A new energy ecosystem is emerging that connects smart, green buildings with a smart, green grid to optimize energy flows. Since commercial and industrial buildings represent around 40 percent of U.S. energy use, and homes another 30 percent, this represents the most significant opportunity for energy efficiency and mass-scale renewable generation.

But creating this new green energy ecosystem means linking what are today heavily “stovepiped” separate systems within buildings and between buildings and the grid. It also means expanding the definition of green buildings to include the digital smarts that connect diverse systems. The Green Intelligent Buildings Conference in Baltimore on April 2-3 focused on ways to cut through “stovepipes” and build those new linkages.

“We need to find ways to make the grid smarter, to make buildings smarter, and to have these smarts communicate with each other,” keynoter Jeffrey Harris of the Alliance to Save Energy told attendees. This will require new technologies and partnerships that cross traditional boundaries, said the ASE vice president for programs. “We need not just utilities but private industry to be involved.”

One key area where new partnerships are needed is within the building industry itself, between green builders and building intelligence providers.

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“The sad truth is that many green buildings today are neither highly efficient nor particularly intelligent, and this is a missed opportunity,” wrote Paul Ehrlich of the Building Intelligence Group in an article previewing the conference. “We have the potential to deliver green intelligent buildings that are sustainable as well as able to deliver high-performance, low-energy usage.”

A green intelligent building “not only has a bike rack, green roof, and waterless urinals, but also the systems, controls, and automation needed to provide improved scheduling, coordination, optimization and usability,” Ehrlich wrote.

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The conference on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor primarily drew representatives of the building automation industry, which has been installing increasingly capable Building Management Systems since the oil shocks of the 1970s spurred a new emphasis on efficiency. Ironically, as technologies improved through the ’80s and ’90s, declining energy prices reduced the drive to efficiency. Now those trends are sharply reversing, and technologies are reaching unprecedented capabilities while green building is booming.

“What we’re trying to figure out is how green building links with intelligence,” said J. Christopher Larry, director of energy engineering for the design firm Teng & Associates, in a presentation on the topic. He added, “Green building is growing so rapidly — the intelligent building industry wants to jump in.”

A green building should not be solely green but should be green and intelligent,” Larry said. “Some LEED firms do not know about intelligent building systems.”

Indeed, today’s LEED Green Building standards do not directly credit building automation, though they do credit the efficiencies automation can provide. One problem is that building intelligence does not have a singular rating system. The Continental Automated Buildings Association trade group is promoting its Building IQ metric and working with the U.S. Green Building Council to update its LEED standards. Around June, a revised LEED is expected to provide more credit for building systems. CABA is also staging its own “Convergence of Green and Intelligent Buildings” research initiative.

Ed Merwin, field director for building software developer Tridium, noted in an emerging technologies session that green building, up to this point, has been primarily about materials. Now needed is technology to optimize building systems. “We have a lot of green buildings out there. We need to begin to build them up with technology.”

“I firmly believe smart buildings are green buildings,” said Jack McGowan, head of Energy Control Inc. and president of GridWise Architecture Council. GWAC is a U.S. Department of Energy effort aimed at developing protocols to link various piece of smart grid technologies, and it was one of the conference’s sponsors.

McGowan called out goals for significant growth in net zero energy buildings enshrined in the new Energy Independence and Security Act passed by Congress last year. Such buildings are energy generators as well as users, providing as much energy to the grid as they draw from it.

“The idea that buildings could give and take energy — that’s where the opportunity presents itself,” he said. With growth in net zero energy buildings, “We’re going to see more emphasis on intelligence in buildings” to measure and manage energy and revenue flows. “My whole vision is having the smart building meet the smart grid.

McGowan made those comments in a session on demand response systems, which pay energy users to control grid power demand. At this moment, said McGowan, demand response is the best example of an effective smart grid business model. It could substantially reduce the $900 billion in grid investment needed over next 20 years by cutting need for costly peak power infrastructure, he maintained.

He briefly presented an early smart building-grid marriage taking place at the University of New Mexico, where his company and a series of partners have created a campus-wide network of smart buildings that manages loads in coordination with grid needs and stresses.

Matt Kastantin of EnerNOC, a company which aggregates demand response resources for grid operators, followed up McGowan. He provided solid evidence for the DR business case. Ten percent of infrastructure cost is spent to meet peak demand that occurs less than 1 percent of the time, he noted. So grid operators have good reason to reduce peaks. In 2007, customers of northeast U.S. transmission manager PJM Interconnect earned $107 million for reducing loads.

