its critical facilities, and the anchor of that system is a 60kW natural gas-fired CHP reciprocating engine.
To highlight how utterly important this shift toward resilience is, Sweetser shared several case studies and statistics, including this one: By 2060, the world is projected to add 2.5 trillion square feet of buildings, or an area equal to the entire current global building stock. This is the equivalent of adding an entire New York City to the planet every 34 days for the next 40 years.
THE RESILIENT BUILDING
“Resilience means something different to everybody,” said Greg Lush, vice president for innovation, Emcor Services Mesa Energy Systems. “It’s very regional; it’s very industry specific. So let’s first come to an agreement on one thing: Buildings must have a pulse. We’ve got to be able to feel and understand what that building’s doing.”
Unfortunately, there are challenges that come with that.
“Perception is not always reality,” he said. “And part of our problem is we still think that things operate in a building differently than they really do.”
There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to dealing with something like resilience, said Langevin.
“Within the building area specifically, one thing that’s interesting to discuss is the relationship between resilience and sustainability — green buildings,” he said. “There’s a risk here that we kind of consider resilience as just another outcome of sustainable design. And while that is sometimes the case, it’s not always true.”
Historically, infrastructure has been viewed through a failsafe lens — designed to be bigger and heavier in order to withstand extreme weather events, he said. But in shifting that mindset to develop a safe-to-fail approach, systems can be designed in such a way that when they fail — and they most likely will, over time — they cost less to clean up, and they can be repaired efficiently and effectively.
And along these lines, Karma Sawyer, program manager of emerging technologies at the Department of Energy (DOE) Building Technologies Office, introduced the concept of grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEB).
“Buildings are an underutilized resource when it comes to grid planning and operation,” she said.
Though she did not go into much detail on the DOE’s specific plans for achieving resilience, she did share that the GEB concept recognizes that building energy efficiency is an important grid resource; buildings can act as flexible, dispatchable grid resources; the value of energy changes based on time and location; and buildings have a role in aggregating other distributed energy resources, including electric vehicles, variable renewable energy, and energy storage.
“The building scale ultimately needs to be discussed in terms of the impacts on the city scale and the utilities,” Langevin said. “Create a concept that accepts the uncertainties of extreme weather events and build them into the system.”
It’s important to note that while sustainability and resilience sometimes overlap, one is not indicative of the other, said Lisa Tryson, director of corporate communications and public relations for Danfoss North America.
As Langevin said, something could be negative from a sustainability perspective but positive from a resilience perspective.
“Resilience adds another dimension,” he said. “We need to try to piggyback off the existing momentum around sustainability. The challenge as researchers here is to take what’s been done in other disciplines and kind of reappropriate it in the buildings area.”
Publication date: 7/30/2018