Smart grid improves energy usage, helps meet building codes

By offering Smart Grid solutions to your clients, you can help them become more energy efficient.


The Smart Grid refers to the modernization of the electricity supply system. It monitors, protects, and automatically optimizes the operation of its interconnected elements in order to guarantee the supply of electricity. The Smart Grid features two-way communication—between the facility and the utility company—so that both parties can see how much electricity is used, and when and how much it costs. As part of Smart Grid implementation, commercial and residential consumers of electricity reduce their consumption (shed load) at critical periods, and can often receive financial incentives for doing so. 

Figure 1: The relative visual performance is a percentage expected performance while reading 10-point font under 100 fc. Ten-point font is the lower limit for most printed office material. High contrast is similar to black print on white paper. Low contraAccording to a 2003 Dept. of Energy (DOE) survey, lighting and HVAC together account for two-thirds of the electrical power usage in a typical office building. As a result, lighting and HVAC control strategies, such as participating in demand response (DR) programs, offer the best opportunity to help building clients become more energy efficient. 

This becomes even more important as newly established green codes, standards, and rating systems are moving municipalities toward legislated DR implementation. California’s newly adopted CalGreen, codes including ASHRAE Standard 189.1 and the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), and the U.S. Green Building Council’s imminent LEED 2012 update all have DR components.

How it works

The Smart Grid is an automated electric power system that monitors and controls grid activities, ensuring the two-way flow of electricity and information between power plants and consumers—and all points in between. Up and down the electric power system, the Smart Grid will generate billions of data points from thousands of system devices and hundreds of thousands of consumers. DR programs in many states offer incentives to reduce energy use during these peak hours, and offer lower electricity prices for off-hours use. 

What makes the grid “smart” is the ability to sense, monitor, and in some cases, control (automatically or remotely) how the system operates or behaves under a given set of conditions. In its most basic form, implementation of a smarter grid is adding intelligence to all areas of the electric power system to optimize our use of electricity. 

How do commercial facilities benefit?

The need to better manage the electrical grid is driving Smart Grid implementation, but commercial entities benefit from energy management strategies. They:

  • Receive financial incentives from DR programs and by managing peak demand.
  • Reduce building electrical usage at critical periods to prevent grid instability, blackouts, and critical peak charges.
  • Reduce load at the touch of a button or automatically without having to dispatch the maintenance team to manually turn off loads.
  • Shed electric load without disturbing the occupants of a space. Lighting control strategies, in particular, take advantage of the fact that the human eye is highly adaptable to changes in light levels. A study by the Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has shown that most occupants will not detect a gradual change in light level such as a 15% to 20% decrease in light output. Gradual, slow, and steady changes over a few seconds are offset by the natural capabilities of the eye and will have no impact on productivity (see Figure 1 below).
  • Help stabilize local community energy prices.
  • Take advantage of additional government incentives such as The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct). EPAct’s Energy Efficient Commercial Building Deduction allows building owners to deduct the entire cost of a lighting or building upgrade in the year the equipment is placed into service.
  • Avoid excessive peak charges. As DR becomes more universal, controllable systems for HVAC and lighting become more important. Today the industry is working toward automatic demand response, or ADR. Demand events will directly signal energy managers to curtail power through a facility control system. This trend will become more prevalent as the Smart Grid develops.

Commercial Smart Grid solutions

Commercial Smart Grid solutions, like DR strategies that focus on lighting control, allow a facility to respond to load shed requests automatically, or at the touch of a button. These solutions contain load-shedding software that can easily reduce the lighting load to a pre-programmed level. Lighting is an ideal choice for load shedding because it consumes a substantial amount of electricity and because, unlike other systems, power reductions can be implemented gradually so that they go unnoticed by the occupants in a building. The overarching goal of DR is to keep the electricity supply at a steady and controllable state, while meeting the requirements of the Smart Grid. ASHRAE is, for example, developing two key standards for Smart Grid, including Standard 201: Facility Smart Grid Information Model, and Standard 135: BACnet.

As legislated DR becomes more prevalent in building codes, companies will benefit from installing DR-ready technologies that can be integrated into building management systems (BMS). Intelligent lighting control strategies that manage all the light in the space including electric lighting, HVAC, and even fenestration systems will ultimately enhance a facility's ability to be responsive and to support an active, rather than passive, DR strategy. Intelligent controls that use higher-order logic and analytics will be best able to meet DR goals—keeping the electricity supply at a steady and controllable state—without compromising comfort and productivity.

Brian Dauskurdas, director of global energy solutions, has been with Lutron Electronics for 13 years. He has been intimately involved in the specification, construction, and commissioning of building lighting and shading controls systems installed throughout the world.

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