Smarter Than The Average Bear

I like nature shows. The behavior of animals in the wild isn’t that much different from how my dog acts. I admire biologists’ attempts to learn about their subjects. They are always putting radio collars or tags on whales, polar bears, and waterfowl to track their migration patterns.polar_bear
   Then I got to thinking. What if humans wore such tags? What would be the ramifications? The answer came the other day as I was talking with Clay Nesler, Johnson Control’s vice president for global energy and sustainability. He described how his company’s technology is being used by corporations to re-configure office space.
   Here’s the short explanation: Employee ID badges are outfitted with RFID transmitters, which can be analyzed for all sorts of data, including: daily attendance, where an employee spends his time, with whom, and for how long. Is the employee working at his desk alone? Or, is he collaborating with co-workers in a meeting room? Or, is he on the road three weeks out of four?
   By crunching the numbers, facility managers can see where the under-used space is in an office building. I was told they typically would find 10% to 20% savings. So, if a company is planning to hire (it could happen), it won’t have to move to a larger building. Or, if it is planning to move, it can use this employee-tracking data to find the right-sized building. For a company really interested in reducing its carbon footprint, the greenest things it can do are use less space or make the most of what it already has.
   I might have stretched a bit in equating office workers with polar bears. Still, the point is the same: better decisions with better information based on real-time data.
   Last month, IBM and Johnson Controls (JCI) announced a joint Smart Building Solution to improve building operations and to reduce energy and water consumption. This solution is suitable for large buildings as well as for portfolios of smaller buildings, like stores in a shopping center, or classrooms on a college campus.  IBM is integrating its Tivoli and Maximo software with JCI’s Metasys, EnNet, energy and emissions, and other building management systems. Taken together, a building owner can address building performance in systems integration, energy management, enterprise reporting, space utilization, and asset management.
   Here’s one more example. Nesler told me how the Smart Building Solution uses real-time data to anticipate problems and generate work orders automatically to correct situations. For instance, the system can tell a building engineer to change a filter now because it is the optimal time instead of waiting for the scheduled-maintenance guess-timate.
   JCI already has deployed the technology in 1.5 billion square feet of real estate that it manages worldwide, Nesler said. That’s a lot of energy to be saved and greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced. If this keeps the polar bears up in the Arctic, I’m all for that. —Jim Carper

Road trip: Milwaukee USA

Work spaces are 6 ft. away from windows to allow for daylight penetration.

Work spaces are 6 ft. away from windows to allow for daylight penetration.

If we had had a building-management system (BMS) in my house when I was a teenager, my dad wouldn’t have yelled at me because I left the lights on or took long showers. Controls could have turned off the television and shut off the water. On the other hand, when he asked me on Saturday mornings what time I came home the night before, the BMS would have shown him that my “about 11:30” was actually 2 a.m. So, be careful what you wish for, right?
   On Tuesday, Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) held an open house for customers, and I tagged along. I spent the morning with engineers in Milwaukee, soaking up the possibilities of integrating controls and uses of automation software by commercial building managers. It’s fascinating stuff.
   The engineers (dressed in matching orange JCI polo shirts and khakis) demonstrated the power of integrating access, security, and HVAC systems in an office setting. They showed how a facilities manager can receive e-mail alerts about the status of boilers, and then log on remotely with an iPhone to adjust the equipment. JCI is also big on using diagnostic reports for pro-active maintenance, like replacing parts before they break.
In the afternoon, I toured the company’s recently renovated headquarters in Glendale, WI. JCI has the lofty goal of achieving Platinum LEED status from the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, for four buildings on its corporate campus.

Groutless Indiana limestone and an LED fixture earn LEED points

Groutless Indiana limestone and an LED fixture earn LEED points


   Upon arriving at the 1966 vintage HQ, I thought I was on a James Bond movie set. One building seems to hover over a lake. (Remember the water palace in Udaipur, India, from Octopussy? No? I don’t blame you. Roger Moore played Bond in that one.)
   The campus is a smorgasbord of green techniques and sustainability practices, including the use of renewable energy. A short list:

  • Reclaimed and re-used materials from demolition.
  • Solar roofing and a solar field. All electricity generated is consumed on campus.
  • Geo-thermal heat pumps. There are 272 wells drilled 300 feet deep.
  • Daylight harvesting. Natural light penetrates well into interior spaces.
  • Heating and cooling systems tucked under a raised floor. This provides comfort from “toes to nose,” my guide told me. The alternative–running the plenums overhead and blowing heat downward–is inefficient because heat rises.

