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Case study: squeezing efficiency out of high-performance buildings

The NICTA building, which won BuildingIQ Best Commercial Energy Efficiency Project at the Energy Efficiency Council’s national awards last year.

Energy management software company BuildingIQ was earlier this month awarded Best Commercial Energy Efficiency Project at the Energy Efficiency Council’s national awards for an energy optimisation project at the already high-performance National Information and Communications Technology Australia building in Sydney.

Using energy optimisation software, an 18.8 per cent reduction in energy use was achieved in a building that already had a 5.5 star NABERS Energy rating.

So how were the last drops of efficiency squeezed out of this already highly efficient building?

The project

The NICTA building is located at the Australian Technology Park, a business and technology centre at Eveleigh, which comprises five buildings in a campus-like setting, home to a range of high-tech startups.

BuildingIQ was brought in to raise the energy efficiency of four of the five buildings, as part of ATP’s target of a 30 per cent energy reduction by 2020. The Predictive Energy Optimisation software the company uses involves a self-learning energy optimisation model that make adjustments to the building management system to reduce HVAC energy costs, incorporating electricity cost, weather and utility data.

The project started with the NICTA building, a five-year-old, 11,200 square metre building already with a NABERS Energy score of 5.5 stars. The savings in such a high-performance building were expected to be marginal at best.

ATP, however, had high expectations, with three criteria for success: significant energy savings; improving the NABERS rating of the NICTA building (if possible); and supporting the drive for sustainable development by the owner, the UrbanGrowth NSW Development Corporation.

The project began with BuildingIQ performing a site assessment for all four buildings, establishing a baseline of historical data, examining individual building management systems and evaluating the ease with which their software could be integrated.

The team found that the NICTA building had a relatively new Delta BACnet system that would respond well to BuildingIQ’s platform. Working with ATP’s facilities staff, the setup for a trial run took only about a week. The extended learning phase – when the model learns the specific thermal dynamics of the building under changing conditions – lasted for just over a month. After that, the optimisation process began. Typically, savings increase as the model continues to refine the parameters and improve the accuracy of its prediction.

Collaboration with technical staff at NICTA and the four companies responsible for onsite mechanical work and BMS operation was key to success.

Results

building-savingsEarly results from the NICTA trial run showed substantial improvement in energy savings. After a few weeks, energy savings had reached 17 per cent of total power, reaching up to 18.8 per cent in recent times.

ATP staff, vendors and NICTA colleagues were all surprised, verging on sceptical.

However, it was relatively straightforward to review the historical baseline, go through the optimisation process, and display results using charts and graphs.

The kilowatt-hours used by the building could be seen to be dropping. And despite changes in building temperature during optimisation process, there were no tenant complaints.

The building is now chasing a 6 star NABERS Energy rating.

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