Owners and operators of existing commercial buildings are typically capital constrained, risk averse, and have little experience with energy management. They want cost-effective proven solutions when considering an energy upgrade. In many cases, simple upgrades such as lighting replacements have been completed. Other systems such as HVAC systems and the building envelope (windows, walls, doors) have a long product life or require invasive and disruptive action. The ability of service providers or utilities to offer packaged solutions with a reasonable payback period, reliable long-term savings estimates, and an implementation plan would help building owners decide to implement new energy efficient solutions.
Improved operations in existing buildings through advanced monitoring, controls, and automated diagnostics has the potential to significantly reduce energy use and operational costs with limited investment in hardware. However, this generally requires significant labor costs to engineer and implement site-specific approaches, and the overall economics have not been favorable for many commercial buildings. In order to penetrate this underserved market, automated software solutions are needed that require minimum configuration and can adapt over time to changing equipment performance. Proven packages of technologies and no-touch sensors and controls can be simple and inexpensive solutions for this market, even though developing them can be complicated.
Given the scope and scale of small/medium buildings and the diversity of existing technologies and operational challenges, CBEI started by developing a market characterization and technology roadmap to prioritize opportunities. As a result of these efforts, CBEI determined that the greatest opportunities existed for packages of HVAC technologies, envelope (windows, walls, doors) retrofits, and building operations solutions utilizing sensors and controls.
For the HVAC packages and envelope retrofits, CBEI identified solutions by specific building type and climate zone. To do this, numerous configurations were considered and evaluated using computational modeling as well as input from industry experts. Once solutions were developed, tools and best practice guides were developed to accelerate adoption.
For building operations, CBEI identified the need to increase automation, while minimizing the need for new equipment. Adding automation also generally requires site-specific training of the solution, and CBEI has worked to develop computational approaches that reduce the time and training needed for tailoring the solution to the building. CBEI has focused on developing virtual sensors to reduce the need for physical sensors, controls-oriented models that can be automatically trained using low cost measurements, and embedded approaches for automated fault detection and diagnostics (AFDD). To accomplish this, CBEI also needed to develop virtual testbeds, laboratory test setups, and field demonstration sites to assess solution performance.