BY BENJAMIN FANG
In the words of Marshall Haimson, ignorance is bliss, except bliss is expensive.
Haimson, co-chair of the Queens Chamber’s Energy Committee, says that philosophy applies to the energy sector, where “knowing what you’re doing” is important, whether it’s on solar renewables or energy efficiency.
To further inform local businesses about smart buildings and their benefits, the Queens Chamber hosted a panel of energy efficiency experts on March 6. Dozens of business owners attended to learn how to not only reduce costs, but to make their buildings greener.
What is a smart building? Maria Fields, senior vice president at JouleSmart Solutions, compared the concept to a smartphone.
“It’s having an operating system and having a connection to the Internet,” she said. “It has a brain or a higher intelligence that connects the different systems in the building to a building management system, and has a connection to the Internet where data from within the building, the grid and weather can be incorporated.”
Fields explained that the real value of a smart building comes from managing the entire building as a system, including HVAC, lighting and energy supply.
“If you even just put in a building management system and didn’t change out any equipment at all, you would get substantial savings out of the building,” Fields said.
In addition to the cost savings, smart buildings come with other benefits. They are easy to manage, whether it’s through a smartphone app or a web interface. They are also more sustainable and green than traditional, older buildings.
JouleSmart provides smart building upgrades for small and mid-sized commercial businesses with no out-of-pocket costs and no risk for the customer, Fields said. The company incorporates anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 worth of equipment to make those upgrades.
“It’s repaid through the performance,” Fields said.
She noted that smart building technology is more common among large commercial office spaces, such as ones in downtown Manhattan. But the technology has not been implemented in smaller and mid-sized buildings, or even in the outer boroughs like Queens.
Fields said she believes that’s because small business owners wear many hats, and don’t have facilities managers, which many large commercial spaces have.
But JouleSmart Solutions is working to change that. The company guarantees a lower energy bill by replacing lighting and putting speed drives and retrofitting within the building’s sensors and controls.
“It is the ongoing maintenance of those that is the key source of savings,” Fields said.
Panelists from a state agency, a utility company and a consulting firm also described how their tools also enhance performance. Michael Reed from NYSERDA, the state authority working to achieve clean energy and sustainability, offers a real-time energy management program that helps building owners take advantage of incentives.
The $50 million incentive program, currently out in the market, foots 30 percent of the cost for all qualified commercial, multi-family or industrial building that opts in.
NYSERDA issues an open challenge to the marketplace, encouraging companies that sell smart buildings solutions to become a qualified vendor. The state authority’s definition of real-time energy management is “the monitoring of energy equipment at the system level, and then pushing that data to the cloud for analysis.”
According to Reed, about 120 companies have applied to be qualified providers, and roughly less than half become qualified. NYSERDA then provides the cost-share to the qualified vendor, who interact with customers.
“We feel it’s much easier to work with a set of qualified vendors who have every incentive in the world to make sure they get our money,” Reed said. “Then they pass that along.”
Stephen King, director at consulting firm Transparent Energy, provides another service for companies and business owners looking to convert. The firm boasts two sophisticated platforms that download data directly from utilities and breaks down the information into granular data, such as delivery and transportation costs.
Their second platform is a reversal auction that allows third-party suppliers to bid in real time for energy contracts. Transparent runs 12 to 25 auctions per week, which they said helps lower costs because they bid down to the lowest price.
“The information is endless for us on the technology side,” King said. “It’s all from the suppliers to us, we interpret that and give it to the end user.”
Damian Sciano, director of distribution for Con Edison, said his role is integrating different resources into the company’s planning and operations, such as non-wire solutions. One of those solutions is incentivizing customers to consider new technologies like smart buildings.
Rather than building billion-dollar substations like they’ve done in the past, Sciano said Con Ed is turning toward using customer-sided solutions.
Con Ed is also working on rolling out its new advanced meter infrastructure, a five-year process. The advantage of the advance meters is that it also gives granular data on energy usage.
Through a tool called Green Button Connect, building owners can access the data and share it with vendors or other people they’re doing business with.
“We think through that kind of data transparency and information exchange, you’ll be better able to identify opportunities for yourself,” Sciano said.
One of the most important questions posed to the panel was what the starting point is for most small businesses. Reed, from NYSERDA, said it depends on the owner’s level of internal sophistication.
“If you know what you want to do, you should just go for it. Issue an RFP, select a company and work with them,” he said. “If you need help, you can talk to NYSERDA’s technical advisors who can at least help you sift through all the information that’s out there.”
If building owners are approaching this task and are unfamiliar with the space, they should go to a trusted advisor to make it less intimidating.
“Start with somebody you trust and see where that takes you,” Reed said.
Both King and Fields advised building owners to talk to someone who is focused on improving performance.
“Having someone who is aligned with performance, not just this year but going forward, is the key to achieving the benefits of that new smart grid,” Fields said.
Haimson, co-chair of the Energy Committee, said they’re working to make sure every committee under the Queens Chamber, including manufacturing, nonprofit, health care, real estate and hospitality, have smart buildings in their radar.
“It’s soon not going to be an option not to care about energy efficiency,” he said.