Last year marked the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program’s first decade of existence, a span bookended by two major economic slumps. Despite spending much of that time tightening their belts, many enterprises, government agencies and other organizations were able to justify paying a premium for energy-efficient buildings — so much so that LEED notched its 10,000th certified commercial project by summer 2011.
Call it spending money to save money. The trend is good news for AV integrators and vendors looking for new revenue and market-differentiation opportunities. In that sense, it dovetails nicely with another trend: the AV integrator exodus away from box sales and toward services, which are attractive for their margins, recurring revenue and long-term client relationships.
Helping clients find ways to improve energy efficiency — not just when it comes to AV systems, but also with respect to HVAC, lighting and other infrastructure — is ultimately like other opportunities that incorporate skills not traditionally considered AV, such as IT-related disciplines. Basically, the argument goes, if AV pros won’t take on the job of energy efficiency, someone else will. Worse, companies offering energy-management services may eventually branch into AV.
“If AV doesn’t sit in that ecosystem nicely, we’ll find ourselves trying to play catch up,” says Bob Schluter, CEO of Middle Atlantic Products. “If professionals in our industry don’t embrace this, non-qualified people will start grabbing building owners’ attention and say, ‘I can do this with your AV, too.’”
The good news is that there’s growing recognition among clients and other industries that AV integrators and vendors are particularly well suited to taking HVAC, lighting and other systems under their wing. That’s what Ann Brigida, CTS, AStd, director of standards for InfoComm International, learned at a recent building automation conference, where most attendees were engineers from trades such as HVAC, electrical and plumbing.
Brigida recalls that at the conference, in a session about building automation, Jim Sinopoli, PE, RCDD, LEED AP, managing principal of Smart Buildings LLC, told attendees that the professionals on a building project who are the best at programming control systems are AV professionals. “So there’s definitely a great opportunity for our members to apply their knowledge at the next level,” Brigida says.
Can You Meet a Watts Budget?
For some clients, highly energy-efficient AV systems aren’t simply a “nice-to-have” feature required to win a bid; they’re a “must-have.” One extreme example is the Masdar Headquarters Building in the United Arab Emirates. Between solar panels and features such as skylights, the building is designed to provide 103 percent of the energy it needs — in other words, to generate more energy than it consumes. When it came to AV, the architect provided a budget not in dollars or dirhams, but in watts: The AV systems couldn’t consume more than 8W per square meter.
For AV integrators looking to capitalize on client interest in energy efficiency, the good news is that there’s a steadily growing selection of power-thrifty displays, projectors, amps and other gear. And aside from obvious specs such as standby-mode consumption, integrators can’t overlook how much heat a piece of equipment generates because when there’s enough of that gear, it means the facility’s HVAC system has to spend more money cooling the space.
In many cases, it’s possible to save energy simply by being smarter about how the AV devices are managed — or aren’t. Case in point: Instead of leaving dozens of digital signage displays blazing away in an office between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. and all day on weekends, offer the client a network-management system that automatically shuts them off when business hours are over. That’s one example of how focusing on energy efficiency can create upsale opportunities.
The utility industry’s steady march — fueled in part by government incentives — toward a smart grid represents an emerging driver for energy-efficient AV products and systems. The smart grid is slowly giving enterprises and other end users the ability to track the energy usage of individual pieces of equipment, including AV gear. As more clients take advantage of smart grids, watts budgets might not seem so unusual anymore.
“Smart grid has the potential to roll over everybody like a tsunami,” Brigida says. “InfoComm wants to help its members be proactively prepared when that happens.”
A New InfoComm Standard
Tsunami is an apt analogy because in all likelihood, clients will feel overwhelmed by the amount of usage data that smart grids enable. When they do, they’re likely to stop paying attention to that information, undermining their and their utility company’s investment in smart grid systems.
A forthcoming InfoComm standard, Audiovisual Systems Energy Management, aims to avoid the tsunami problem, at least when it comes to AV systems. Scheduled for release later this year, the standard defines and prescribes elements that enable ongoing power-consumption management of AV systems. The initiative’s goals include conserving power by putting equipment in the lowest possible power state that still enables a good user experience.
The standard makes usage information manageable by parsing it based on each user’s needs. For example, if the client chooses to track its AV power consumption, a monitoring platform based on the InfoComm standard could provide a dashboard-style summary of key statistics. And if the integrator uses that information — say, to set up the system or to monitor it as part of a service contract — it could opt for the deep-dive data set.
“One of the [standard’s] rationales is having good information available for people to easily make decisions,” says Schluter, who’s a member of the task group developing the standard. “You don’t want to clog them with a spreadsheet full of data. That might be useful for provisioning a system.”
There’s another reason why avoiding data overload is important: The standard makes end-user training and hands-on involvement a requirement. “You can say you’re going to do what it takes to reduce your power consumption, but unless the people who are going to actually be responsible for the system understand how it works, it’s not going to happen,” Brigida says.
For example, clients will be required to create an energy-management plan. “That plan is going to drive requirements for control interfaces, power factors and most importantly, provide a means of continual assessment of the system’s energy usage,” says Brigida.
The result would be a sort of AV smart grid that is, in turn, better equipped to interact with the larger smart grid. For example, an AV smart grid might communicate with a client’s campuswide smart grid.
“It’s much like the smart grid when you start porting this data over the Web,” Schluter says. “Hopefully all of these devices would be able to communicate over the Web. Then you can work with them from the smart grid and remotely turn things on and off and get power consumption from various points.”
The new standard is designed to make it easier for AV vendors to provide usage and other data so integrators and their clients can make informed decisions. “We looked at the lack of data about how much AV systems consume,” says Matthew Kosel, a Spinitar design engineer and moderator of the task group that is developing the new InfoComm standard. Kosel says that without a large, industrywide historical database showing how much power each type of AV device typically consumes, it’s difficult to create benchmarks for vendors and integrators to aim for when designing energy-efficient gear and systems.
The new standard also complements other InfoComm initiatives designed to help integrators and vendors capitalize on client interest in energy efficiency.
“InfoComm chose to take a stab at this on two different fronts. There’s the Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP) — the rating system analogous to the LEED certification system — and soon a standard on energy management, which talks more about how to be conscious in the use of power consumption but not necessarily setting standards for maximum usage,” Kosel says. “The rest of the power-consuming devices in a building, like lighting, have been going to a watts-per-square foot or per occupancy budget. We recognize that movement.”
The Audiovisual Systems Energy Management standard is currently in working draft phase. Before it can become an official InfoComm/ANSI standard, it must go through a thorough public comment period. This peer review is one of the many things that make InfoComm an accredited American National Standards (ANS) standards developing organization.
The public comment period is an opportunity for anyone with an interest in energy management and the proposed standard to review the document and offer feedback. Check in periodically with InfoComm’s standards group
for updates on the energy management standard. When the standard is ready, it will be posted to InfoComm’s Public Review and Comment page
This article was reprinted with permission from InfoComm International and originally appeared here.