Lessons learned about zero-net-energy buildings

To ensure building controls can be an effective strategy for realizing zero-net-energy goals, it is important to develop strategies early. However, it is also important to realize while automation ensures repeatability and desired responses to a situation, verification and review are critical. There are many instances in the report noting the human element—be it operations or occupant—and additional savings or the maintenance of expected savings are subject to the variability of actions other than automation.

Be it energy dashboards, reminders, or other means of user/occupant engagement, the human element must not be overlooked for continued success of a ZNE building. However, sensors get cheaper and more effective (Moore’s law at work) and connectivity options are more numerous and varied than copper wire installed point to point. Therefore, it is possible the two scenarios will converge in the future.

The recent Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) study notes the vital role of commissioning and the involvement of the operations team in this process. Commissioning is an important concept in the systems arena and is required by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating program, and numerous codes and standards (along with building owners).

A commissioning program is an organized and structured process and plan that includes a thorough inspection, testing, and verification of systems in accordance with the specification relating to their procurement, the design 
intent, and the manufacturers’ performance specifications. At its most basic level, it seeks 
to answer the question, “Does the system 
work as promised?”

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Guideline 0-2005, The Commissioning Process, can offer recommendations and detailed information on the intention of a commissioning program. Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES) DG-29-2011, The Commissioning Process Applied to Lighting and Control Systems, provides a supplement to Guideline 0-2005 specifically for lighting-related devices/systems.

It is vital a plan be developed to outline:

  • participants;
  • methodology for testing;
  • information to be recorded;
  • how to record the test results;
  • specification to be the basis of the commissioning;
  • scheduling of system operations; and
  • time to accomplish the tasks.

After the testing is done, the commissioning process should also include operational personnel so information transfer from builder/contractor to facility/maintenance can occur.

The CABA study has significant observations attesting to the benefits to building occupants and energy-saving benefits of properly functioning systems, and commissioning is part of this.

It is critical there is user satisfaction of not 
only the systems, but also in meeting the overall sustainability goals of the building and organization. Besides a technical proficiency of operation, the users must therefore embrace the concept—methods to circumvent systems or change established parameters such as light levels or thermostat settings will defeat the purpose of the design.


maiman-head-shotWilliam L. Maiman is marketing manager at MechoSystems, and has worked to inform the architectural, lighting, and interior design communities of the benefits of using daylight, preserving views of the outside, and saving energy consumed by electrical lighting. He is a member of the National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA) Daylight Management Committee Council, has taught lighting design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and conducts educational sessions across North America. He can be reached via e-mail at william.maiman@mechosystems.com.

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