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Guest Blogger, David Gottfried: A ‘Henry Ford’ Moment for Green

Cypress Envirosystems is a founding Member of the Regenerative Network, the consortium of leading green building providers that I started to push the boundaries of advancement towards a truly regenerative economy. The Network aims to elevate the triple-bottom-line profitability of our visionary Members and Network Affiliate companies through fostering deep business relationships and accelerating the adoption of sustainable products and services. As the name implies, we support “regenerative” companies, those that contribute toward a net-positive impact on the environment—meaning that Network Members demonstrate a passionate commitment to market transformation. The end goal is to reach a regenerative economy; a state of the economy that’s achieved when the positive impact of regenerative companies outweighs the negative impact of the rest. © All rights reserved. Copies of this image may be printed for personal use only. No part of this diagram may be reproduced or reused for any other purpose without prior written permission of Regenerative Network. Henry Ford once said, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” To me, this is a very accurate sentiment. It should be noted, however, that although revenue alone does not suffice in establishing a successful regenerative company, raising capital and running a profitable and growing business is indeed a necessary element. As we all know, financial incentive triggers rapid consumption and turns unpopular or unfamiliar purchasing practices into fast growing trends. The companies that will help transform the economy to a regenerative state will be those who provide offerings that make the green option the most compelling and appealing choice on the market. Green offerings must be accessible by the mass market. When this is achieved, business can have a truly revolutionary impact. I am excited to have Cypress Envirosystems as part of the Regenerative Network, as they have created a green ‘Henry Ford’ moment in the HVAC retrofit market with the introduction of the Wireless Pneumatic Thermostat (WPT). Their innovation makes it affordable for the mass market to adopt intelligent HVAC controls and optimize energy use in nonresidential buildings. I’m very impressed with Cypress’ high return on investment for their uber-efficient products, making purchase accessible to the mass-market. When economics and the environment come together, markets are transformed. The regenerative economy will be achieved with a million Henry Ford moments like this. David Gottfried is the founder of the USGBC and Regenerative Ventures More >

Wireless Communications Standard

Building managers that have been around long enough are likely very familiar with the evolution of communications standards. BACnet was touted as the ‘standard’ for many years before it actually approached that status. Various vendors each claimed to communicate over BACnet, but in reality it was still difficult to get systems to interoperate. BACnet has come a long way in standardization since those early days. However, now the building industry is contending with wireless standardization. This may seem like Groundhog Day for those that went through the hardwire standardization process. Many people in the industry believe both the residential and commercial wireless standard will be ZigBee. Unfortunately, the development and adoption of ZigBee has gone through fits and starts, making it challenging for both vendors and customers to put a stake in the ground. Fortunately for the commercial building space, the prevalence of an existing communications standard (BACnet) provides a very solid foundation on which the wireless standards can mature. Generally, the drivers for pushing towards a standard protocol include:
  • Ensuring new systems can be easily and quickly integrated with existing systems
  • Reducing the need to strand legacy systems
  • Minimizing the required communications infrastructure
  • Driving down costs with economies of scale
Since most legacy systems today communicate over BACnet, wireless systems can address the first two drivers by offering a BACnet interface from their hubs. This leaves only the last two drivers unaddressed. In regards to infrastructure, wireless has a light footprint by its very nature. Furthermore, a well designed wireless system would minimize the number of repeaters and hubs, making it less of a burden to have multiple wireless systems in the same site. The BMS would be able to synchronize the various systems centrally, achieving the desired performance demanded by the building manager. In regards to the economies of scale, vendors in the building industry can take advantage of the scale wireless has already achieved in other industries. Generally, standards development is a classic chicken-and-egg problem. If vendors were to wait until a true standard developed before releasing products, then no standard would develop. With BACnet in place, vendors can confidently develop their solution without the risk of being stranded later. Building managers can likewise move forward without the risks that arose in the early days of BACnet. As a result, the adoption and maturation of wireless standards in the commercial building space should go much more smoothly and quickly than previous generations of communication technology. More >

