The initial steps toward truly sustainable buildings have already been widely accepted. Creative designs, energy retrofits, and renewable energy all reduce a building’s impact on the environment. However, there is much to be done even after a building has undergone an energy retrofit. For example, a LEED-certified building or an efficient boiler will not reach its potential if the operator does not optimize the system’s operation.

Smart technology and remote monitoring systems represent the next step for greening the built environment. Used reactively or proactively, these smart systems leverage and expand on technology already embedded within many sustainable facilities. They can verify and augment the already implemented efficiency work, provide new information that can influence how systems are utilized, and detect problems so they can be quickly resolved.

Building automation control systems installed in existing buildings have the ability to collect information that triggers an alarm if the actual system deviates from expected performance indicators. The value of this type of active energy management is easily demonstrated in a critical environment such as a data center, where problems with a cooling system can mean that information is lost forever. These types of alarm systems also allow for more real-time remediation of operational problems that creep into a system after commissioning, saving massive amounts of energy and money in the long run.

Active energy management and smart building services are designed to provide the best energy and utility information as well as track holistic building performance for total integration and management of an organization's diverse energy usage needs. These services are provided as a means to educate, encourage, track, measure, and implement ongoing energy reduction strategies; understand building performance; and to identify opportunities to implement energy conservation measures to drive additional savings. These management services accurately predict, monitor, and strive to reduce monthly facility operational costs. The technology monitors interval and building automation system data and continuously compares this data to pre-defined facility specific thresholds. It also allows multiple levels of comparison and reporting to ensure continuous improvement of goals and benchmarks.

The smart system and operator model doesn’t end with the systems themselves. A remote operations staff can augment a facility’s on-site team. These off-site technicians monitor buildings from afar and can “save and assist” problems before they become critical and expensive to repair. Not only can these technicians detect issues early, but the technology eliminates the need for service trips to figure out what is going wrong, reducing truck rolls and saving gas, time, and money.

Through the utilization of active data, threshold alarming can be established. Controls and technology in a system (like a boiler or chiller) are programmed according to baseline energy goals. If a system begins to use more energy than expected or deviate from the goals, a threshold alarm will trigger and automatically notify McKinstry’s 24x7 Remote Operations Center, which is staffed by industry-trained specialists who are experienced in building automation and controls systems as well as mechanical, electrical, and HVAC systems. The building’s facilities staff also can be notified, if desired. The threshold alarms can be used both reactively—to fix systems when they are using more energy than intended—or proactively, as alarm notifications can be scheduled or programmed to track energy data and identify potential issues before they arise. This allows McKinstry service professionals and facility staff to correct systems before they result in an unpleasant surprise on a utility bill. The resulting data is also useful over time, as it allows McKinstry to provide recommendations for improvement so that a building’s systems operate as efficiently as possible.

One example in practice: As Washington State’s eighth largest school district, the Northshore School District administers to 23,000 students. In the past, if a faculty member had a simple temperature complaint, they contacted an office manager, who contacted a facility manager, who contacted a maintenance coordinator, who dispatched an HVAC technician. This resulted in high levels of inefficiency for the maintenance team, discontent among staff, slow response times, and over 17,000 miles of service van trips per year.

McKinstry’s remote monitoring now provides Northshore facilities with technology that sends an alert when a system is not operating as intended, allowing experts to correct the problem remotely through a Web interface. In the first year, McKinstry responded to 3,200 issues, and 67 percent of these responses were resolved completely from afar, without having to contact any district facility personnel or send out any service vans. For the 2009–2010 school year, these services saved the district an average of $4,385 per school, with an overall operations savings of $374,000 district-wide.

The ability to leverage technology also creates a more dynamic measurement and verification effort. This is a significant trend in the performance contracting industry as the technology influences performance assurance models, making them as predictive and close to real-time as possible. These tools result in a significant improvement in the overall operation of the facility, which results in the “persistence” of the sustainable operations of the building.

Tom Konicke is the business unit leader, energy and facility services for McKinstry Oregon. He can be reached at 503-331-2476 or