scientific conservation brings a new dimension to energy eff

Berkeley firm Scientific Conservation Inc. goes to market today with its SCIwatch software-as-a-service solution -- a first in Automated Continuous Commissioning that its creators say enables building owners and operators to cut as much as 25 percent of annual energy spending by tackling a condition called energy drift.

In commercial buildings, energy drift results in the average loss of 17 percent of energy efficiency every one to two years, says Scientific Conservation CEO David Wolins. The situation leads to mounting costs and usually is not detected until well after the fact.

SCIwatch addresses the problem, Wolins says, by continuously collecting raw data from a building's energy management systems and, based on the information, automatically predicting, detecting and diagnosing faults and anomalies in those systems as well as prioritizing their handling.

"This completely changes the way an operations team addresses not only management, but building systems as well: proactively," Wolins told and "This application is going to change the industry. When people say green, we now have a mechanism that can assure the customer that they are getting what they bargained for."

Standard recommissioning of a commercial building every few years provides a snapshot of performance that forms a basis for adjusting systems so that they function according to design. Problems and performance gaps are detected after they've occurred -- and sometimes not at all if apparent deviations fall within what is considered to be an acceptable margin, Wolins and his team say.

SCIwatch drills down on building faults. Source: Scientific Conservation

In contrast, Scientific Conservation's SCIwatch is constantly working to provide real time data so that adjustments can be made swiftly and enable the building systems to deliver optimum performance based on existing conditions and a multitude of variables, its makers say.

Features include a universal interface with almost all building management systems and a vast data warehouse to store operations source information, histories of anomalies that are detected and associated costs for each facility in a client's portfolio, according to the company.

Think of it as a high-tech, super smart, energy efficiency watchdog that's always on the job, can communicate on a number of levels, helps to keep its charges operating at top performance despite varying conditions, prevents them from running astray, and remembers their history of behavior -- as well as all that's been done to keep them line.

Although today is the official launch of SCIwatch, Scientific Conservation has been working with early adopters of the system since mid-2008, a spokesman said. The energy efficiency solutions firm, established in 2007, is looking to capture a strong share of an estimated $4.5 billion commercial building market.

Recent customers include Neiman Marcus, NASA and Santa Clara County in California, whose experience with the SCIwatch is the focus of a case study on the company's site.

Some of Scientific Conservation's recent clients. Scientific Conservation

The county was up against a tight deadline to qualify for a hefty rebate from the utility PG&E on improvements to a 36-year-old, 16-story office building. The 275,000-square-foot building was one of the more energy-intensive sites in the county's portfolio. Santa Clara County enlisted Scientific Conservation to hone in on problems that an earlier survey by a different organization had identified on a macro level.

The survey indicated that Variable Air Volume (VAV) boxes, which control the capacity of HVAC systems, needed recalibration or repair, and that the building's air economizers should be readjusted. But the survey did not say which of the 426 VAV boxes in the building weren't working properly, why that was happening and what programming settings to use to adjust the air economizers.

In its report, delivered just two weeks after putting SCIwatch to work at the site, the firm located and analyzed the problems (more than 120 VAVs were failing, among other things) and how to fix them. "The speed with which SCIwatch discovered system problems is nothing short of remarkable," said Lin Ortega, the utilities engineer program manager for the county, in the case study. "Not only did they locate the problem quickly, they also were able to pinpoint the source of these problems."

The county got its rebate, is on track to save $126,000 in energy costs a year, and has since subscribed to SCIwatch services.

The firm's quarterly subscription fee is based on a building's square footage. The company says the customer payback period is less than a year, often within months.

In its HVAC industry blog, "Just Venting," Goodway Technologies Corporation calls Automated Continuous Commissioning the "next frontier for building energy management."

Jorge Moreno, program manager of North American environmental and building technologies for the business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, concurred. The biggest issues and the greatest opportunities lie with existing buildings, which typically have different control systems, each with separate protocols, he said.

"For emerging technology," Moreno said in a telephone interview, "the value proposition is to provide an ongoing automated process that enables building owners and operators to leverage what they already have and get a new, world class system to integrate communication with their existing equipment and control those systems more cost effectively."

"The integration layer is what is so radically changing the industry," said Moreno, noting that with building energy management now a multibillion dollar market, the key to ongoing growth and development is open communication.

"Building owners want to be able to make changes as easily as possible and an open protocol allows that. So when someone comes along with a universal protocol, their view becomes, 'I don't want to be held captive by a proprietary system.' "

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