We talk a lot at Encycle about how the communication among honey bees inspired our Swarm Logic HVAC energy management software. This is just one example of biomimicry – the art and science of mimicking the elegant simplicity of mother nature to solve complex human problems. There are literally thousands of examples of biomimicry in action.
Have you ever had a sense that two things just naturally belong together? Or that when they’re apart, something is missing? For me, peanut butter and jelly are at the top of this list. And then there’s red wine and chocolate, macaroni and cheese, fish and chips… I’m sensing from my examples that perhaps I should not have skipped lunch today.
But there are plenty of non-edible examples too: yin and yang, bow and arrow, needle and thread…. You get the picture: things that naturally click.
Maybe you’ve been noticing with alarm the increase in your company’s electric utility bills over the past months, and perhaps you’re also becoming more carbon footprint conscious. Maybe you’re even the plant facilities engineer and have been told that you simply must do something to reduce utility costs. So what does a smart, responsible person do?
In commercial and industrial facilities, rooftop units (RTUs) are usually turned off or greatly curtailed during unoccupied periods, for example, overnight and/or on weekends. Unfortunately, too little attention is given to the schedule RTUs are programmed for restart. If the desired setpoint is reached too early, energy is wasted, while reaching it too late adversely affects occupant comfort. Optimizing RTU start times means programming each RTU so as to reach its desired space temperature setpoint at the intended time. However, many facility managers fail to appreciate the energy and cost savings benefits of optimizing their HVAC startup schedule and simply program RTU start times to ensure they start early enough to guarantee the setpoints are reached before start of business.
Rooftop HVAC units are almost always one of the biggest energy consuming devices for any commercial and industrial (C&I) buildings. In fact, C&I buildings consume more than a third of the energy used in first-world countries, and HVAC units account for almost half of this energy. They are also one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
The fact is that rooftop units – or RTUs – hold enormous potential for dramatic reductions in both energy costs and carbon emissions. This potential has gone largely unrealized, however, because RTUs have long been one of the least intelligent of a building’s energy-consuming devices. Yes, there are smart thermostats and building management systems that definitely help, but only to a point because even with these energy efficiency tools in place, RTUs function in isolation, cycling on and off with no knowledge of how and when other units are operating. As a result, RTUs have remained largely untapped as an opportunity for smarter energy management and the accompanying energy savings.
As I was reading Fortune magazine’s “5 Trends to Ride 2017,” one of the featured trends quickly caught my eye: biomimicry. With a subtitle “Mimic Mother Nature,” the piece persuasively explained, “Nature has already solved many problems for us; why not take advantage of that?” The article goes on to point out that biomimicry is now going mainstream, with forward-looking companies releasing ingenious products that mirror innovations found in nature. The author talks about sunscreen that replicates hippos’ protective sweat (sans the odor) and hospital wall coatings that emulate sharkskin’s antimicrobial properties. Ingenious indeed!