Preparing Buildings For Mass Electrification

By Mark Danzenbaker

Global energy grids are facing unprecedented disruption due to the intensifying impacts of climate change and the transition towards an all-electric future. Commercial businesses will disproportionately bear the impacts and costs and must adapt to these quickly changing trends in order to adhere to government mandates, as well as sustainable practices demanded by citizens and consumers.

The future of energy among commercial businesses is one where buildings are optimized individually and networked together, and to the grid, to enable participation in grid-stability by making these buildings grid-interactive. Collectively, small energy reductions at each building can be aggregated and leveraged as an energy resource to support the local utility on-demand when energy demand catches up to energy supply — all without impacting business operations. For businesses it means lower energy costs, lower operational costs, and more resilient buildings ready to withstand long-term energy infrastructure changes. Commercial buildings account for 40% of global carbon emissions, and they represent the greatest, most cost-effective opportunity to reduce carbon today to ensure a more sustainable energy future.

Photo: iStock; provided by GridPoint

Many organizations have started to prioritize energy and sustainability initiatives, but how can building owners and facility managers, each with unique logistical and functional needs, best prepare for a future that may drastically differ from current operations?

Below, we’ll explore some of the ways that building owners and facility operators can not only adapt to an all-electric future, but simultaneously reduce costs, accelerate sustainability goals, and give back to the communities in which they operate.

Explore Energy Efficiency First

The low-hanging fruit for reducing energy costs and carbon emissions in buildings is to improve energy efficiency. With smart energy management systems, facility managers can begin to understand baseline data for daily energy consumption and identify areas for improvement.

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units and lighting systems are primary areas to explore for efficiency upgrades, either through purchasing new appliances or through better utilization of energy within buildings. Smart energy management systems utilizing software solutions that automatically shift controls to reduce energy use on things like temperature and lighting can drive persistent energy savings and enable buildings to make the energy transition. An integrated hardware-meets-software approach allows for the fine-tuning of energy usage without sacrificing operational capabilities or occupants’ comfort.

Before exploring ways to electrify operations, building stakeholders must first understand how and where energy is being used, and improve upon areas of inefficiency. Ultimately, this helps owners and managers better understand current energy expenditures and prepare for further decarbonization efforts.

Enroll In Automated Demand Response Programs

Buildings do not operate in a silo; instead they are part of a broader system of energy users serviced by their local utility grid. Traditionally, the grid has operated as a one-way distribution of electricity from the point of generation to the point of consumption. However, by enrolling in demand response (DR) programs, buildings can take part in a two-way communication with their local utility that can help reduce stress on the grid, and drive deeper energy savings or earn new grid services revenue streams for a business.

Demand response refers to changes in electric usage by consumers during high-use periods to maintain electricity reliability. Building owners and facility managers can leverage DR to reduce or shift their electricity usage during times of “peak demand” in order to receive reduced energy rates or other financial incentives, through no manual intervention on the site’s behalf.

When the local utility signals a need for more capacity on the grid, buildings can respond by automatically adjusting the amount of energy being used in the building. This could include reducing building temperatures, reducing energy use in occupied areas, or shifting nonessential systems to less energy intensive times of the day. By providing utilities and grid operators with the ability to call on buildings to reduce demand whenever and wherever necessary, businesses not only ensure their own lights stay on, but help ensure the stability of the local grid in their communities, as well.

Understand Integrations With Future Technology

The all-electric future will include changes to the way energy is generated and stored. As businesses continue setting their own sustainability targets, they will be more likely to harness distributed energy resources (DERs), including renewables, battery storage, and electric vehicle (EV) charging to meet their goals.

By value stacking solutions together into one platform, smart energy management systems create a foundation that can be built upon and integrated with new, cleaner technologies. For example, the increasing electrification of transportation means that businesses are installing electric vehicle charging stations on-site to meet customer demand. Electric vehicle chargers can be a difficult and expensive addition to buildings. They’re not always accounted for in the planning stages, and it can be difficult to predict how they will impact bills down the road. Intelligent energy management solutions can make EV charging easy and profitable by monitoring usage and peak demand patterns, monthly energy spend and unlocking new revenue streams through coordination with DR programs.

Finding Right Smart Energy Management System

A sustainable future is not possible without making buildings better. Building owners and energy managers need to balance maintaining day-to-day operations with finding solutions that offer immediate, measurable savings and sustainability outcomes, without impacting business continuity and on-site comfort.

Any smart energy management system should offer validation tools to help measure and evaluate the effectiveness of new energy programs. Granular data, automated controls, and customized solutions could mean the difference between dollars saved or extra dollars spent.

Understanding what your company can do to be as efficient as possible, optimize current energy use, and determine which DERs to install will help facilities managers to not only increase the value of each site, but also future-proof buildings against the sea change of mass electrification.

electrificationAs CEO of GridPoint, Danzenbaker leads GridPoint to transform the way businesses and the grid use energy for a sustainable future. Prior to becoming CEO in 2016, he held leadership positions at GridPoint across product, sales, and marketing functions since 2009. Danzenbaker was instrumental in revolutionizing GridPoint’s pricing structure into an as-a-service approach, pioneering GridPoint’s subscription-based technology, and led the expansion of GridPoint’s data-driven platform to new markets, providing benefits to businesses and grid operators.

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