Michael Haviland, construction and maintenance superintendent for the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), calls retrofitting the agency’s 50-year-old headquarters building in downtown Sacramento the “ultimate recycling project.”

The $130-million renovation is adding “smart” features like a buildingwide energy management system, interior modifications that allow more natural light to flow throughout each floor, new double-glazed windows with an air space between internal and external glass that improves the building’s thermal performance, updated heating and cooling equipment, LED lighting, and a half-megawatt solar array on the rooftop.

The total cost of all renovations — including seismic and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant retrofits — will be much cheaper than building a new structure, Haviland said. And the new smart building technology will boost the DMV’s energy efficiency by 30 to 50 percent.

Renovation began in the late 1990s and is scheduled to wrap up this summer. “The reason we’re doing it over such a long period of time is that it’s a huge building, so to do a temporary lease of space for three years to do a project was, at the time, really prohibitive and expensive,” Haviland said. “But this is the last phase; it’s going to be much more efficient, reducing our ongoing cost.”

Although the headquarters building had been repainted, recarpeted and maintained over the years, its central heating and cooling infrastructure dated to the late 1950s and early 1960s, Haviland said. “This was our opportunity to bring this up to date in energy, accessibility and architecture.”

The California DMV headquarters is among a growing number of older buildings gaining smart technologies. For instance, New York’s Empire State Building underwent a two-year smart retrofit in 2009. The retrofits, detailed on pages 32 and 33, cost $13.2 million, but they’ll save $4.4 million annually, paying for themselves in three years.

Although statistics vary widely depending on their source, the cumulative impact of smart building upgrades is dramatic. In 2009, buildings and the equipment inside them accounted for more than 70 percent of U.S. energy consumption, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. But another study done two years later by the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project found that homes and buildings combined consumed just 42 percent of the nation’s energy. NEED also noted  that over the last 35 years, Americans have significantly reduced the amount of energy needed to heat, cool and light buildings, as well as operate appliances, office machines and technological devices.

Much of this reduction is related to the construction of smart buildings — and adding smart technologies to older, less efficient buildings. Global spending on these activities, according to IDC Energy Insights, is forecast to increase to more than $10 billion by 2015 at a compound annual growth rate of 27 percent.

But what is a “smart” building and what technologies work together to create it?

For starters, it’s a structure in which the building itself is integrated with technology and energy systems so owners or occupants can pinpoint inefficiencies and immediately remedy them. Siemens, a major smart building company, contends that only solutions that create “the greatest synergies between energy efficiency, comfort and safety and security will be sustainable over the long term.” Smart buildings, the company says, include “solutions that turn buildings into living organisms: networked, intelligent, sensitive and adaptable.”

Among the most implemented energy-efficiency measures are switching to more efficient lighting, like LED; installing “occupancy sensors,” which ensure that lights are only on when needed; and upgrading HVAC systems and HVAC controls, so that heating and cooling a building or floor of a building are only done when necessary, according to the 2011 Energy Efficiency Indicator Global  Survey. But other technologies also are part of the smart building solution, such as retrofitting windows, creating radiative barriers that redirect heat away from walls, and installing solar panels.

One of the biggest retrofits is to HVAC systems — upgrading steam/boiler rooms and chiller plants that are used to heat and cool buildings. Indeed, chiller plants — which cool water that’s piped through coils in air handlers to provide air conditioning — are the largest single point of power consumption for most customers, according to smart building manufacturer Johnson Controls.

At California’s DMV headquarters, three new chillers replaced three 1960s-era units and one from the 1990s. The new chillers have variable frequency drives and digital logic controls to ensure optimum performance over a wide range of load characteristics, which helps reduce the amount of electricity needed to accomplish the same amount of cooling.

In addition, new steam boilers replaced equipment from the 1960s. They are much more efficient, half the size of the old boilers, and use less than half the fuel to heat the buildings on the campus, Haviland said.

This increased efficiency also is due partly to the buildings’ vastly improved thermal performance. “The actual boiler technology hasn’t changed much,” he said. “What has changed is the control system. The direct digital control and array of sensors, along with variable gas valve and air flow, enable the boiler to modulate the rate of fire and control the efficiency of combustion to ensure the optimum use of fuel and ensure that boiler exhaust meets clean air requirements.”

As for the future, Siemens sees smart buildings autonomously adjusting their power consumption to make better use of renewable energy. They’ll even tap into occupants’ electric cars for additional energy storage, the company predicts.

“[We expect] the IT systems to migrate together and exchange information, and create transparency,” said Andreas Schierenbeck, president of Siemens’ Building Technologies Division. “And you can take the systems and adapt the behavior of the building to the needs of the user and the environment.”

Johnson Controls sees the future in various tools that will let the end-user gather, benchmark and analyze usage data, and use it in “smart equipment,” said Director of Business Development Rick Martin. “We’ve seen this in the past a number of times — the TV set used to be just something you plug into an antenna, and hopefully you receive that signal. But today, that TV set has become much more energy efficient [and can] do a lot more things — it runs through the Internet; you can get on and download any movie that you want right to your TV.”

The TV set is now a smart device, collecting data for cable and satellite dish companies for billing and several other purposes. The equivalent to that in the building environment is smart equipment that lets you gather all of that data and increasingly analyze and benchmark it. “Now we can be proactive in the actual analyst benchmarking,” Martin said, “and in making sure our building is much more efficient in running the peak performance, just like it was the day that the keys were turned over.”

Jessica Mulholland Jessica Mulholland  |  Former Web Editor/Photographer

Jessica Mulholland served as the Web editor of Government Technology magazine from October 2012 through September 2017. She worked for the Government Technology editorial team for nearly 10 years.