Nav: Home

Cut US commercial building energy use 29 percent with widespread controls

June 23, 2017

RICHLAND, Wash. - Like driving a car despite a glowing check-engine light, large buildings often chug along without maintenance being performed on the building controls designed to keep them running smoothly.

And sometimes those controls aren't used to their full potential, similar to a car at high speed in first gear. Instead of an expensive visit to the mechanic, the result for a commercial building is a high power bill.

A new report finds that if commercial buildings fully used controls nationwide, the U.S. could slash its energy consumption by the equivalent of what is currently used by 12 to 15 million Americans.

The report examines how 34 different energy efficiency measures, most of which rely on various building controls, could affect energy use in commercial buildings such as stores, offices and schools. Researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found the measures could cut annual commercial building energy use by an average of 29 percent. This would result in between 4 to 5 quadrillion British Thermal Units in national energy savings, which is about 4 to 5 percent of the energy consumed nationwide.

"Most large commercial buildings are already equipped with building automation systems that deploy controls to manage building energy use," said report co-author and PNNL engineer Srinivas Katipamula. "But those controls often aren't properly programmed and are allowed to deteriorate over time, creating unnecessarily large power bills.

"Our research found significant nationwide energy savings are possible if all U.S. commercial building owners periodically looked for and corrected operational problems such as air-conditioning systems running too long."

An easy, low-cost fix

The report offers the first detailed, national benefit analysis of multiple energy efficiency measures to address building operational problems. Many of these problems can be corrected with very little effort. Unlike other practices that require expensive new technologies, most of the measures evaluated improve energy efficiency by enabling already-installed equipment to work better.

Roughly 20 percent of America's total energy use goes toward powering commercial buildings. And about 15 percent of U.S. commercial buildings have building automation systems that deploy controls, such as sensors that turn on lights or heating a room only when it's occupied. As a result, helping commercial buildings better use their controls could profoundly slash America's overall energy consumption.

Katipamula and his colleagues examined the potential impact of 34 individual energy efficiency measures that can improve commercial building performance, including:
  • Fixing broken sensors that read temperatures and other measurements
  • Turning off power-using devices like printers and monitors when a room isn't occupied
  • Dimming lights in areas with natural lighting

Because combining individual measures can increase energy savings, the researchers also estimated the impacts of packaging energy efficiency measures together. PNNL designed packages of combined measures based on the needs of three different building conditions: buildings already efficient and with little room for improvement, inefficient buildings with a lot of room for improvement, and typical buildings in the middle.

PNNL used computer models of nine prototypical commercial buildings, and extrapolated them to represent five other, similar buildings so it could evaluate energy use in a total of 14 building types. The research team used these prototypical building models with DOE's EnergyPlus building software, which calculated potential energy use given local weather and whichever energy efficiency measures were applied.

Results oriented

Of the individual efficiency measures studied, those with the greatest energy-saving potential nationwide were:
  • Lowering daytime temperature setpoints for heating, increasing them for cooling, and lowering nighttime heating setpoints: about 8 percent reduction
  • Reducing the minimum rate for air to flow through a variable-air volume boxes: about 7 percent reduction
  • Limiting heating and cooling to when building is most likely to be occupied: about 6 percent reduction

Though the study found all commercial buildings across all climates could have an average total energy savings of 29 percent, some building types were found to have the potential to save more, such as:
  • Secondary schools: about 49 percent
  • Standalone retail stores & auto dealerships: about 41 percent

As expected, researchers found inefficient buildings have the greatest potential to save energy. After estimating how common each building condition is in the U.S., researchers found combined efficiency measure packages have the following potential national energy saving ranges:
  • Inefficient buildings: 30 to 59 percent
  • Typical buildings: 26 to 56 percent
  • Efficient buildings: 4 to 19 percent

-end-
The Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funded this research.

REFERENCE: N. Fernandez, S. Katipamula, W. Wang, Y. Xie, M. Zhao, C. Corgin, "Impacts of Commercial Building Controls on Energy Savings and Peak Load Reduction," PNNL report to DOE, May 2017, http://buildingretuning.pnnl.gov/publications/PNNL-25985.pdf.

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,400 staff and has an annual budget of nearly $1 billion. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Related Energy Articles:

Quantum vacuum: Less than zero energy
According to quantum physics, energy can be 'borrowed' -- at least for some time.
New discipline proposed: Macro-energy systems -- the science of the energy transition
In a perspective published in Joule on Aug. 14, a group of researchers led by Stanford University propose a new academic discipline, 'macro-energy systems,' as the science of the energy transition.
How much energy storage costs must fall to reach renewable energy's full potential
The cost of energy storage will be critical in determining how much renewable energy can contribute to the decarbonization of electricity.
Energy from seawater
A new battery made from affordable and durable materials generates energy from places where salt and fresh waters mingle.
Shifts to renewable energy can drive up energy poverty, PSU study finds
Efforts to shift away from fossil fuels and replace oil and coal with renewable energy sources can help reduce carbon emissions but do so at the expense of increased inequality, according to a new Portland State University study
Putting that free energy around you to good use with minuscule energy harvesters
Scientists at Tokyo Tech developed a micro-electromechanical energy harvester that allows for more flexibility in design, which is crucial for future IoT applications.
A new way to transfer energy between cells
Researchers have described a new method for the transmission of electrons between proteins that refutes the evidence from experiments until now.
Renewable energy cooperatives, an opportunity for energy transition
Three researchers from the UPV/EHU's Faculty of Engineering -- Bilbao and the University of Valladolid have explored how renewable energy cooperatives have evolved.
MIT Energy Initiative study reports on the future of nuclear energy
In new MIT report, study authors analyze the reasons for the current global stall of nuclear energy capacity and discuss measures that could be taken to arrest and reverse that trend.
Wave energy converters are not geared towards the increase in energy over the last century
Wave energy converters are designed to generate the maximum energy possible in their location and take a typical year in the location as a reference.
More Energy News and Energy Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.