It’s easier than expected to set up and maintain energy-efficient buildings that don’t burden the power grid at peak hours, says a new report written for building managers in the United States.
Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings (GEBs) are a “jargony” way of describing a package of familiar measures that together provide energy, cost, and emissions savings, say authors of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) report, which encourages managers to adopt low-and no-cost GEB measures to boost efficiency. “The beauty of GEBs is that many strategies can be implemented with existing, off-the-shelf technologies that have very compelling financial returns and valuable side benefits, from health and productivity to security and resilience,” said RMI Chair Emeritus Amory Lovins.
GEBs integrate three different energy management approaches: energy efficiency (through known measures like efficient windows and window shading); distributed energy resources (such as onsite solar panels and battery storage); and demand flexibility.
Though demand flexibility is a relatively new concept for many building managers, it is the key to successfully capitalizing on GEB strategies, the authors say. It involves managing when energy is consumed, so that GEBs can help reduce periods of peak demand on the electricity grid. In this way, GEBs cut down the need for “peaker” plants that fill in energy production gaps but produce high emissions.
“Demand flexibility approaches can be low-tech, such as using a building’s thermal mass to heat or cool spaces at off-peak hours, or high-tech, such as drawing on battery storage to power building operations during peak hours,” says RMI. Managers must first assess the building’s utility rate structure, automation capacity, and daily energy use profile before making any changes, to determine the feasibility and impact of GEB measures.
Demand flexibility may one day become more important than efficiency as the grid becomes increasingly greener and powered by variable energy sources, says RMI. When this happens, “’GEB-ready’ buildings will be poised to reap the most benefits as utilities adapt to this new reality.”
The RMI report identifies several other “simple, low-cost steps toward GEB readiness that produce immediate cost, energy, and carbon savings.” Building managers can program heating and cooling systems to turn on in sequence rather than all at once, and modify temperature settings to limit energy use during peak periods.