More than half of U.S. federal government buildings are 50 years old or older. In fact, approximately 25 percent of the General Services Administration’s (GSA) 1,600 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, with a series of federal, state and local mandates issued in the past five years, the pressure is on to make government facilities—even historic ones—more energy efficient.

To meet efficiency mandates, nearly every location will require some level of renovation or rebuilding in the coming years, often through some form of building automation system. Electrical contractors (ECs) with experience in automation; lighting; and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) controls and maintenance will be the ones to get hired.

The pressure is coming from legislation. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 require that federal buildings reduce their use of fossil fuels at a rate of 3 percent each year. An additional executive order, No. 13514, tasks federal buildings with addressing greenhouse gases by reducing energy consumption by 28 percent by 2020. Stating that the federal government must lead by example, the order sets strategy for making government buildings more sustainable.

“They’ll achieve these goals through efficiency and more renewable-energy usage,” said Ellen Kotzbauer, market segment manager, government, Schneider Electric, Palatine, Ill.

Most buildings need to follow a four-phase course of action to reach these goals. The process typically begins by assessing the existing situation, many using electric metering to measure energy consumption and to identify problem areas. All federal buildings must have a metering system in place for energy usage to be audited, which must occur ahead of changes to improve that efficiency by 2012.

Once metering has begun in key points to monitor load operation, facilities’ operators can then begin to fix the basics—making lighting and HVAC more efficient, and improving the envelope of the building (such as the insulation)—all of which Kotzbauer calls the passive approach to improving energy efficiency.
The active approach follows as the budget allows, but in some cases is best scheduled at the same time as the quick fixes. In this case, it means installing lighting control systems, building automation, HVAC automation and variable frequency drives. According to the GSA recommendations on building automation systems, the best targets for energy conservation in building systems are the HVAC and the lighting systems. HVAC control includes optimized start/stop for chillers, boilers, air handling units and all associated equipment and feed forward controls, based on predicted weather patterns.

Lighting control should include monitoring, reporting and control settings. Optimal start/stop for lighting systems should calculate the time systems can be shut down after the end of occupancy hours, and the latest time systems can start up in the morning, all with the aim of minimizing equipment runtime. The GSA further recommends that weather prediction programs be installed to store historic weather data in the processor memory; this data should be used to anticipate peaks or part load conditions. Programs can also run economizer cycles and heat recovery equipment.

Following that installation, there is a permanent need for maintenance and control to continue testing the building systems, ensuring they are working properly and updating them as new technology comes available. Failure to do so, Kotzbauer said, can lead to losing about 12 percent of the efficiency gained during the installation.

Many government buildings must also pursue LEED certification, which also drives the efficiency movement. More than half of the states are creating their own efficiency mandates for state and local government buildings as well.

With the amount of work being done in this sector, there is a shortage of contractors who can provide all the needed solutions, said Melissa Golden, Schneider Electric’s segment marketing manager. Golden recommended that contractors pay attention to local and federal government regulations, incentive programs and funding and consider how they can position themselves as a solution that can install, maintain and service an efficient automation system.
Due to the changes facing government buildings, with the commercial sector likely to follow, ECs are poised to get involved in HVAC, making themselves a one-stop shop to solve myriad efficiency problems.

In the future, when it comes to the existing federal government facilities, every single federal building will require some level of efficiency improvements, Kotzbauer said.

Options to keep in mind: federal and state governments offer an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) to help finance energy-efficiency upgrades to buildings for local, state or federal government entities, which can include replacing boilers, chillers or putting in automation. The ESPC is a financial vehicle ECs can use to help government buildings afford an upgrade to systems, Kotzbauer said.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has also injected money for state and local governments to make efficiency improvements to include automation, with money provided by the Department of Energy.

To get in to the market, contractors should learn about incentive funding available on state and local levels, and more about it from vendors who offer automation.

Another opportunity is in maintenance and control—repeat business at facilities that not only install automation systems, but are willing to make the effort to maintain them. Schneider Electric assists with these contracts, Golden said, and it leads to replacement of boilers, chillers and installing building and lighting automation as well as renewable materials.

How else can you get involved?
The Energy Services Coalition, a national nonprofit group composed of energy-related experts, also provides assistance for contractors. The group works at the state and local level to increase energy efficiency through building upgrades by enabling building owners, government or otherwise, to use future energy savings to pay for upfront costs of energy-saving projects. The group can assist contractors as well as building owners in selecting an energy service company (ESCO), such as a local utility, to work with, to identify energy saving opportunities and then to negotiate a contract with that ESCO.

The federal government is using these contracts to upgrade many of its buildings.

Contractors also can access the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org) to provide information about state, local and federal incentives that promote building automation, automated lighting and other projects aimed at reducing carbon footprints. At this database, contractors can select a state and region and determine what options are available. Ultimately, an educated contractor can help sell an renovation or upgrade to facility owners and managers as well as helping them make appropriate decisions about their efficiency plans.

Federal programs are still leading the state and local buildings to increase efficiency. However, research is underway at state and federal levels for solutions that will be in place in the coming years. For example, the California Energy Commission has launched the Demand Response Research Center led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to develop technology that will reduce or shift electricity use to improve electric grid reliability, manage electricity costs, and provide systems that enable load shifting when the electric grid is near its capacity or when electricity prices are too high.

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.