The City of Washington DC has made a commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 50% below 2006 levels by 2032 and to become carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2050. To meet its goals, Washington DC is advancing initiatives that will improve the energy efficiency of homes and buildings, expand use of renewable energy and enhance sustainable transportation options.

Based on a study conducted in 2011, residential buildings accounted for 74% of the District’s total emissions, the largest contributor to the City’s carbon emission profile. In its 2011 Climate Action Plan, Washington DC prioritized reducing building energy use, including reducing energy use by buildings owned and operated by the DC municipal government.

Investments in Data and Transparency to Advance Energy Efficiency

Washington DC’s efforts to reduce building energy use have – from the very outset – recognized the importance of acquiring and making available building energy usage data. The availability of building energy data encourages actions that 1) reduce energy usage, 2) enable interested parties to measure and track progress against goals and 3) support data-driven decision making by municipal leaders and partner organizations.

In 2013, Washington DC worked with the local utility and other teaming partners to deploy the first Green Button Connect data service, providing 15-minute electricity interval data to the municipal building portfolio for free. DGS then published this data to the public via an energy data portal and used this data for a variety of internal analytical processes including retrofit targeting and energy supply procurement. This data portal made energy performance transparent and empowered and encouraged building operators, occupants and other key stakeholders to take energy savings actions.

Starting in 2016, Washington DC’s Department of General Services (DGS) began work on an initiative that would move to the cloud data related to the operation of buildings in Washington DC’s municipal real estate portfolio. Through this initiative, the DGS facilities management team – for the first time – are using a single log-in to remotely access granular, real-time data related to the operation and performance of buildings in their portfolio.

Key Insight #1: Lack of access to granular energy data hampers efforts to operate and maintain high performing buildings. While the utility billing data used to create Energy Star benchmarks are valuable tools for identifying low-performing buildings, the Energy Star data do not enable facilities management teams to determine how the performance of a low-performing building can be improved. For this, more granular data about a building’s operation is required.

Investments in Data Acquisition: A Critical First Step

DGS evaluated several approaches that would allow it to acquire granular energy data, trend that data to the cloud and access data gathered from multiple buildings across its portfolio using a single log-in system. Like many municipalities, Washington DC operates a real estate portfolio that has HVAC control systems from numerous vendors. For this reason, municipal efforts to access energy use data can involve complex and expensive custom data integration projects and/or include long-term contracts with the organizations completing the custom integration.

Two priorities helped inform the DGS decision-making regarding the best approach to acquire granular building data and access the data through the cloud.

  1. DGS sought an approach that could bring together the data from multiple buildings and a variety of HVAC and controls systems into a standard data format and common operations management interface.

  2. DGS favored solutions that would permit DGS to own and control its data and select analytics applications and other solutions that meet the city’s objectives (both current and future) without being locked into a specific vendor.

Key Insight #2: Deployment of an open source solution is an investment of in a future proof solution that can scale with the city’s evolving goals and objectives. Deploying an open source technology provides municipal leaders with confidence that the city’s energy efficiency and building performance initiatives are not overly reliant on a single product or vendor.

Deploying the Open Source Eclipse VOLTTRON Energy Data Platform

DGS selected to deploy an open source energy data platform developed at the Pacific Northwest National Lab called VOLTTRON. VOLTTRON, now called Eclipse VOLTTRON as the technology is a project of the Eclipse Foundation, provides an integrative layer where data from controllers, switches, meters, sub-meters and various devices present in buildings can be collected and managed in a secure, single platform.

Deploying Eclipse VOLTTRON at DGS buildings follows an easily replicated three-step process.

  1. Deploy a $300 appliance (a simple computer) with the technology pre-loaded – a single appliance can support an entire building

  2. The appliances connect directly to a building’s Building Automation Systems (BAS) using BACNet or through BACNet converters available for most BAS.

  3. Using an existing fiber communications network available in the building or via cellular modems, the appliance securely trends data to a Cloud Service Provider.

Installation of the appliance by a facilities team member or HVAC systems vendor can be completed in 1-2 hours. In most cases, data is streaming to the cloud the same day as the installation of Eclipse VOLTTRON.

Key Insight #3: To enhance a city’s energy efficiency efforts most effectively, building and energy usage data should reside in the cloud. DGS’s deployment of Eclipse VOLTTRON uses the BACnet protocol to access data collected by existing Building Automation Systems (BAS) present in most buildings that are 50,000 sq ft and larger. DGS’s deployment collects data from connected BAS systems (nearly 3 billion data points to date) and makes the data accessible via a secure cloud service provider.

Impact of the Eclipse VOLTTRON Deployment in Washington DC

As of March 2019, the Eclipse VOLTTRON platform has been deployed at more than 50 buildings. With access to granular energy data from across the portfolio, DGS and its partner organizations have been able to:

  • Implement effective re-commissioning initiatives,

  • Monitor and maintain results from building retuning,

  • Utilize powerful energy data analytics software

  • Make data-driven decisions about how to most effectively and efficiently achieve its energy efficiency and carbon reduction goals.

Because of the data, Washington DC has second-to-none visibility into the performance of its buildings.

By the Numbers: Results of the Eclipse VOLTTRON Deployments

  • DGS uses the newly available data to design and implement innovative approaches to capital retrofits, commissioning and building optimization program that save the City an estimated $1.5 million per year in energy savings

  • The data collected via the deployment supports and informs DC’s municipal power purchase agreements and the city’s participation in Demand Response programs.

  • Initiatives enabled or supported by the data collected via the platform will reduce by 70,000 tons carbon dioxide by 2020.

To discuss how Eclipse VOLTTRON can help your organization meet its climate action goals, please contact us.