Pneumatics don't have to be a pain in the neck

Pneumatics leak, air gets dirty and oily, and compressors need to be run and maintained. These are the challenges facing those that maintain pneumatic systems in their buildings. It would be much easier if everything were digital and the pneumatics could go away. The problem is ripping out and replacing the pneumatics is too costly and invasive for most people to consider. So the question becomes: How can pneumatics be improved? Leaks are a nuisance because they are hard to find. Once their locations are identified, repairs are straightforward. Traditionally, pneumatic systems in buildings were not installed with pressure transducers that could be used to identify the location of leaks. However, the Wireless Pneumatic Thermostat has a built-in pressure transducer that measures branch pressure and reports back to the BAS. Operators running buildings equipped with the WPT are able to identify leaks quickly and fix them as they occur. To be sure, dirt and oil are enemies of a well operating system. Dirt and oil can interfere with a WPT just like any pneumatic thermostat. Again, the difference is information. With traditional thermostats, the operator will only know if his lines are dirty or oily by proactively checking them manually. With the WPT, the operator will be informed by the BAS if a thermostat is not working properly and he can address the issue before other areas are affected. Fixing leaks and keeping oil and dirt out of a system are very important to the maintenance of a compressor. We have come across several clients that run pressures as high as 30 or 35 psi to compensate for unknown issues in their system. In another situation, one client was running his compressor for 55 minutes out of an hour. With the WPT, these clients were able to improve their systems so they could reduce pressure to 18 psi and run time to 20 minutes per hour. When there is no information, fixing pneumatics can be daunting. How do you even know where to look for problems without information? With the WPT, operators gain knowledge of their systems that they never had before. As a result, the overall system improves dramatically and the running of the pneumatics is no longer a pain in the neck. As evidence of this improvement, we often see maintenance costs reduced by more than 50% when buildings are retrofitted with the Wireless Pneumatic Thermostat. More >

Accessing Data in Old Buildings is Essential for Ongoing Commissioning

With the advent of continuous or ongoing commissioning–a very data-hungry activity–we have found that most buildings do not provide adequate data to participate in these programs.  In fact, around 70% of existing buildings have no zone-level data available.  Accessing this data can be difficult and expensive.  As a result, many buildings are under performing and their managers do not have the information to know where to begin to make improvements.  Solutions, like the WPT, that can cost-effectively access data in older buildings are essential to ensuring buildings are performing at top levels.
Harry Sim
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Wireless is a given

Many people I meet get excited because our technologies are wireless.  I often hear statements like “it’s great that these are wireless” or “wireless saves on the installation cost.”  Although both statements are true, being wireless is not sufficient to be a truly game-changing technology.  Today, wireless technology is pervasive and should be considered a given.  If a company brands itself as a ‘wireless company,’ they are likely as innovative as dogfood.com boasting that it’s an internet company.  It takes a little more to be a Google or an eBay. The key is developing something new that changes the way things are done.  For instance, the Wireless Gauge Reader (WGR) uses our optical analog-digital interface to make it possible to simply snap the WGR into place to obtain data from the gauge.  A traditional wireless transducer would still require pipe to be cut and shutting down of processes.  Similarly, the Wireless Pneumatic Thermostat (WPT) enables the benefits of DDC by interfacing with the existing pneumatic infrastructure.  Traditional wireless DDC would still require walls to be ripped open and tenants to be moved.  In both cases, being wireless alone would not have achieved the drastic cost reductions or non-invasive installations that we deliver.  It takes a little more to be a truly game-changing technology.
David K. Roberts
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Retrofit Solutions Must Be Painless

