On Oct. 25, Danfoss, manufacturer of high-efficiency electronic and mechanical components and controls for air-conditioning, heating, refrigeration, and motion systems, held “Building Blueprint for a Clean Energy Future,” the 18th event in its EnVisioneering Symposia series, at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia.

Co-hosted by the Energy Efficient Buildings (EEB) Hub, established by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to improve building energy efficiency and promote regional economic growth and job creation, the symposium explored the real-world application of whole-building systems and microgrids by taking a first-hand look at efforts to redevelop The Navy Yard, a mixed-use-office, research-and-development, and industrial/manufacturing campus that is a mix of historic buildings and new LEED-certified construction.

Pennsylvania Congressman Chaka Fattah started the discussion by noting that the United States ranks ninth among developed nations in terms of energy efficiency in buildings.

“In 2010, energy was a $54 billion industry,” Fattah said. “By 2015, retrofitting and developing energy-efficient buildings will be a $150 billion industry in our country.”

Creating a Transferrable Model of Innovation

The Navy Yard is a test bed for energy research and demonstration by the EEB Hub and other DOE-funded projetcs, such as GridSTAR. The immediate goal of the EEB Hub is to deliver means and methods to reduce energy use in commercial buildings by 20 percent by 2020 and to drive the buildings sector of greater Philadelphia to reach its full energy-efficiency potential. The ultimate goal of the EEB Hub is to generate ideas that have broader applicability throughout the United States.

The EEB Hub’s Navy Yard headquarters is one of the most highly instrumented buildings in the country, with 1,500 data points evaluated and data streamed every 60 sec.

As the EEB Hub’s research generates results, questions of intellectual property inevitably arise. The Pennsylvania State University broke with practices that long have dominated the world of academic research, offering intellectual-property ownership to research participants for a modest fee.

“We also want to demonstrate ways that the building industry can make money,” Paul Hallacher, director of research and program management for Penn State, said. “Our strategy is to highlight approaches by which commercial-building owners will choose to make investments and banks will choose to support those investments because there is money to be made in the form of lower monthly energy bills.”

The goal is a three-year payback.

Jim Freihaut, chief scientist for the EEB Hub, said true integration and a systems approach require a strong economic model: businesses to buy in, supply-chain integration, government leadership, and a value proposition communicating the building’s structural and operational assets. Further, for high-performance, integrated buildings to be developed and sell, commercial real-estate agents must have a thorough understanding of the value proposition.

Microcities Lead in Total Integration

Roderick Bates, associate and senior environmental researcher for architecture firm KieranTimberlake, explained that definitions of high performance are not only region-specific, but building-specific. A single solution no longer covers everything; instead, there is a need for an integrated team and the belief that life-cycle costs will be lower if individuals spend more on intellectual effort upfront and less on hardware.

Many of the challenges faced by cities have been identified by the “microcity” of Penn State’s University Park, Pa., campus, which has focused on the total integration of campuswide energy-conservation efforts. According to Ian Salada, manager of engineering services, Office of Physical Plant, strategies that ensure efficient building operation from the beginning, combined with continuous commissioning, are paramount.

“It can take up to five years to get a building working properly,” Salada said. “Commissioning a building helps ensure that each system will operate, but it doesn’t mean each system operates properly.”

Continuous commissioning is a solution larger cities can adopt, as are diagnostic monitoring by building automation systems and ensuring that system selections match the scale, function, and occupancy of a building. As the Penn State campus demonstrates, even though a microcity, compared with a larger city, has better control of both demand and consumption, buildings require ongoing adjustment to remain optimized.

The City of Philadelphia has taken a progressive stance on building efficiency. For example, all buildings over 50,000 sq ft are required to document and disclose energy consumption, allowing tenants to see building efficiencies for themselves and rank competing buildings. Nonetheless, achieving the high levels of efficiency now sought by Philadelphia and others will stretch current resources. As Freihaut observed, “The required technologies exist, but the goals cannot be met without a new way of thinking about those technologies and how they can relate to one another.”