Nearing Zero

By on Aug 20, 2019 in Energy, News

The processes and technology needed to start moving to “net zero” buildings—those that produce enough renewable energy to meet their annual energy consumption requirements—are available today. How to make them widely understood, accepted and implemented was the focus of a recent webinar featuring Akshai Rao, Yardi vice president of procure to pay and energy, and other industry experts.

Akshai Rao

ENERGY STAR® estimates that the average commercial building wastes 30% of its energy consumption. Real estate is the fourth largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions; if that industry alone cut its emissions by 30%, the U.S. could hit the Paris Agreement targets, Rao told the webinar audience.

This means there are significant monetary as well as societal incentives for achieving net zero. “Because energy is a building’s second largest controllable cost, it can really eat into investor returns. Having a cohesive energy strategy is one of few things the real estate industry can do from an operations perspective that increases portfolio value,” Rao said.

Any hope of achieving a net zero building or portfolio, he said, starts with understanding a building’s load factors and prioritizing which buildings to invest in, which is based on benchmarking the portfolio against the industry with ENERGY STAR. ”There’s so much cost and consumption data to be gained just from utility bills. Rather than just approving and paying them, you can achieve portfolio-wide insights and property cost/consumption trends that help identify capital investment that can reduce consumption,” Rao said. Properties can couple this data with real-time metering to visualize the demand profile of a building, which can highlight tactical actions for reducing spend.

Once you have data on your portfolio, the next step is to identify properties to invest in for the highest energy savings return. Several solutions on the market can automatically optimize HVAC performance through sophisticated algorithms and, potentially, artificial intelligence. This type of technology enables a building to act autonomously and make decisions that optimize HVAC performance by combining inputs on load factors, environmental variables and other factors.

Another webinar panelist, Jean-Simon Venne of intelligent computing solutions provider Brainbox AI, compared building energy management to self-driving cars that use AI to identify and synthesize the characteristics of stationary and moving objects. In a similar fashion, HVAC systems collect data that AI systems use to predict temperatures in a building zone over time. HVAC system set points can then be combined with weather data such as temperature, humidity, winds, solar radiation and other factors for even more accurate projections. The next step involves connecting multi-building AI systems. This creates a regional building cluster that collaborates with the grid to create an ecosystem that balances demand and energy production in real time. “AI is the path to net zero because of low up-front costs and rapid scalability,” Venne said.

Other perspectives came from Ryan Knudson of retail property owner, operator and developer Macerich, who favored a holistic approach that unifies tenant experience, corporate and store-level goals, energy controls and supply-side energy management elements. Gary Fescine of consultant firm GFC outlined smart building strategies that can meet New York City’s aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sarah Zaleski presented advanced energy design guides that her employer, the U.S. Department of Energy, produces as “recipe books” for cost-effective energy management.

Technology is not a significant barrier to achieving net zero, according to data presented by Zaleski. Perceived costs, knowledge and skills gaps are, and the webinar participants have dedicated themselves to overcoming them. “We’re well on the path to making AI a mainstream reality in building management. It’s an awesome opportunity to reduce operating costs, attract and retain tenants and employees, satisfy government mandates and increase returns for investors. Those who take the lead in reaching net zero will see positive returns.” Rao said.

Yardi contributes thought leadership on AI’s role in property management at NAA Apartmentalize, the Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference and other events. Learn how the Yardi Pulse Suite can help buildings reduce consumption, lower costs, complete benchmarking and keep occupants comfortable.