Sun shades on the building exterior mitigate solar gain.

Sun shades on the building exterior mitigate solar gain.


   Other techniques include a green roof, LED lighting, sun shields, cisterns, rain gardens, permeable pavers in the parking lot, and locally sourced building materials, including low-flow plumbing fixtures from Kohler, WI, and limestone from Indiana.
   Company employees are such strong evangelists for energy conservation that I felt guilty for not driving my hybrid to Milwaukee. On the other hand, when I got home, I immediately turned off my computer printer and monitor. Then I took a very short shower.—Jim Carper

Tweeting with Ole Miss

“If these walls could talk.” Well, now they do. More or less.
   Here’s what the Lyceum at the Univ. of Mississippi, Oxford, MS, said earlier this month: “(10.46 kWh usage, 0.15 kWh peak) Bad day all around. Usage up 7.93% and peak up 6.67%.
That comment appeared on the building’s Facebook page. Yep. Social media has come to buildings.
   Throughout the Ole Miss campus, building are broadcasting their energy consumption via updates on Facebook and Twitter. Smart-grid company SmartSynch, Jackson, MS, added IP technology to energy management equipment. Building managers are testing the idea that they can “alter behavior to reduce electricity consumption and carbon emissions,” according to a report by John Gartner, editor in chief of Matter Network, San Francisco, and an industry analyst at Pike Research, Boulder, CO.
   The project will study consumption from lighting, temperature controls, and appliances. The organizations have created an online application to monitor and report the energy draw so that building operators can learn where energy is being wasted and implement new conservation strategies.
   The only thing missing is a voice application that nags students to: “Close the door. Do you think your old man is made of money?”—Jim Carper

Partnership opens new doors for Convia system

The Dashboard is the most recent addition to the Convia system, which is expected to benefit from a new partnership with Wiremold/Legrand.

The Dashboard is the most recent addition to the Convia system, which is expected to benefit from a new partnership with Wiremold/Legrand.

Office furniture designer/manufacturer Herman Miller Inc., Zeeland, MI, took a huge step when it recently formed a strategic partnership between its Convia Inc. (Buffalo Grove, IL), company and Wiremold/Legrand, West Hartford, CT. This partnership helps Convia expand its portfolio of forward-thinking building technologies and energy-management solutions for the commercial building industry. “With key influencers both in and beyond the architecture and design industry taking great strides to improve the efficiency of commercial buildings, and increasing amounts of federal money pouring into energy projects, there is rich market opportunity for solutions that manage and reduce energy consumption,” said Randy Storch, president of Convia.
As part of the agreement, the Convia technology—which encompasses a facility’s power delivery and other infrastructure and applications, including lighting, HVAC, and occupancy and daylight-harvesting sensors, into an energy efficient, easy-to-manage platform—is integrated into Wiremold wire and cable management systems (modular wiring systems, floor boxes, poke-through devices and architectural columns) for a true end-to-end power application. In an industry first, the enhanced “Conviaenabled Wiremold” systems add control and monitoring of office plug loads (the amount of energy drawn by devices from an electrical outlet) and lighting loads.
Leveraging the advanced plug load monitoring and control capabilities made possible through the alliance, Convia introduced its Energy Dashboard application at the NeoCon show, held June 15 to 17 in Chicago. The Energy Dashboard provides real-time  energy-consumption figures for a given space, allowing users to instantly measure, monitor, and track savings. Powered through Convia’s Global Gateway, the Energy Dashboard allows users to quickly create reports that illustrate energy consumption and actual voltage use of total power, plug loads, lighting, and occupancy as it is occurring. To learn more about the Convia system, read “Renovate Buildings with Flexible Platforms,” originally published in our April issue.—Gary L. Parr