Sparks

Saving energy with better building management

 By Benjamin Plackett

To make significant savings on fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions, we don’t necessarily need to overhaul our infrastructure and start again — but we do need to be better at using what we already have…

A new study published by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state shows that the inefficient management of commercial buildings is wasting a huge amount of energy. The report found that large buildings are rarely maintained as they ought to be and if the buildings have energy efficiency mechanisms like sensors then they’re often not used to their full potential.

The United States is consistently ranked among the most energy-thirsty countries in the world. If buildings in the U.S. were managed with already established best practices then the country’s energy bills could be reduced by as much as 5 percent of the total domestic demand for electricity. That’s the equivalent energy use of 15 million Americans.
“Most large commercial buildings are already equipped with building automation systems that deploy controls to manage building energy use,” said one of the report’s authors, Srinivas Katipamula, in a statement. “But those controls often aren’t properly programmed and are allowed to deteriorate over time, creating unnecessarily large power bills.
Katipamula and his fellow engineers used a computer model to simulate 34 separate efficiency techniques. They then estimated the total energy wasted by bad building management. This included fixing broken temperature sensors so that rooms are only heated when they’re cold or cooled when they’re hot, turning off of devices like printers and monitors when no one is in the room or dimming the lights during daylight hours in rooms with enough windows.
The results catalog the most important practices to employ and they also offer some recommendations to make things better — they’re mainly commonsense ideas that are already possible with current systems, if building managers would only use them.
Just limiting the heating or cooling of a building to when people are actually in it can save as much as 6 percent on energy bills, for example.
The study suggests that almost all categories of commercial buildings across all kinds of climates could stand to save an average of 29 percent, but some building types have more to do than others.
The worst offenders are high schools, which could save 49 percent of their energy use if they improved things. Retail stores could meanwhile make savings of about 41 percent.

SEE MORE: California’s cleantech revolution by Andrew Burger

about the author
Benjamin Plackett
I’m a journalist based in London. I report on all things science, tech, and health for a number of different publications. My work has been published by The Daily Dot, Inside Science and CNN among others. I earned my M.A. in Journalism at New York University and my B.Sci in Biology from Imperial College, London.