EERE Success Story—Low-Cost, High Yield with Automated Building Monitoring in Alaska

July 3, 2018

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BMON data building monitoring project

Since 2013, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) has used a portion of its State Energy Program formula funds to develop a building monitoring project – BMON. BMON uses equipment sensors and a wireless, web-based platform to gather real-time building data at 10-30 minute intervals. The cost-benefit ratio of BMON is incredibly high. For example, the set-up of BMON at the AHFC’s HQ building in 2013 led to energy cost savings of $12,024 (an 18% reduction) in the first year, and continues to assist the facilities director to make choices for additional energy efficiency improvements. BMON’S high payback makes it a feasible project choice to realize savings in a time of tight budgets.

“The development of the building monitoring system is one of the most interesting, useful and cost efficient energy measures I have worked with in 25 years of working on building efficacy. A facilities manager can install it for pennies a square foot and find many dollars and hours saved by the end of year one,” said Scott Waterman, State Energy Program Manager with AHFC and one of the original developers of BMON.

Added Benefits

In addition to identifying energy savings opportunities, BMON also has the added benefits of reducing maintenance burden and informing proper equipment sizing.  One of the biggest advantages of BMON over other systems is that it can receive input from multiple data sources, including automation systems, on-site sensors, local weather stations, utility companies, and other databases.

Reducing maintenance burden. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District (MSBSD) has schools that are over 150 miles apart by road and up to 80 miles from the district headquarters. On cold days (temps under 0°F), maintenance workers have been dispatched to each school each day to ensure no boiler outages. Providing wireless access to data allows specialized maintenance staff to complete the task from a desk.

Informing proper equipment sizing. The oversizing of domestic hot water systems occurs regularly in commercial buildings. This was the case at the Chugach Manor Senior Center where the domestic hot water system in the building was designed for 70 gallons of hot water per minute. Through monitoring the system, BMON found that the building did not require more than 10 gallons of hot water per minute, and averaged a demand of 8 gallons per minute at peak demand. The design engineer had oversized the system by 467%. By taking one of the boilers off line, the Center achieved $21,000 in annual gas costs with no disruption to services.

alaska state energy program

Utility Partnerships

Agreements were recently brokered with the Matanuska Electric Association (MEA), the Chugach Electric Association (CEA), and the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative to export 15 minute electrical usage data to BMON servers. The partnerships have resulted in nearly 800,000 square feet of building electric usage data reported by electric utilities posting directly to the BMON system. Additional electric utilities are working toward the ability to provide such data in other areas of the state.

Barriers and Solutions

One barrier hindering the adoption of BMON is educating different audiences with varying levels of technical and building maintenance knowledge on the operation and benefits of the system. As a solution, AHFC has developed customized marketing materials where value is communicated in terms of specific business processes or mission statements. For non-profit organizations, savings are communicated in terms of additional services that can be provided to stakeholders; for government organizations, savings are presented in terms of budget flexibility; and for schools, savings are presented as an alternative to bonding or financing capital improvement projects.