Will District Energy Efficiency Focus Attract Businesses in Portland?

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With a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Portland State University will build a living lab to evaluate, in real time, the effects of district energy efficiency upgrades in a section of Portland, Ore., and will study whether the upgrades boost economic development.

First, the grant will fund a district-wide energy efficiency upgrade in the “south of Market Street” neighborhood, including PSU and commercial buildings in the south end of downtown. Among other things, the project will upgrade PSU’s west heating plant with an efficient boiler. Later this year, PSU will install energy metering software and meters in 18 PSU buildings and three private buildings in the district that surrounds the campus.

In addition, PSU will build a “visualization theater,” seven 90-inch monitors plus a high-powered computer, where students, staff, and energy officials will follow energy use in real-time and model energy scenarios.

Once the efficiency upgrades are complete, PSU will study whether such district-level upgrades will attract economic development in that area, said Erin Flynn, associate vice president in PSU’s Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships.

“In this district there will be a conscious effort to lower energy consumption, and you would presume the district will be using less energy and have lower costs to tenants and property owners,” she said. “Will that attract companies to the district?”

Another focus of the project is to focus on following, in real time, energy use in the neighborhood, which includes a number of LEED-certified buildings. Members of the building industry and PSU students and staff will have access to the visualization theater.

“We will have an RFP on the street in the fall for a variety of sensor technologies that will measure heat, hot water and cold water and in 21 buildings. We will meter buildings at a much more granular level to determine how buildings are performing and how tenant behavior affects performances. We’ll pinpoint changes that will affect energy consumption,” she said.

LEED-certified buildings in the area include 200 Market Street and a number of PSU buildings.

“Building professionals tell us they have models for energy efficiency and the buildings get built by contractors, but then they don’t get to follow up to understand if the buildings are performing the way they hypothesized. They don’t know what is happening inside the buildings once their contracts are up,” Flynn said.

With this project, PSU will study building performance in real time, including the LEED-certified buildings. “Are these buildings actually performing the way professionals assumed they would be? This is a live lab to study multiple types of buildings in one district, with the participation of property owners. It could yield interesting information.”

The project sounds like a fascinating playground for PSU students, buildings owners, contractors and even economic development officials. What’s more, it may shed light on questions about whether LEED buildings really perform as predicted, and why–or why not.

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  1. This is good news. This will serve as valuable data for on gong energy efficiency technology.