Kastantin noted several ways in which DR provides green benefits. Though some demand is shifted to other times, some simply is reduced. The peak power generation that is avoided generally comes from the most polluting plants. Perhaps most significantly, the systems that enable DR are a cornerstone of overall energy efficiency programs — they provide detailed energy use information that makes for smart energy decisions overall. For example, smart systems reveal when buildings are overventilated.

Peter Kelly-Detwiler, a Constellation Energy vice president who oversees the energy provider’s load control efforts, said the energy industry faces a “perfect storm” of energy issues, including a stressed grid, energy supply and price volatility, and the need to reduce climate-disrupting emissions. The industry faces huge difficulties building new power plants and transmission lines. Constellation is looking to DR to help meet those challenges, he said.

To this point, much demand response has been manual. A building manager gets a call and literally walks around turning off switches. Smart buildings will have digital systems that automate the process. In 2007, Constellation created the New Energy Alliance to push automated DR forward. It brings together equipment manufacturers, building automation firms, system integrators, and software businesses “to put the pieces together,” Kelly-Detwiler said, “… to integrate disparate controls … in a way it hasn’t happened before. Ultimately the integration of all these pieces sets the stage for us to work together.”

Another DR automation initiative was presented by Ed Koch, chief technology office of Akuacom, a building systems firm that has worked with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to create a Demand Response Automation Server. The DRAS employs web-based communications to link the grid with building facilities. LBNL has been working on automated DR since 2002, with sponsorship by California Energy Commission. The partners developed the DRAS, which was field-tested by PG&E in 2006 and now is in commercial use by all of California’s investor-owned utilities. Koch said the DRAS might be mandated for commercial construction in California by 2011.

The conference illuminated new potential for integrating systems within buildings themselves, where “stovepipes” segregate vital systems. Ron Poskevich of Lumisys cited a key example: though lighting represents one of the largest power demands, less than 6 percent of lighting controls are integrated with building energy systems. That is one reason the skyline is lit up at night after most workers have gone home.

“The big challenge is to get organizations to invest,” noted Robert Beverly, editor of Engineered Systems magazine, a conference sponsor.

Technology innovations are making investments more economically practical. They center on a combination of web-based protocols that integrate disparate control systems with wireless technologies that eliminate the need for costly re-wiring. For instance, Merwin presented a new Tridium software platform called Sedona that wirelessly configures different systems to be able to talk with one another. David Klee, a marketing lead for building intelligence heavyweight Johnson Controls, said the combination of wireless networks and convergence of building systems are two of the most profound trends in the field.

Graham Martin, founder of the EnOcean Alliance, detailed the alliance’s standard for wireless switches and sensors that is now becoming common in Europe. EnOcean gear harvests energy from sunlight, thermal changes, even the mechanical energy of a switch being flipped, so it avoids costly, messy batteries. He showed the 57-story Torre Espacia building in Madrid, Spain’s tallest and the tallest in the world to use EnOcean. Its 4,200 energy harvesting switches eliminate 20 miles of cable for 1.3 tons of copper.

Comprehensive in-building wireless has value propositions beyond energy, as Tommy Russo of Akridge showed in a presentation on innovative building technologies. Chief technology officer for the D.C. property developer and manager, he recalled how a friend had keeled over in an Akridge building with one of the first in-building wireless systems in the U.S. An emergency medical technician had arrived and was readying to take Russo’s friend to the hospital. Russo asked the EMT to use his cellular walkie-talkie to find out from the ambulance driver outside which hospital. Based on standard experience, the EMT said he could not communicate from the building garage cellular dead zone.

Russo said, Try anyway, and the astounded EMT reached his partner so Russo could find out where to go to be with his friend. Buildings having no dead zones, where everyone — including emergency services workers — is never cut off, is one important benefit of increasing building intelligence.

Smart buildings and the smart grid are two elements of the digital information revolution that are spreading tendrils toward one another. As they meet, they will provide huge benefits in terms of more efficient energy use, integration of on-site energy demand and generation with the grid, and better-functioning buildings that are safer and better places to work and live. The Green Intelligent Buildings Conference showed how these potentials are becoming an on-the-ground reality in many places. A new green energy ecosystem will be the result.