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Integrating Facilities with the Electric Grid: Understanding Changing Technologies

Integrating Facilities with the Electric Grid: Understanding Changing Technologies

From eSociety, January 2020

The transformation to a smart grid has already begun, said Steven Bushby, Fellow ASHRAE. Changes in the electric grid infrastructure will require new design and operation considerations for buildings and how they interact with the electric grid.

The forthcoming Smart Grid Application Guide was designed to help building professionals understand what is happening as the electric grid evolves into a smart grid, said Bushby, chair of the guide’s ad hoc committee and the leader of the Mechanical Systems and Controls Group of the Energy and Environment Division of NIST’s Engineering Laboratory. The guide is expected to be published for the 2020 ASHRAE Winter Conference in Orlando.

From actionable recommendations for building owners and operators to useful information about how to test the potential economic opportunities, Bushby discussed the forthcoming guide’s attributes.

1. What is the significance of this guide and its technical information? 

The electric grid is undergoing a significant transformation that will result in a “smart grid” that relies on two-way communication and responsive loads that will improve efficiencies, increase resilience, and help manage the effects of the increased use of variable generation from renewable energy sources. Buildings are a critical part of this transformation because most electricity is consumed in buildings. 

The Smart Grid Application Guide is a resource to help building professionals understand what is happening during this transformation and the opportunities they can take advantage of now and in the future when making decisions about the operation of their buildings. 

The guide provides a broad overview but also specific, actionable recommendations for building owners and operators to consider about their own local situation. The guide also provides many references to additional detailed information on topics that building professionals determine are relevant to their building or buildings.

2. Why is it important to discuss this topic now?

The transformation to a smart grid has already begun. Utility rate structures are changing, and utility programs that offer opportunities to building owners are being created. The exact details vary from place to place, but now is a great time for building professionals to become engaged in the process and take advantage of the opportunities that are emerging.

Building owners make investments in equipment and controls that are expected to serve for many years. Investments made now will impact the choices building owners will have in the future to take advantage of the transformed smart grid.


3. What lessons, facts and/or guidance can an engineer working in the field take away from this guide?

There are many ways this guide can help. To begin, it can help the building professional understand the changing regulatory landscape and grid services that they will need to interact with today and in the future. 

The guide can help in evaluating the potential economic opportunities that can be derived from how buildings are operated, including concepts like value stacking, where an investment in equipment or controls can serve multiple purposes. 

The guide addresses both local generation sources like rooftop PV, and flexible loads that can be managed in response to grid needs. It also touches on topics like design considerations and code requirements. Each major section of the guide has a short description of why that section is important so readers can easily pick and choose topics relevant to their building and situation.

4. How can people use this guide to help further their careers and improve job performance? 

The idea of a smart grid is still new to many in the building industry. This guide can be an important tool both for people responsible for day-to-day operation of buildings and for consulting engineers trying to build expertise that will enable them to create new business opportunities or serve their existing clients better. As the grid transforms, there will be an increasing demand for this kind of expertise.

5. How can this research further the industry’s knowledge on this topic?

This guide is not the result of a specific research project. It is a distillation of the expertise of a group of experts who have been involved in research, utility regulation, building operation and building science in several forms. Part of its value is that it captures the knowledge and expertise of contributors with different backgrounds.