In an ideal world, perhaps every building would have a system like the one at the NASA Ames research center, which uses sensors and software to "learn about the facility’s dynamics, including the human component, and… continuously evolve to produce better operational outcomes based on identifying connections, consequences, and trends." The building is so efficient on its own that the building operator has been automated out of existence. There may soon be another solution for building owners who don’t have the budget to shell out for a fancy efficiency-improving software suite: Pulse.
Developed by the Investa Sustainability Institute, the action research initiative of Australia’s Investa Property Group, the Pulse tool offers building operators daily feedback on building performance so they know what works and what can be improved.
The tool is currently in use in 33 commercial office towers in Australia, all of which have been given major energy efficiency upgrades over the past eight years. In terms of size, the buildings are comparable to downtown commercial office buildings in Midtown Manhattan, according to Craig Roussac, the general manager of sustainability, safety, and environment at Investa. Pulse has been rolled out across the buildings in the past eight months.
The tool looks at historic temperature, humidity, and energy-use data over the past year to come up with an equation that explains the relationship of energy use to weather in any given building. Every day, the system sends a message to the building manager examining the energy use the day before, offering a prediction of what it should have been given the weather, and looking at whether the building performed better or worse than predicted.
Weather data comes from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and energy data is automatically inputted into the system from the buildings.
"The manager gets more timely feedback to fine-tune the building," explains Roussac. For example, a manager "can look at a spike in energy use, investigate more deeply, and find that the heating and cooling systems were conflicting at a certain time during the day. They can experiment with raising or lowering the air conditioning by a degree." Building managers can also compare their energy use with other nearby buildings.
The Pulse website allows anyone to check out the energy consumption of four buildings participating in the program. We can see above that Building 1 used 113.7 kW at 3:45 a.m. when it was 19.4 degrees Celsius. A similar day’s energy use is also listed.
The software is cheap to run—it costs only a few cents per square foot—and yields efficiency improvements between 5% and 10%. "For most buildings we don’t impose any cost, we just run it. The interest is in the learning," says Roussac.
Investa has no immediate plans to commercialize the software. In fact, the company never intended to build the software for this in the first place; it just couldn’t find anything comparable already on the market to do the job. But Roussac says that commercialization in the future is possible: "We’d be interested in exploring ways to have this become more commonplace. If we could save between 5% to 10% of energy across the total building environment just by giving people more actionable feedback, that’s absolutely massive."