Energy, Information, and the New Work of Building Operations in the Digital Age

Executive Summary:

The built environment industry is in the midst of a data revolution paired with a drive for sustainable campus operations. Innovation, information, communication access, and integration provide an opportunity to utilize this abundance of data to reach sustainable goals and benchmarks. Digital twin and Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices are emerging ICT (information and communication technology) with the potential to reduce buildings’ energy consumption if strategically used, maintained, and operated. However, transitions to use digital twin supported operations will need organizational changes in the ways work is done in order to best utilize this data-rich technology. Using new technology in the old operational ways will not change energy consumption.

This research seeks to understand how the facility and sustainability management groups at the University of Washington will need to change and adapt in order to leverage digital twin technologies to achieve lower energy consumption and better performing built environments in the university campus setting. In this research, we propose to develop a framework detailing how the existing work of facility strategists and operators will change with the implementation of a digital twin based system, and what new work will be introduced for the facility management team in terms of energy management practices. We intend for this framework to help guide UW facility managers and sustainability strategists in the technology adoption process in order to ease the transition period and most optimally utilize technological systems to their highest potential sustainable output. Our research questions are outlined below: 

  1. How will the existing work (roles, responsibilities, teams, practices) change for facility managers/operators on the UW campus when transitioning from a traditional BAS to a modern energy management system to promote energy efficiency on campus?
  2. What new work will emerge when transitioning from a building operated by a BAS to a modern energy management system such as a digital twin?

To complete this research we propose a series of case studies of University of Washington campus buildings in various stages of technological integration. Currently identified building case studies include the campus wide energy meter monitoring program, the automation window actuators in Founders Hall (as part of the smart building infrastructure), the lighting control occupancy sensors in Founders Hall and the automatic window tinting technology implemented in the Health Sciences Education building. Our research team has built a partnership with the UW Facility Maintenance division, particularly Mr. Cesar Escobar and the Department of Business Innovation and Technology, who have agreed to partner with us on this research in UW campus buildings and support us throughout the research process. UW facilities maintenance will provide us direct lines of communication to other UW divisions such as the Campus Sustainability and Energy, Utility, and Operations units who have also expressed interest and support in this project. This study aims to assist UW Facilities Management as a whole in sustainable technology integration and adoption for energy management practices. The proposed cost for this study is $19832.60 and a budget breakdown can be found below. 

Student Involvement:

This project will directly involve UW students through the participation of a UW graduate student in the department of Construction Management to assist in data collection, interviewing, and observations during the summer quarter of 2023. This graduate student will take on the role of a research assistant (RA) and will support the project lead in data collection, processing and analysis. If this project extends past the summer, then at least one RA will be brought on board in the autumn quarter to additionally assist in data analysis. If we find that we need further support in the summer and fall quarters we will look towards College of Built Environments students to assist in a volunteer capacity. The development of this research project and topic interest has additionally led to the formation of a student research group which meets weekly to discuss research, potential opportunities, and new advancements in the field of building digital twins/IoT integration led by Dr. Dossick and Ph.D student Daniel Dimitrov. Through this student research group we have created a community around digital twins at the university and have been able to foster student involvement and interest in the field of advanced  building technologies. Our relationship with the UW Facility Management teams has also opened doors for other students in our research group to engage in studies with the Facility Management team and further support both research in the field of emerging DT/IoT technologies and the UW FM team's sustainable efforts. With the support of the CSF, we can continue to find ways to incorporate our excited and enthusiastic undergraduate and graduate students who would like to research sustainable building technologies like digital twins and IoT devices.

Education & Outreach:

With our research setting being an active university campus, we believe it is important to make the UW community aware of this project and its potential benefits to campus life. At the conclusion of this research, our team plans to widely disseminate our findings in order to share our results and contribute to the body of knowledge and public awareness. We will publish our technical report on the University’s Center for Research In Construction’s website (cerc.be.uw.edu, https://cerc.be.uw.edu/ctop-lab/ ) in order to spread awareness to the UW student and faculty body. We intend to additionally publish our findings on the UW Construction Management department website in order to further spread awareness to our community and target students interested in built environment research. We also intend to publish our research findings in industry and academic journal articles and present at conferences to build awareness of the research results. We will be sharing the status of our research at the Engineering Project Organization Conference in June, 2023 and would like to present the results of this research at the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) Building Innovation Conference in September, 2023. We have submitted an abstract for the conference and are excited to share the results of our research with the industry's leading group of innovators. 

Our education goals for this project are multifaceted. Firstly, we would like to educate facility managers, operators, and technicians on an individual level on how to use the new digital twin/IoT based devices which are being integrated into UW facilities all over campus in order to maximize their potential sustainable output. This in turn may serve to educate the UW Facilities Management Department as a unit on organizational strategies, training, onboarding processes, and data management strategies for future technology adoption and transition periods. We also intend for this research to be published within relevant academic journals and then contribute to the body of knowledge within sustainability, technology, and construction related literature. Finally, through potential conference presentations we intend to spread awareness of our research to as many interested parties as we can.

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
Project Longevity:

The long term management and maintenance of this project will be conducted through continuous research and involvement with the UW Facility Maintenance division through a partnership with expected research outcomes and results for both parties. UW Facilities Management and particularly Cesar Escobar from the Department of Business Innovation and Technology have agreed to provide continuous support and oversight for this project in addition to access to UW facilities with digital twin/IoT based technologies throughout campus. This research project will be the basis of project lead Daniel Dimitrov's PhD dissertation which additionally ensures the long term continuation of this research until adequate conclusions can be made and tangible results can be produced. In addition, this research is supported by the continuous management, advisory, and oversight of Dr. Carrie Sturts Dossick, Dean of Research at the UW College of Built Environments who will help ensure that this project remains on track in the long term and serves as Daniel's PhD Committee Chair.  

