2017 WAE Q2 Recap: Smart Buildings & Grid Modernization

-Grant van Wyngaarden

Could there be a more perfect venue than the U.S. Green Building Council’s headquarters for hosting our Washington Advanced Energy (WAE) Q2 2017 Stakeholder Meeting on Smart Buildings & Grid Modernization?  We could not think of one.  Dave Witek (Senior Vice President, Finance, Operations & Administration) and the USGBC Team graciously hosted us in their LEED Platinum (2009) space that showcased what smart buildings can do.


On the morning of June 15, 2017, WAE stakeholders met for breakfast to productively discuss the opportunities and challenges related to smart buildings and grid modernization.  To introduce the day’s topic, presentations started the morning by our Discussion Leaders representing the Architect of the Capitol, DC Department of Energy and Environment, PEPCO, PJM Interconnection, WGL Energy, and Interface Engineering.  Stakeholders were given the opportunity to tour the USGBC headquarters after the stakeholder breakfast.

Dave Witek, introduced the day’s topic of smart buildings with LEEDs more recent focus of sustainability beyond buildings in the traditional sense with expansions in parking, mobility, landscaping, zero waste, and energy reliability and resiliency.  We were also introduced to the topic of measuring and benchmarking building performance, through a digital platform known as Arc that moves LEED beyond design and construction measurements, an important topic that remerged throughout the day.

Charles Iliff, Director of Energy Sustainability & Design Services of the Architect of the Capitol, kicked off the discussion by sharing some details on how the Architect of the Capitol has been able to achieve a 34% GHG reduction from a 2003 baseline in its existing building stock.  This accomplishment is especially impressive because of the challenges faced with older buildings, such as the 224 year old U.S. Capitol Building. Mr. Iliff highlighted that the initial percentage reductions are relatively easy, but when you go beyond 30% each point can be exceptionally difficult, especially without hindering existing 24/7 building operations.  In the Q&A discussions, Mr. Iliff emphasized the ability to make progress by building projects with positive financial returns and using their reliable track record to give Congress the confidence needed for project approvals.


Representing Washington D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment, Edward Yim outlined the leadership role that energy intensive cities, like Washington, need to take in order to maintain global temperatures within the two degree threshold.  Original targets for many entities were established many years ago and recent research suggests they are not sufficient, for example the C40 report that indicates cities need to reach 80% reductions by 2030-32.

Sewer cooled buildings was one of the most interesting topics on the day, Roger Frechette of Interface Engineering discussed this topic via the example of the American Geophysical Union building in Washington.  To achieve net zero energy, Interface Engineering needed to push the boundaries of traditional sustainability projects and they searched the nearby ecosystem for energy sources to absorb.  They found a nearby underground sewer and storm line that flowed at 55 degrees, which is sufficient to run the heat exchange process for the buildings radiant cooling systems.  With this solution coupled with 21 additional energy conservation measures, the building achieved an 85% reduction in energy consumption prior to any renewable onsite generation.

Interface Engineering

To achieve broader sustainability goals, cities, buildings, and electric grids need to work together and grid modernization was the next critical piece of our discussion.  Stephen Shparber of PJM Interconnection led this discussion which offered insight to the perspective of the largest RTO, representing 13 States and 160 GW of load obligation.  Mr. Shparber highlighted the role that smart buildings can play in grid reliability and generate revenue for the buildings beyond adjusting cooling load for capacity and demand payments with broader smart technologies and load control.

Representing PEPCO, Don Hall and Rob Stewart, enlightened stakeholders with details of the capacity planning process.  A key point of this discussion is the challenges grid operators face in the volatility of load on the grid.  For example, overall system load has been decreasing despite significant load increases in particular areas, such as Mount Vernon.  Mr. Stewart specifically addressed the capacity planning considerations for increasing Distributed Energy Resources, which can only contribute to infrastructure deferrals if they occur when and where the load peaks.  The challenge with many DERs (everything that can reduce load is considered DER, including: energy efficiency, distributed generators (PV, storage) demand response, and dynamic pricing) is that they cannot be relied on for that moment when the feeder peaks.  This complicates the demand planning process and necessitates building infrastructure even when system load is decreasing.

