New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide




Problem Solved: Tech Tools Boost the Performance of Building Systems

New York City

Real-time energy management, building managements systems, energy efficiency, co-op and condo boards.

A Bright Power engineer checks a real-time boiler sensor (left), a graph showing the link between riser pressures and apartment temperatures (top right), and the data arrives 24/7, year round (bottom right).

April 11, 2023

As part of our ongoing Problem Solved series, Habitat spoke with Darren Johnson, an account manager at Bright Power.

Performance, performance, performance. Co-op and condo boards now have an opportunity to take advantage of wireless sensors that can transmit data on the performance of many different building systems. For example, you can monitor space temperature, water temperature or the operation of motors, pumps and fans. The old way for knowing when there was a problem was when equipment failed or there was a service disruption. With today's technology and the ability to collect real-time data, you can track the performance of your equipment and identify performance issues as they are happening since the sensors are collecting data 24 hours a day, every day.

Two options. A Building Management System, or BMS, is a large capital investment. It allows the staff to manipulate the settings on equipment if there is a service disruption or they need to make an adjustment. They can do it from their computer or cell phone. The BMS is limited to the specific pieces of equipment you’re trying to manipulate, so you're going to have them on the more complex, larger pieces of equipment.

Real-time energy management, or RTEM, taps into those BMS sensors but also adds sensors. Large buildings have mechanical ventilation, a cooling tower, a chiller, maybe multiple boilers. You're going to have much larger pumps and motors and just different types of equipment. A BMS is not going to be tied into all of that equipment and all of those systems. Real-time energy management leverages that BMS system and then expands upon it. 

You’re collecting information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round, and a Bright Power energy engineer is able to analyze that big data. This allows you to create a performance benchmark for the building, and it allows you to be predictive rather than reactive, so you eliminate service disruptions, or minimize them.

The goal is also to optimize performance. Let's say, for example, you have three boilers and all three boilers are running. With real-time energy management, you might say, "OK, I don't need all three boilers running. I may need only one, maybe two." So it allows you to eliminate excessive energy consumption.

Size matters. The service is going to be geared to the size of the building and the complexity of the equipment. Small buildings tend to have a boiler that provides space heating and domestic hot water. So their real-time energy management system is specifically geared toward monitoring the heating plant. They might have indoor temperature sensors in a sampling of the apartments that are feeding back to the boiler. They're monitoring the performance of the boiler, the domestic hot water. But it’s still very useful because if you want to reduce your carbon emissions in these smaller buildings to comply with Local Law 97, 75% of the energy usage is associated with that one system.

The cost varies. You might spend $500 to $700 a month for a small building with no staff. It could range up to $2,000 a month, depending on the complexity and the size of the building and the equipment that you're monitoring.

Real-time energy management is not something that a board does on its own. The board has an energy engineer as a partner who’s going to help you think about how to reposition the building because the conversation today is about electrification, and the question for a lot of boards is not “How do I electrify tomorrow?” It’s “How do we electrify in the future?” Having a partner, an expert who’s interpreting the data is especially important with large capital investments. In order to make the best decisions on systems that have a 20- to 30-year life expectancy, you want to make sure you have all the possible information. That way, you’ll be confident that you made the right decision.

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