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Results of US beta test of Buildings Alive: In the U.S. like in Australia, empowering building operators leads to energy savings!

At Buildings Alive we focus on providing building operators the right information at the right time to help them do their jobs. Our understanding of what it takes to run big buildings efficiently is how we’ve determined what the “right” information is and when the “right” time happens, and we’ve built our program to maximize the benefit we provide to our clients. That’s how our clients average 17% energy savings in each Australian office building in our program, and 24% for each Australian shopping centre.

But now, thanks to the results of our “beta” test with the campus of the University of California at Berkeley we know that the benefit of empowering building operators with clear, consistent, actionable information yields results in the U.S. as well!

The project came about back in 2014. I was honoured to be awarded a research fellowship by the U.S. Department of State that took me to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California to study the intersection of behaviour science and energy efficiency. While I was there, I conducted a seminar on the Buildings Alive approach to building energy data and energy efficiency. Given that this audience was accustomed to presentations from far more notable figures, e.g. Nobel laureates, I was anxious while preparing! Ultimately, I could not have anticipated the reaction. A stream of incredibly accomplished, brilliant people suddenly wanted to talk about our work and our program, and I could not have been more flattered.

But the most exciting call came the next day from Campus Energy Office at Berkeley. They had dialled in to the seminar remotely (it is still available at http://vimeo.com/95312284). The campus had been unhappy with the level of building manager engagement with its data, energy dashboards and various programs and initiatives and they were excited by the potential of Buildings Alive’s approach to help overcome these difficulties. This led to a chain of events that culminated in adapting the Buildings Alive Program and our REF tools to create the “REFS” project, short for Rapid Efficiency Feedback and Support.” The idea was that Buildings Alive would provide timely, actionable feedback and the Campus Energy Office would provide engineering support to the building operators, as our Services team does for our clients.

We looked at the energy data for the campus buildings, and ultimately identified 53 that showed evidence of operator control. These buildings were highly complex research and teaching laboratories, classrooms, and student facilities. We created predictive models and launch materials with the Campus Energy Office, kicking off the service in late 2014.

Here we are in mid-2016, and we have results! UC Berkeley recently put out a fact sheet on the REFS project, noting savings of 1.7 million kilowatt-hours worth $185,000. These savings were above and beyond the other efficiency programs at Berkeley and can be attributed directly to operator effort. These results are extremely notable, as you can see from the data that 2015 was a challenging year for Berkeley, as staffing levels were reduced and many operators saw their responsibilities change. Berkeley building operators persevered and were not only able to right the ship, but to rack up significant savings. In fact, 72% of the savings occurred in the last six months, pointing to further savings in the near future!

More gratifyingly for us, a survey of the REFS program participants reported 77% found the REFS information useful, 77% reviewed them daily, and 56% had “identified efficiency opportunities and tracked the results using REFS.”

And finally, I’d draw your attention to the quote below from the fact sheet.

Through REFS, the campus has seen a heightened interest in energy conservation – it has become common for FMs, who are mostly academic departmental staff, to notify their asset and facilities teams when energy use increases are observed in the daily messages. Often, the solutions to these energy spikes require a collaborative approach, with the FMs becoming the first responder.

That’s exactly the impact the Buildings Alive program was designed to achieve. New widgets and fancy software packages are no replacement for clear communication and action, and we strive to enable those benefits for each of our clients.

We are excited about the outcome of the REFS project and we look forward to announcing some exciting new developments for Buildings Alive in North America and Europe in the coming months!