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Enabling Buildings to ‘LEEP’ Forward

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) consists of a suite of rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods.

Developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is intended to provide building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.  Since 1998, the U.S. Green Building Council has been involved in 7,000 projects in the United States and 30 countries covering over 1.5 billion square feet.

Silver, Gold, and Platinum LEED plaques have been awarded to many of these but should be reviewed annually and removed if a building fails to live up to its promised performance. LEED creates an image of energy efficiency, but that does not always translate to actual energy savings. LEED designed buildings create a strong potential to perform well but certification of energy performance, just like automobiles, should be based on actual performance and not based solely on design and construction.  We need to better balance the criteria with resource consumption and occupant satisfaction as well as the pre-delivery characteristics.

I would propose a  ‘LEEP’ rating ( Leadership in Energy and Environmental Performance ) Post delivery performance over the life of the building should be  mandatory to maintain any level of  LEED rating.  The scatter on the chart below shows that LEED certifies more on design , than  performance. Very few architects, mechanical engineers, in fact actually study measured performance over the life of the building.

The chart  indicates a lack of follow-thru from  the owners and design teams. And it does not seem to matter if it is silver, gold, or platinum.  Post occupancy should be measured by architecture and engineering with some level of governing oversight.  And buildings should be required to implement minimal sub-metering to support this real-time measurement.

The late William Edwards Deming, in regards to quality programs, once observed; ““Nobody gives a hoot about (long-term) profit. We talk about it, but we do very little about it.” This seems to apply to buildings too, which are typically the second largest expense for companies after payroll. We have the technology to enable real-time performance optimization but it appears that many large corporations consider the energy bill as a rounding error. Why do large companies invest in LEED, then? Well, there is proven brand value in having a LEED plaque bolted on the building and some studies suggest a correlation with higher occupancy. Construction versus operation costs are also  accounted for differently. Let’s take a look at an example of a modest sized LEED Silver building in the US that was recently shared with me. Due to lack of real time performance optimization, it took two years to figure out why the delivered building was underperforming. The difference in energy cost between year one and year three when they had it performing properly was well over $100,000 dollars. So what was the problem? It was not the materials. It was not the building management system. It was not the use of renewables or natural ambient lighting.

The problem is the lack of  a dashboard or measurement system that allows real time visibility for most owners and occupants of buildings. In  most office buildings one cannot even control the thermostat. In our home, we suffer similar lack of visibility into how energy is being used. The problem is the owner, the occupants, the management have no mechanism to visualize based on overall goals and ask for adjustments based on visible  key performance indices. I remember meeting with a construction company in their NYC office to discuss new green building projects. The sun was coming into the conference room where we were seated and it was hot. First the jackets came off, then we called for water. Finally we called maintenance and the guy arrived about 10 minutes later with a flashlight, a screwdriver, and a hammer, and stuck his head in the door and asked, “what’s the problem?”

Let’s use cars as an analogy here. What if we delivered cars the same way we deliver buildings? Let’s pick a car that is somewhat analogous to a LEED Certified building: a Toyota Prius. Why do most people buy a Prius? Because it is designed for fuel efficiency and driving one makes a statement you care about the planet. In fact, it has an EPA-estimated combined 50 MPG rating sticker. And so it is important to achieve that since you largely based your decision to buy on that criteria. How do you get 50MPG? It would be quite impossible with this car without a dashboard. Why? Because it’s the combination of 1) the engineering and system maintenance  and 2) how you apply that engineering on a day to day basis to achieve your goals. The tech support engineers can determine that all of the automobile systems are  performing correctly but what they can’t do is control where and how you operate the car. The manual provides advice on acceleration, jack-rabbit starts, frequent braking from following too close, etc. It suggests gliding, and using less aggressive braking strategies. Most importantly it gives you a dashboard where you can watch the instantaneous mileage numbers. Learn what produces the best results by watching the effects of your experimentations. Use the energy display to watch the direction of the arrows. Drivers getting the best mileage are able to use split-hair changes in how they press on the accelerator and brakes to move energy from the gasoline engine to the wheels and/or the batteries—or to get all arrows to disappear completely from the screen, in what is referred to as “glide mode.”

So the key is this is to constantly monitor your usage, your driving habits, using good dashboards, and look for opportunities to continuously improve. The key to smarter buildings is a  building is that ‘talks’ to the occupants in a similar manner. A recent study showed that  Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can significantly improve energy efficiency and reduce GHG emissions, driving potentially $1 Trillion in energy savings in our world’s physical infrastructure between now and the year 2020. Applying ICT to buildings could drive 341B in savings by 2020. (Source: The Climate Group, “Smart 2020:  Enabling the Low Carbon Economy in the Information Age.” 2008.) This is what we are using IBM Smarter Planet technology to do.  We call it Smarter Buildings or Smarter Physical Infrastructure.

Why ICT now? Well, something profound is happening with the infusion of intelligence into the way the world works. Because of the recent  proliferation of smart sensors and control systems we have an exponential growth of the amount of data streaming from physical infrastructure like buildings. And thanks to Moore’s law we have the ability to network and process that data in near real time at a price point that makes sense. We’re not replacing building management systems – we’re enabling advances and improvements in existing systems by collecting and analyzing data that already exists.

What does it mean to be smarter? Measuring, monitoring, modeling and managing. Data collection and integration, comparison of historical data with newly collected data, data modeling and analytics to create insights from data to feed decision support and actions.

ICT integrates disparate building systems so they can be controlled by a centralized common user interface using a shared network for all building-system communications. High-performance buildings provide significant benefits to building owners, property/facility management professionals, and end-users,  maximizing building performance and efficiency by integrating building systems such as lighting, HVAC, safety, power management, security (access control, video surveillance, and visitor management), etc. They use technology and strategies that add long-term, sustainable value to the property.

Dave Bartlett is vice president of industry solutions at IBM.

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2 thoughts on “Enabling Buildings to ‘LEEP’ Forward

  1. Very well written article. I like how Dave emphasizes the focus on Performance rather than just Design. The concept of ICT sounds very promising.

  2. David: Thanks for the article. Several years ago we made the intentional choice to not become “LEED”ers, instead just being leaders in sustainable design. We’ve been able to help our clients achieve real results. One project, a 13,760 sq. ft. manufacturing facility has an annual heating cost of $1026.42. Consider it’s in Minnesota and that’s a remarkably small number.

    But your point regarding systems that work cannot be understated. If the management systems don’t provide feedback or are unintuitive to use, people won’t use them and they’re just a front end expense.

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