In terms of long term funding for this research, we have applied to various external (non UW) fellowship and grant opportunities and are continuing to search for additional application opportunities. These fellowships for which we have already applied and are awaiting response from within the Spring Quarter include The Bullitt Foundation Environmental Fellowship, The Charles Koch Foundation, and the Link Foundation Modeling, Simulation, and Training Fellowship. This is a continuous effort and our team continues to seek further funding opportunities in order to bring the most possible value out of this research project.

Environmental Problem:

The sustainability challenge we would like to address with this research focuses on the high energy use of buildings and intends to aid in the mission to reduce campus wide building energy consumption by optimizing the work processes that support sustainable energy management. Buildings are some of the leading consumers of energy as they account for over 40% of the energy consumption nationwide (energy.gov). A campus as large, active and technologically developed as the University of Washington is no exception, requiring significant energy consumption to maintain its day to day operations. The UW is actively taking steps to reduce their energy consumption through the integration of advanced building energy monitoring and control technologies and has committed to taking steps towards decarbonizing the Seattle campus entirely.  However, this is a monumental goal which will require major efforts campus wide, including the advancement of building technologies and operational strategies. While capital projects invest in new systems, the facilities management teams are challenged by learning to maintain and operate these systems.  The UW facility and energy management teams have seen an uptick in technological adoption and integration in campus buildings and are actively trying to learn and adapt to these novel and advanced tools, recently forming a new team to manage these systems. However, we have already identified tension and hesitation from facility maintenance teams to adopt these new technologies, learn how to operate novel systems, and change the ways they have been working for decades, which leads to complications in the push for campus sustainable development. Innovation is a complex process of iteration, capacity building, and shifts in professional practices which is at the core of what our team would like to investigate.This research seeks to understand the complexities, tension points, and organizational processes which must accompany the drive toward advanced sustainability on campus buildings through the integration of digital twin/IoT based technologies. The results of this research will support campus operations innovation through the identification of how facility organizations must change to most optimally use new digital twin/IoT technologies for optimal sustainable operations.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

We believe that technology alone is not enough to achieve maximum sustainability, but rather the people using and operating technologies play a pivotal role. This is why we intend to tackle the issue of technological adoption through a qualitative lens in order to get a full and realistic view into the UW Facility Management teams to understand what practice changes (e.g. roles, responsibilities, skills, knowledge) are necessary to support digital twin/IoT based technologies and their integration. The results of this study can then inform UW Facility Management practices and accelerate the effort to increase campus wide sustainability. Our project's impact will be measured through the evaluation and feedback of the UW Facilities Management teams with whom we work and do this research. The goal is for the developed framework at the conclusion of this research to support both sustainable and organizational improvements in terms of technological integration that leads to energy savings. At the conclusion of this research we intend to additionally measure our sustainable impact through assessing the effect of our framework on not only the satisfaction of the UW FM staff, but additionally the actual energy savings (ex. kWh of electricity saved) attributed to the changes in practice informed by our framework. We additionally intend to leverage our professional network of digital innovation specialists from both the technological and organizational side to conduct interviews and share our research findings in order to measure our impact and outcome transferability to other settings.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $19,833
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:

Budget:

Column 1: description of cost, Column 2: cost for summer quarter, Column 3: total costs
Research Proposal Budget Summer Quarter Total:
Direct Costs
01 Salary Details
Role: PhD, Summer Hourly 2023 654324 hours per week
Role: MS, Summer Hourly 20235664.624 hours per week
Role: PhD, TBD Fall & Winter 2023 0TBD (after feasibility study)
Salary Total: 12207.6
02 Benefits
Role: PhD, Summer Hourly 2023 1407
Role: MS, Summer Hourly 20231218
Role: PhD, TBD Winter & Spring 2023 0TBD (after feasibility study)
Role: MS Student Winter & Spring 20230TBD (after feasibility study)
Benefits total: 2625
Personnel Total: 14832.6
03 Other Contractual Services (ex. interview transcription, publication support etc.)2000
04 Travel (ex. conferences) - NIBS Building Innovation conference3000
05 Student Aid 0
Total Other Direct Costs5000
Total Direct Costs19832.60

Non-CSF Sources:

Potential other funding sources include the above. Awaiting responses from all fellowship/grant applications by June, 2023
Grant Applications:
The Bullitt Foundation Environmental Fellowship
The Charles Koch Foundation
The Link Foundation Modeling, Simulation, and Training Fellowship
Project Completion Total:

Timeline:

This study includes participant observation, interviews, and document collection which will span throughout the summer quarter
TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Project Formation/Kickoff1 monthJune 2023
Begin meetings with Facility Managers and University Sustainability Managers for qualitative data collection1 monthJune 2023
Focus group interviews (FGI) - Within each case with facility managers, O&M staff, operators, technicians, and sustainability strategists2 monthsJune - July 2023
Participant Observation - Meetings, day-to-day operations, interactions around tech. etc.2 monthsJune - July 2023
Expert Interviews: Building Digital Innovation Specialists - Digital Twin Consortium, National Institute of Building Sciences2 monthsJuly - Aug 2023
Data Analysis 2 monthsJuly - Aug 2023
Final report writing1 monthAug. - Sept 2023
Conclusions and editing 1 monthAug. - Sept 2023
Report findings and publish 2-3 weeksSept. 2023