2011 Greenbuild Conference - Day 1

There are roughly 23,000 attendees from 180 countries at the Greenbuild conference this year and close to 1000 exhibitors. It makes for quite an impressive expo hall experience. Well in fact there are two expo halls this year. The Metro Convention Center in Toronto actually straddles the city's main set of train tracks and often the two halves of the conference center (each with their own expo hall) host separate events. Greenbuild however takes up the entire facility.

The North Expo Hall (it's the small one)

The North Expo Hall (it's the small one)

One of the most promising product developments unveiled at the expo this year comes in the form of software. At least two major companies are tackling ambitious projects to provide a means of analysis for building systems that will allow users to make better use of the data inherently available from existing and new building automation systems. This week Johnson Controls unveiled its Panoptix software and SCIenergy, a company run by Scientific Conservation, was launched. While these endeavors are still in their infancy, it is clear that more companies will follow suite, and it’s only a matter of time until the potential of the technology starts to unfold.

Current building automation systems can be difficult to draw useful information from until something actually fails. The promise of the new software is that it can analyze the information in much finer detail and provide insight into inefficiencies in the overall performance of the building. I’m not talking about trending data here. I’m talking about analyzing it.

Two additional leaps by these companies start to make this innovation even more exciting. The first is that all the data gets sent to the “cloud”. And that just means that it’s all accessible. Data from multiple pieces of equipment, building and even sites, is taken up and normalized so that useful information can be extrapolated from the entire data set. The second is that both companies are pitching that these are open platforms. The technology can be applied to any company’s proprietary controls, or multiple divergent systems.

The payback period for the cost of implementation being kicked around is only a couple years. Obviously the more data that you can send to the cloud the more insight can come out of it, but the companies also say that the systems can be implemented on a very limited basis and still get surprising results.

It should be noted that SCIenergy is also developing a financing arm to fund projects itself where necessary similar to some of McKinstry's energy retrofit projects closer to home. SCIenergy has indicated that clients often ultimately find the capital when confronted with giving the realized energy savings right back to the company they are hiring.

Enwave Tour:
Toronto has an incredible district energy system supplying a good portion of the large buildings in the downtown core. The Enwave Energy Corporation district energy system was started some time ago fueled by centralized chillers and boilers. In 2004 however, Enwave worked with the city of Toronto to retrofit the municipal water intake at Lake Ontario into a Deep Lake system. The city had an existing municipal drinking water filtration plant located just off the downtown shore. At the time it was pulling water off the surface of Lake Ontario.

The new system pulls water from deep within the lake where the temperature is at a constant low. After filtration at the island municipal plant Enwave uses a vast array of plate heat exchangers on the mainland shore to discard waste heat from a closed water loop which runs up the downtown core. Individual buildings in turn have the opportunity to use their own heat exchangers to dump waste heat to the Enwave loop.

Since 2004 the company has basically sold out of it's production capacity. It is now focusing on creative ways to squeeze even more out of the system, including among other things using the return loop supply to cool steam condensate.

The cold water from the lake is reliably brought up to about 50 degrees by the heat exchange process and is distributed out to the Toronto Potable Water Supply. No water from the enwave system is discharged back to the lake. And no additional water is being consumed by the new system.The Enwave system is a great example that highly successful district energy programs can thrive where the opportunity is creatively taken advantage of.

The massive plate heat exchangers at the Enwave facility just south of the convention center.

Toronto potable water pipes in light blue, and Enwave's closed loop in dark blue.

Opening Keynote Address – Thomas Friedman

Wednesday was concluded with the Conference Opening Celebration at the Air Canada Center (Toronto's hockey arena). The keynote came from Pulitzer-prize writer Thomas Friedman, author of the new book "That Used To Be Us". Somewhat unavoidably, Friedman painted a fairly bleek picture of the current state and progress of sustainability in the US. He traced US policy and growth through a handful of critical events back to 1979 and the halt of nuclear energy development in the US and the dramatic shift towards reliance on carbon intensive resources from that point forward.

That's Friedman down there.

That's Friedman down there.

Friedman may have dwelled a bit too long on a dismal outlook for the next several years, but his ultimate pitch was for continued engagement by this industry in the growth of the sustainability movement. In fact one of his key points was that the current state of things requires even more ingenuity and imagination. We don't currently have sustainable maket demand for green buildings. Standards and regulations will have to drive the movement until we can figure out how to get around that major obstacle. Our own profession is challenged with the task of becoming more nimble, continuing to adapt to rapid changes in building technology while dodging persistent obstacles.

More on conference proceedings and seminars in the next blog post...