The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy defines a high-performance building (HPB) as “a building that is substantially better than standard practice.” There are no exact criteria for defining an HPB. Neither are there set criteria for determining the benchmark that defines standard practice, because commercial building performance is not an absolute. It is a function of the type and location of a building, how it is used and how it is operated. Today, HPBs often are said to save between 30 and 50 percent in operating costs over a comparable standard building, with government and industry organizations working toward the future goal of a zero-energy building in the coming decades. The increasing interest in HPBs will create a growth opportunity for the electrical contracting firm working in the integrated building systems (IBS) market.

Measuring up

HPB, green building, sustainable building and other similar terms often are used interchangeably to describe a new generation of environmentally friendly buildings that conserve energy and natural resources and promote occupant well-being. In general, there are some subtle differences between HPBs and green buildings in their objectives and focus, but the end results—in terms of reduced energy use, improved building operating efficiency and reduced operating costs for building owners—are very much the same. In fact, many government agencies and public and private building owners are using third-party green building rating systems, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes, as the criteria for HPBs, making the terms “high-performance building” and “green building” nearly synonymous in practice.

HPBs require systems integration and interoperability to achieve their goals of increased operating efficiency and improved occupant well-being. This is exactly what IBS is all about, and it presents opportunities for the electrical contractor (EC). Traditionally, buildings have been designed and constructed with the optimization of individual building systems and little thought regarding how these systems affect other building systems or the whole-building performance. We always have understood that buildings are a system, and all the systems that make up the building are interdependent and do not stand alone. But, until recently, we did not have the tools to model and design buildings that optimize their performance as a whole instead of individual systems. Furthermore, we did not have the technologies or the communications and control systems that could integrate building systems efficiently and economically. Today, we have both, and HPBs are becoming a reality.

An HPB depends on the power, communications and control systems within the EC’s traditional scope of work. These systems are critical to any building’s operation but especially important in HPBs where cutting-edge technologies are used to achieve the needed operating efficiencies. HPBs depend on reliable power distribution systems, including uninterruptible power supplies, distributed generation, wired and wireless data communications networks, and advanced control systems. For example, advances in electric vehicle systems and battery technology coupled with rising gasoline prices and concern about the impact of traditional internal combustion engines on the environment will produce a market for electrical vehicles and the need for vehicle charging stations everywhere.

HPBs require the use of advanced lighting technologies and lighting control systems in commercial buildings. For the EC, this means installing energy-efficient traditional light sources today and solid-state light-emitting diode light sources in the future.

More exciting is the increased use of daylighting to complement artificial lighting and the movement to give individuals greater control over their immediate environment, including lighting. This means lighting controls will become a bigger part of the lighting scope of work and include local multilevel switching and sweep controls, wireless individual controls, and occupancy and daylight sensors that will adjust lighting levels to ambient conditions and individual visual needs. In the future, lighting control systems also will include integrating electrochromic or smart windows that can electrically adjust the amount of light and heat passing through these windows.

Similarly, building-integrated photovoltaics (BiPVs) will become more common in HPBs as thin-film PVs become more efficient and economical. Thin-film PVs can be integrated into roofing materials, glass, metals and other materials, potentially making the entire skin of a building a green-power generator. Architecturally, thin-film PV materials will be part of the building and virtually unnoticeable.    EC

This article is the result of a research project that is investigating the future of the IBS market and being sponsored by ELECTRI International (EI). The author would like to thank EI for its support.

GLAVINICH is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or tglavinich@ku.edu.