Buildings and construction require a massive amount of energy responsible for as much as 40% of global carbon emissions. The effects on budgets, people and the planet have been felt for decades. However, COVID built wide public support of climate change mitigation and demand for stronger ESG programs. This brought greater visibility and speed to the decarbonization effort, the healthy buildings movement and smart buildings evolution.
It is no surprise that general contractors, building owners, and investors are hyper focused on bringing those figures down. According to a 2021 survey of over 1,000 companies, Johnson Controls found that over 90% of companies have a significant 2030+ goal to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption within their building portfolios and plan to pursue LEED Zero or LEED Platinum certification. There are a plethora of strategies, tactics, services, and companies that are supporting this palpable shift in how buildings are built and operated.
A lever for change: Temporary Climate Control Strategy
Energy consumption during construction is a major opportunity area for stakeholders many of whom have recognized that climate control equipment plays a material role on their energy score card. Dehumidifying, cooling, or heating a space for proper drying of materials like drywall, paint, concrete, wood, and millwork will always be required but if done well also represents a lever for change. For leaders looking to optimize projects, there are two areas to consider:
- Right-sizing the equipment strategy through an engineered approach and temporary equipment, and
- Using real-time data to change how that equipment operates.
Naturally, the type, number, and configuration of the equipment solution will impact performance, footprint, and energy consumption. Being smart and intentional about what you use and how you use it can set a project – and building – up for success. The key is getting the best result with the least negative impact to budget, people, and planet. A sound engineered solution should balance all three aspects as well as consider detailed inputs like weather, location, building loads, building usage, construction schedules, leakage, etc. will yield superior results when compared to alternatives.
It should also consider the utilization of equipment best suited for the application. For example, temporary equipment is often a superior option during the construction phase when compared with activating the in-house mechanical system. For more details on why, read our article here.
Using real-time data
The demand for transparency and efficiency throughout the building’s lifecycle is driving a digital transformation of the construction industry. Increased visibility of interior climate conditions is leading to more proactive building management and greater risk mitigation. However, the next level of smarter construction uses data in real-time to change how sites operate.
For example, climate control equipment can now be turned on and off based on user-defined thresholds for temperature and humidity, or indoor air quality indicators like particulate matter or CO2 and other toxic gases. Actively modulating equipment avoids unnecessary costs for energy and maintenance, and therefore reduces environmental impacts associated with energy usage. Go here for more information on this technology.
Scenario: Temporary Heat for Boston Construction Project
Let's walk through a possible scenario. Imagine a 6-story construction project in Boston during the winter season. Crews will be working on the building from the first floor up starting in October and through April. For this example, we will look at heat only, so it is easiest to see the impact. The ideal amount of delivered heat required will change over time. The outside average temperature will fluctuate while at the same time crews will expand work to more floors.
Energy Consumption for Temporary Heat
Assuming we are running 100% of the time, there are a total of 5,088 operating hours. Yes, technicians can go onsite to manually turn equipment on and off, but this is not a typical approach because it introduces risk and cost. Based on a propane consumption rate of 11 gal/hour, the necessary heaters will burn 182,952 gallons of propane.
The cost of energy is volatile. Your price depends on market factors, how much you are buying, when you are buying it, and how long you need it. Just like much of the US, prices in Massachusetts are expected to rise in 2023 so forecasting a price per gallon is challenging. Let’s just assume you can lock in propane at $2.75 per gallon. At this rate, your project would require over $500,000 in energy costs.
Now, we don’t need heat 100% of the time. Based on psychometrics and our calculations, we modeled a possible heating schedule and determined we only need the heaters on 90% of the time but not homogenously across the project. We don’t know what time of day we need it, and we can’t anticipate unusual weather events.
To solve this, you can use IoT technology that constantly measures climate conditions and feeds that data to a Smart Controller hooked into the heaters. If conditions are satisfactory, the heaters are automatically turned off. If unsatisfactory, heaters turn on.
Here is a look at how the energy consumption and costs might look if we modulate the equipment based on data.
Reducing heater operating time by 10% could save the project 11,108 gallons of propane and $30,546 of costs, an overall 6.1% savings. And with less energy burned there is a reduction in carbon emissions and smaller impact on the environment.
Switching Energy Type
Of course, you can switch your energy type to something less expensive and less harmful to the environment like natural gas – if it is available.
In doing so, we estimate that natural gas would save this project approximately $315,000. Modulating the equipment would reduce consumption by 10,098 therms further reducing the energy costs by $9,500. The Department of Energy is estimating a 22% cost increase in natural gas in 2023. Energy costs are going up and greater control will most certainly be in popular demand.
The ROI on modulating equipment is variable based on many factors. However, the argument that there are cost savings, and environmental benefits to modulating equipment is not. Being thoughtful about what resources we use and when will certainly have impact to the cost and imprint of our built environment. Please reach out to our team to hold a discussion on how we can help you reduce energy consumption using engineered solutions and real-time data.
For more information on how Polygon technology can help your projects, contact us to schedule a consultation.