In its paper, “Intelligent Efficiency: Innovations Reshaping the Energy Efficiency Market,” Greentech Media notes that efficiency is an untapped energy resource that is already embedded in every commercial building, manufacturing facility and corporate campus. Unfortunately, that resource was either hidden, ignored or misunderstood by the companies sitting on the potential and recognized only by a small group of energy professionals. However, with dramatic advances in Web-based monitoring, real-time data analytics and utility peak pricing, that hidden resource is becoming a tangible asset that companies can measure, manage, procure and sell. Such intelligent energy efficiency (IEE) is an opportunity that will enable electrical contractors (ECs) to turn energy efficiency from a reactive process into a dynamic strategy.
Direct digital controls have long enabled devices to gather energy consumption information, according to Stephen Lacey, senior editor at Greentech Media. However, sensors were expensive, building control systems were disparate, and processing power was not sophisticated enough.
“Capabilities have been there, but it’s taken the combination of cost-effectiveness and massive advances in computing capabilities to revolutionize how energy efficiency can be tracked,” he said.
This information-driven approach to energy efficiency empowers consumers and businesses to turn energy into an asset.
While wired energy-efficiency solutions have focused primarily on lighting, the advent of wireless solutions has made IEE programs easy to deploy, cost-effective and more intelligent, according to Mandeep Khera, vice president of marketing and channels at Daintree Networks Inc., Los Altos, Calif.
“Some solutions go beyond lighting control and cover loads such as HVAC [heating, ventilating and air conditioning], plug loads, fans, etc.,” he said.
In addition, IEE is becoming the basis for the Internet of Things (IoT).
It also enables owners and their ECs to create sophisticated building models and target opportunities to open pathways to energy-efficiency projects.
“For tracking project performance, IEE can demonstrate how equipment is interacting in real-time with the building,” Lacey said.
With IEE, one can use energy prices to determine real energy costs, and continuous commissioning allows real-time reaction to energy prices and more effective tracking of its consumption.
There are barriers to more widespread acceptance of this convergence of the Internet with distributed energy and energy efficiency.
“The biggest barrier we’ve encountered is the skepticism of potential buyers,” said Paul Laskow, president of Save Energy Systems Inc., Somerville, Mass.
Most buyers say suppliers have not delivered on promises, or they don’t believe that IEE can reduce energy expenses up to 20 percent or more with a return-on-investment in the range of 12–18 months.
“In addition, utility incentives can be difficult to work with from the controls side,” Laskow said. “They often ask for so much data that it can cost more to collect it than the cost of the equipment.”
IEE and the contractor
“Without electrical contractors, an IEE project cannot be successful,” Khera said.
Any IEE project requires the installation of sensors, adapters and other devices and equipment that ECs have to deploy. It is critical that ECs understand at least the basics of the technology and the implications of any design and installation issues.
“IEE programs and platforms will integrate with the electrical contractor’s role in building construction in many areas,” Lacy said.
Those areas include intelligent light-emitting diode (LED) lighting systems; distributed on-site energy systems, including renewables that are being integrated with both buildings and the grid; electric vehicle charging stations; and building energy-management systems.
“The interface of mechanical and electrical systems with software and analytics will require contractors to better understand both power quality and energy consumption,” he said.
To help create energy efficiency and value, ECs have to be comfortable with computers and software, and they must have an understanding of how their clients are using energy relative to how the utility is billing.
“With that knowledge, electrical contractors and their partner HVAC suppliers can be a significant ally to their customers by providing consulting services and establishing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships,” Laskow said.
Lacey said a number of vendors has entered the intelligent lighting, software analytics and renewable-integration industries.
“Contractors need to understand the range of vendors and the retrofit opportunities that incorporate these new IEE technologies,” he said.
The tipping point for IEE could come within a year, according to Khera.
“A combination of LED lighting and wireless building controls and management solutions will be the norm as organizations realize they can achieve up to 70 percent in energy and major operational efficiencies while increasing occupant comfort and reducing carbon emissions,” he said.
ECs should ride this oncoming wave.