At least 60 billion square feet, or 70%, of commercial facilities in the United States do not have communicating, programmable thermostats for HVAC zone control.  Without digital controls to optimize energy use at the zone level, these buildings waste significant energy and incur unnecessary maintenance expense on an ongoing basis.  The total cost of lost energy and labor can range between $0.25-$0.70/ft2 per year, or $15 billion-$42 billion per year for the entire country.  Direct digital control (DDC) retrofit solutions for thermostats have been on the market for over 15 years and can avoid these losses if deployed. So why do building owners and managers continue to let so much money be wasted? The reason these buildings have not been retrofitted is because traditional DDC retrofit solutions have too many barriers to make adoption feasible for most facilities.  They are costly, invasive and disruptive.  A DDC project can cost up to $3,000 per thermostat, require the cutting open of walls, projects can last months, and tenants have to be moved around.  For a retrofit technology to achieve widespread adoption, the choice must be a “no brainer” for the decision maker.  Every excuse not to move forward with a project must be understood and overcome. Core to our company’s strategy is to only develop retrofit solutions that are non-invasive, install in minutes and pay back in 18 months.  For HVAC zone control, we developed the Wireless Pneumatic Thermostat (WPT), which can be installed in 20 minutes without disturbing tenants, and costs 80% less than traditional DDC solutions.  By developing a solution with these attributes, we have made it possible for the majority of buildings to have intelligence at the zone level for the first time. We have found that many of our customers have wanted to retrofit their controls since well before the WPT came onto the market.  However, each potential retrofit ran into roadblocks that made the projects untenable.  Surprisingly, the high cost of retrofitting to DDC wasn’t always a main factor.  For instance, commercial property owners found the invasiveness and disruption meant they could only do retrofits between tenant leases.  However, this meant the current tenants had to endure poor HVAC performance, high costs and comfort issues.  Universities found that the faster installation time enabled by the WPT meant they could retrofit more buildings during their limited project times, accelerating their retrofit plans by several years in many cases.  Hospitals have told us that increased performance for their HVAC systems has long been a need, but they could not afford to close patient rooms for traditional retrofits. The factors that feed into the decision to proceed with a project are complex and each customer weighs these factors differently.  In existing buildings, the unique nature of each project amplifies these complexities to make otherwise straightforward projects challenging. Since a generally attractive project can be rejected due to a single element not meeting requirements, it is a necessity for new retrofit technologies to make adoption easy in order to be successful.  For green building advocates, it is essential to understand that energy savings alone are not always enough.  The experiences that we have had in introducing the WPT to our clients illustrate that in addition to energy savings, requirements such as high performance, minimal disruption, non-invasiveness, fast payback period and many others must be satisfied to be broadly accepted by the market.
Harry Sim
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Investing in assets when future is uncertain

Building managers in both the public and private sectors face the challenge of not knowing which assets will remain in their portfolio in the future.  With this uncertainty, it becomes challenging to make the investments needed to save energy.  HVAC controls are often considered one of the low hanging fruits in energy efficiency measures—however, traditional DDC retrofits have payback periods of 7-10 years.  Without knowing the long-term fate of a facility, this 'low hanging fruit' may be a leap of faith too far.  Ironically, by not increasing the efficiency of that facility, chances that it will be on the cutting block may actually increase. With a payback period of around 18 months, most of our clients find it to be a no brainer to invest in our Wireless Pneumatic Thermostat (WPT) to save energy and money.  However, in the current economic environment, there are some that find even 18 months to be beyond their horizon.  Fortunately, in some regions in the country, there are utility programs that can help reduce the payback period to well under 12 months, which actually helps the current budget cycle.  For instance, in California the utilities will pay up to $300 per kW of auto-demand response capacity and $0.09 per kWh.  By participating in these programs, the upfront cost of the WPT can be reduced almost in half.  These incentive payments turn a ‘no brainer’ investment into a compelling opportunity even for the most risk averse organization.
David K. Roberts
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Avoiding unplanned shutdowns