Chris Murray from WGL continued the grid modernization discussion with the themes of resiliency and security.  Mr. Murray’s experience in the Navy was particularly interesting from the concept of sustainability through the re-use of used submarine batteries.  This creative technique has great potential to bolster the grid in a cost effective manner that improves sustainability by extending the useful life of battery materials, thus delaying the intensive recycling process.  On the topic of security, Mr. Murray discussed the sensitivity of grid data, such as FERC 715 data from utilities, which also has great potential for improving how the grid serves demand and responds to uncontrollable weather incidents.  But, securing grid systems is of the utmost importance as highlighted by the recent hacking of a utility in Ukraine.

To close out the Discussion Leader portion of the breakfast, Scott Pomeroy of Scalable Strategies made a timely introduction to our Q3 breakfast topic of IoT, Technology & Innovation.  Scott shared with us exciting details from the LoRa Alliance, a non-profit open association, that is working on standardizing Low Power Wide Area Networks.  With over 500 members, the alliance has great potential to accelerate IoT development, despite its much greater penetration in Europe and Asia than in the U.S.  Scott also shared with us the 2030 Districts Network, which is a business-voluntary effort to achieve by 2030, 50% reductions in building energy use, water consumption, and transportation GHG emissions.  With over 325 million square feet of commercial building space committed across nearly 20 participating cities, including Los Angeles and Toronto, there are excellent opportunities to unite the real estate communities of the cities that haven't yet joined the network, including Washington D.C., New York, and Chicago.

For the productive conversation portion of the breakfast, Scott Baker from PJM Interconnection presented the findings from the Top 100 Hour working group initiative that was discussed at the Q1 2017 breakfast. The market simulation team at PJM identified the top 100 hours which all occurred over 22 days in the summer, specifically July, August, and two days in September.  The results of this analysis suggested a 10% reduction of demand in the PEPCO zone during these peak hours would equate to a 600 MW reduction and $4.7 million in savings in the PEPCO zone ($47 million to the entire PJM region).  Further commentary was added to this analysis that the savings potential could be greater in hotter years or those with winter peaks since 2016, the model year, was relatively mild.

HG Chissell

H.G. Chissell leveraged this critical analysis by facilitating the broader stakeholder discussion that included table introductions, constructive conversations, and a broader Q&A discussion.  A lively portion of the discussion commenced when Peter Kelly-Detwiler, who will be launching Boston Advanced Energy September 14, 2017, shared the analogy of a whack-a-mole game and efforts to balance energy efficiency programs and generation investments, which is not an easy problem to fix.  However, with the upcoming September 21, 2017 WAE Q3’s topic of IoT, Technology & Innovation, there is potential for the introduction of creative solutions to the complex challenges we face.


Discussion Leaders for this event included:

  • Charles Iliff, Acting Director Energy and Sustainability, Architect of the Capitol

  • Edward P. Yim, Associate Director, DC Dept. of Energy & Environment

  • Don Hall, Manager, Capacity Planning

  • Steven Shparber, Counsel, PJM Interconnection

  • Chris Murray, Manager, WGL Energy

  • Scott Pomeroy, President & CEO Scalable Strategies

  • Roger Frechette, Managing Principal, Interface Engineering

  • Scott Baker, Sr. Business Solutions Analyst, PJM Interconnection

Introducing the Newest AEG Author, Grant van Wyngaarden

Grant is a management consultant with Advanced Energy Agency, he specializes in assisting corporations achieve their goals related to energy solutions.  Prior to joining Advanced Energy, Grant helped clients solve supply chain challenges as a consultant with Accenture in Canada and Australia, and with the Portland Group, a sourcing & procurement consulting firm in Australia. Grant is an MBA graduate from Columbia Business School in New York City and his undergraduate studies focused on business and IT at Ryerson University in Toronto.