The Role of Grid Interactive Buildings By Jason Reott
Buildings consume nearly 40% of the energy in the United States, and more than 75% of the electricity. Roughly 30% of the nation’s carbon emissions result from buildings, making them a key contributor to climate change.
But times are also changing. Technological innovations including the data revolution and precipitous drop in the cost of innovative technologies has cleared a path for demand-side resources – the imagination-capturing advancements like energy efficiency, renewables, LED lighting, and more on the customer’s side of the meter – to provide a pivot, allowing buildings to play a key role in creating a better grid.
By connecting buildings to the grid, and systems within buildings to each other, buildings can see not only increased performance and occupant comfort, but also reduced energy demanded to power these necessities. By incorporating highly efficient equipment with renewables with energy storage and advanced metering, grid operators and building energy managers can collaborate in the near future to bridge the meter by gaining understanding from sensors and meters, system controls, and user behaviors to understand how to increase the resilience and reliability of the grid.
Challenges are numerous, and it will require substantial education to overcome some of these barriers. The grid is more than a century old and it operated in essentially the same manner for 100 of those years. Slow change is not an option, however. Public utilities and state regulators, a fragmented buildings sector including thousands, if not millions of stakeholders, will have to see the benefits of grid-interactive buildings. That will require rate structures that incentivize participation and reward the value of orchestrated building operations.
Grid-interactive buildings must be designed, piloted, and then fully optimized. Savings estimates based on engineering specs will have to be verified through performance. Cybersecurity of interconnected devices will be paramount. And then there’s a human element. In part, that’s where data comes in. Occupant needs must be met, including performance and comfort, but occupant security must come first. That’s the discussion around grid-interactive buildings. We used to call it Building-to-grid or B2G. Today, the Department of Energy calls them Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings, to keep the focus on efficiency. Buildings should be optimized before being connected to the grid, says DOE. The Alliance to Save Energy couldn’t agree more.