I was at a large factory in the Midwest recently.  It was a state of the art factory, set up by engineers for engineers.  They have 6 cells, or large wings, in this particular building where they do testing of big engines.  I was amazed when I was told that there are, on average, 2 cells down per week mostly due to the fact that they run out of gas without knowing it.  This one building alone has over 1,000 gas cylinders spread out throughout all 6 cells and uses up about 150 cylinders a week.  They have two people who walk around throughout the day shift just to monitor all the cylinders and are planning on hiring a third person for the second shift. Because they’re engineers, they’ve looked at automating all this stuff before.  What they found is that the transducer itself was inexpensive, but the installation cost and the project management cost were prohibitive.   They would have to shut down operation, run wires, get drawings approved, do leak checks …  It would be just too invasive and too much work. I talked to the engineers at this factory about our Wireless Gauge Reader, which is an electronic eyeball that is clamped on to an existing gauge.  It takes an optical reading of the gauge and sends the reading wirelessly to a gateway that is connected to the customer’s network.  It takes minutes to install without the need to shut down equipment or run wires.  The customer can access data from his work station or his home, set alarms and get updates every hour or every minute for trending and troubleshooting.  Payback is 18 months or less.  The exact quote from one of the engineers was: ”… this is so simple, it has to work…”
Bien Irace
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Running and maintaining a facility with information

It is amazing how complex it is to efficiently run and maintain a facility. Even more fascinating is how many engineers have to face this challenge with very limited information and control capability.

Since the launch of the Wireless Pneumatic Thermostat (WPT), we have learned from our clients just how valuable having visibility and control are. In fact, we’ve had many clients tell us that just seeing what is happening in their HVAC system is more valuable—in both energy and cost savings—than remote temperature control and programming. With diagnostic data showing the performance of the pneumatics and temperature in each thermostat zone, it becomes possible to identify exactly where dampers are stuck or which pneumatic pipes are leaking. This visibility enables targeted low-cost/no-cost maintenance, also called ‘ongoing commissioning.’ When all zones are working properly, you no longer have zones that fight each other with one heating while another is cooling.

Ongoing commissioning saves money by optimizing the use of energy and maintenance. By utilizing the data provided by the WPT, ongoing commissioning efforts can save up to 15% of energy use in addition to the energy saved by programming temperature set points and self calibration. Moreover, by only fixing zones when needed, we had one client achieve these energy savings while reducing their maintenance costs by 60%.

Due to the significant impact that can be achieved by utilizing the diagnostic data from our control system, the US Green Building Council has asked us to create a training program for LEED AP holders. This course is now available and qualifies for 1.5 continuing education credits.

David K. Roberts
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Hospitals' need for gas supply monitoring

I can’t help thinking about those TV medical drama series when they show the head surgeon and all his entourage, in full garb with face mask, working on a patient, and--depending on your taste in sitcoms--you either hear loud blaring music in the background (Nip Tuck) or the doctors trading jokes and jabbing at one another (Grey’s Anatomy). In real life, when those doctors and all his helpers operate, they talk, they walk around the room, they stop, they analyze x-rays, charts, computer screen…  All this activity inevitably leads to twists and pulls on the pipes connecting gas from the ceiling to the tools they use during the operation. These medical gases are usually contained in cylinders and located in the basement or a few floors away from the surgery rooms and are pumped through a pipe system in the ceiling to support the surgery tools.  The twisting and pulls from the medical team sometimes results in leaks and they run out of gas much faster than expected. One hospital I met with recently has over 1,000 gas cylinders all over campus.  They have a full-time person walking around checking on them 5 days a week during the day shift.  This person makes it his priority to check on all the medical gases that support the surgery rooms.  But they still run out of gas when they have unexpected problems like I mentioned above. I talked to them about our non-invasive Wireless Gauge Reader (WGR) that can be clamped on to the pressure gauge on the manifold of the gas cylinder in the storage room.  It’s wireless and non-invasive so there is no need to shut down any machine or rip out wall to add wiring, which would cause unacceptable delays impacting the surgery schedule. The WGR avoids any delay since it can be mounted in about 20 minutes.  It takes an optical reading of the gauge on the gas cylinder and sends it to a gateway.  The gateway is connected to the hospital’s network and sends alarms to hospital employees via email or SMS.  From their cell phones the employees can send a query to the gateway to ask for the last few hours worth of data to determine if they have a fast leak and must act right away, or a slow leak so they can at least finish dinner before heading back to the hospital.
Bien Irace
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