The Department of Energy’s $47M Investment Signals Impending Change for MEP Providers
In April, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the Buildings Energy Efficiency Frontiers & Innovation Technologies 2019 Funding Opportunity for $47 million. The investment was designed to drive innovative technologies forward that make energy more affordable and focuses on three key topic areas across residential and commercial buildings, including 1) flexible buildings technologies, 2) HVAC technologies and 3) solid-state lighting technologies.
As one of the nation’s leading MEP providers, these areas of focus for the DOE match up almost exactly with shifting priorities Southland Energy is seeing in the industry, and we have no doubt this investment signals an impending change for how builders and engineers approach energy.
How this investment will drive a more holistic approach to project management
The DOE’s decision to invest across flexible building, HVAC and solid-state lighting technologies will drive the industry’s key players to take a more comprehensive approach to projects, as more and more clients will seek one partner to address these opportunities more holistically to maximize energy and operational benefits. This completely overhauls how some MEP providers currently offer solutions to customers – something we foresaw years ago when we decided to launch Southland’s energy and control and services divisions.
“This investment is hugely beneficial in that it brings customers’ attention to areas where they can improve energy and operational efficiency.”
This investment also enables us to enhance our core strategy of providing our clients with full building life-cycle services and solutions. Putting a more acute focus on combining impactful energy efficiency technologies with smart building strategies enables us to take a more holistic approach to optimizing energy and operational efficiencies in our client’s facilities.
We’re focusing more and more on what we call Connected Solutions, which vertically integrates our MEP, building automation system integration, and energy design expertise to provide seamless project development and implementation and recurring maintenance services to ensure that our client’s facilities maintain optimal efficiency. This combines a multi-disciplinary approach to streamlining design and construction processes with the total lifecycle cost perspective mentioned above.
“We believe this approach increases customer value by lowering overall project costs and maximizing energy and operational savings.”
We believe this approach increases customer value by lowering overall project costs and maximizing energy and operational savings. Traditionally, MEP providers have focused on specific elements of design, construction and operation processes; few are able to combine all of these elements into a coherent offering since it does require advanced skills in project and construction management.
On the building technology side, we’re charged with getting the “smartness” or connectivity all the way down to the subcomponents of systems to provide the ultimate level of flexibility and visibility into how well systems are performing. We do this using open platforms, ensuring complete freedom to expand systems with components from any number of manufacturers. This requires thoughtful management of system procurement and installation, and evaluation not only of technology, but vendor qualifications. This in turn requires a carefully planned procurement and evaluation process, including client input that rests on Southland’s strengths in project management and project team communication.
What does this investment mean for customers?
This investment is hugely beneficial in that it brings customers’ attention to areas where they can improve energy and operational efficiency. While there’s still an emphasis on “green” energy, we’re also seeing an increased focus on infrastructure renewal and facility and critical system resilience. These additional needs add much more complexity to how our clients are looking at their facilities and requires revisiting the fundamental design framework to insure delivery of truly holistic solutions.
How Southland is already deploying energy efficient solutions
With energy efficiency taking center stage for future development, Southland is proud to have already worked on projects designed to retrofit Fort Riley. The large, federal facility has already completed $37M of upgrades, and Southland is working on an additional $30M at the same site. It’s a perfect example of how a holistic approach can truly help our clients save time and costs.
Southland upgraded Fort Riley’s building controls, giving the facility managers flexibility to make changes as needed from an energy standpoint. On the HVAC side, we implemented a high-efficiency magnetic bearing cooling system, which reduce both energy use and maintenance expense. Lastly, we updated its lighting design, retrofitting existing fixtures so we could reduce energy consumption to save costs and better serve Fort Riley’s mission.
What comes next?
In terms of the next phase of this initiative, we expect that the DOE will continue to drive innovation in how smart buildings of tomorrow are designed, delivered and sustained. We see this happening through enhanced integration of a building’s civil and structural design with its mechanical and electrical systems. We also see continued drive toward integration, smart solutions and analytics, as analytics and a well-trained work force will be required to operate and sustain these new efficient integrated buildings. This need is being felt today as facility managers are faced with a flood of data even as their staff lacks capacity and training to analyze and manage it properly. Finally, we see a growing need to enhance the quality, agility, reliability and resilience of the energy infrastructure at a building and installation level to ensure the smart buildings we all rely upon deliver on their promise of comfort and function. This will include strategies which allow buildings to adapt their energy use based on real time energy signals and grid events.