Commercial Engineers Put Greater Focus on Energy Efficiency. They Have To

Facing inflated prices most everywhere they turn, commercial buildings are placing greater focus on energy efficiency, looking at utility bills to offset rising expenses.

This has now become an imperative, says Shane Betts, Head of Corporate Business at Integral, JLL’s building services and engineering firm, in a recent post by the broker.

“Running the system at lower intensity and for fewer hours, is one easy way to stop wasting energy and cut costs,” he said.

Doubling down on efforts to reduce consumption and improve efficiency makes sense, according to the JLL report, “but it’s a tricky time to try and reduce costs while simultaneously keeping employees – who just recently got back to the office on a regular basis – happy and productive. Offices are busier now than at any stage since the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Hannah Dwyer, EMEA head of work dynamics research and strategy said the onset of hybrid schedules adds to the challenges building engineers are facing.

They must make office spaces “more fit-for-purpose, at a time when budgets are under pressure,” Dwyer said.

Added Betts, “Not everything needs to be running at maximum capacity to maintain standards.”

Other areas being targeted include lighting and keeping up with servicing. Betts says companies are accelerating efforts, removing surplus lamps, using LED bulbs, cleaning equipment regularly, and making sure sensors are working properly as straightforward steps that can make a big difference.

“Appliances kept on constant standby like ‘zip’ water boilers and vending machines should have timer controls installed so they operate only during occupied hours,” Betts says.

Anastasia Istratova, vice president, The Climate Technology Investment Team at Fifth Wall, tells that technologies can be “easily implemented in standard maintenance repair cycles and with advantageous payback periods are becoming something of a no-brainer for real estate operators.”

Lighting and Shade Systems Contribute

Shearman & Sterling is the first global law firm to participate in WELL Building Standard (WELL) at an enterprise scale, committing its 22 global offices to pursue the WELL rating. The firm’s New York City headquarters is also on track for LEED Gold certification, a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership.

The Midtown Manhattan space now includes lighting and shade systems powered by recycled ethernet cables, occupancy sensors, double-insulated glass, and other eco-conscious features, according to a company spokesperson.

Keystone Development + Investment president and COO, Rich Gottlieb, tells that smart glass technology simultaneously reduces energy costs and tackles the climate crisis.

“Dynamic glass has a range of auto-sensing tint levels that anticipates the sun’s movement and adjusts in response to temperature levels, glare, and daylight all throughout the workday,” Gottlieb said. “This helps tenants be more productive throughout the workday, while working to enhance their health and well-being.”

Finding Peak Energy from Day 1

Sara Neff, head of sustainability at Lendlease, tells that deep upfront iteration around energy efficiency in the design process with a target EUI depending on asset type is helping to ensure its buildings are operating at peak energy efficiency from Day 1.

Lendlease is implementing sophisticated controls systems to help building engineers manage building energy use and tenant communications helps its tenants learn how to reduce energy consumption.

Lendlease also includes onsite renewables such as solar and geothermal and has done capital upgrades such as lighting retrofits.

The company uses regular energy auditing/retro-commissioning to ensure ongoing performance and its third-party certifications such as ENERGY STAR to provide accountability around its energy consumption.

Retro-Commissioning Optimizes HVAC

Mike Eardley, Director of Energy and Sustainability at EBI Consulting, tells that while energy audits and green building rating systems help his clients benchmark current energy use and identify opportunities for improvement, mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems represent a significant portion of operational costs of most buildings.

“Retro-commissioning is a valuable tool to optimize the performance of the HVAC system to ensure mechanical and control components are working properly; the breakdown of one small device can have tremendous energy and comfort implications,” Eardley said.

“Payback is often very favorable, maximizing the ROI of the building and benefiting the bottom line with increased energy efficiency and reduced maintenance concerns. Retro-commissioning also analyzes whether the system is sized and designed according to current needs.

“For instance, revised office layouts due to fluctuations of occupants or employees, may benefit from rezoning of the HVAC system. This will enhance energy efficiency while not sacrificing comfort.”

Consider All-Electric Equivalents

Tony Liou, co-founder and President of Partner Energy, tells that post pandemic, “we are now transitioning toward more back in office. So, there is likely more office usage than two years ago. But the office usage isn’t the same as before.

“This is a good time to reassess the usage of properties, by looking at energy efficiency opportunities and property resilience. The goal is to make sure occupants are satisfied, and to stop waste and cut costs by looking at usage patterns to ensure the property is running on the days when they’re occupied.”

Liou said that when it comes to energy efficiency, allocate resources to the largest assets first.

“Perform retro-commissioning to ensure all systems are operating efficiently and take into account the end of useful life of the current equipment,” he said.

“This is also the time to consider carbon emissions of the property. Understand what investments to make, and if you must replace a major system, consider an all-electric equivalent.”

He said in addition to energy audits, this is a good time to identify potential climate hazards and property resilience measures.

“Take this opportunity to also create disaster preparedness and recovery plans,” Liou said. “The key is being more resilient, but in the case of an emergency, have a plan in place so you know how to get back to normal operations faster.”

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