I can’t do energy efficiency, I have a critical facility!

Courtesy Google Maps

A record rebate check for small HVAC improvements in a critical facility provides lessons for all buildings

Gridium’s home territory, Silicon Valley, once was a hotbed of U.S. manufacturing. Today, most of the Valley’s energy — entrepreneurial and literal — is spent in virtual realms, but an echo of the past lives on in the form of clean-room manufacturing plants. Too expensive and critical to move, these massive facilities remain important economic engines and make up a substantial portion of the Valley’s energy footprint.

Clean rooms never shut down. They have tight humidity and temperature tolerances, and any disruption destroys millions of dollars of inventory. Just the sort of place where energy efficiency upgrades would be impossible, right?


A record PG&E rebate check of over $600,000 was recently awarded to TDK subsidiary Headway Technologies. I had the pleasure of hearing Dan Burris from TDK present the details of the project at a local IFMA event last week.

Gridium offers a low-touch solution that facilitates simple energy management. For the next level of efficiency gains, we work with experienced energy engineers and commissioning agents who perform their magic inside the facility. Analytics can help to pinpoint issues and suggest possible solutions, but it takes an expert on the ground to guide capital-intensive projects to profitable completion.

Dan’s talk revealed that, although it is more challenging to work in clean room environments, the energy principles are the same. Consider some of the high-impact measures from the Headway project:

  • Minimize the fraction of return air that needed to be reconditioned
  • Implement resets for supply air and chilled water to better match partial-load operations
  • Deploy variable frequency drives and, more importantly, the programming and controls to satisfy the site requirements with the minimum energy

No doubt, those of you with experience in retrocommissioning projects are familiar with these measures. This isn’t to trivialize the engineering effort, which due to the nature of the site required extreme care. In fact, the delicacy of the project should serve as an inspiration to those of us operating in less critical environments. If you work in a commercial building slow to adopt energy efficiency measures because ownership is worried about disturbing occupants, use this as a gentle prod to reconsider.

After all, if you’re not getting your own rebate check, you’re paying for somebody else’s.

About Tom Arnold

Tom Arnold is co-founder and CEO of Gridium. Prior to Gridium, Tom Arnold was the Vice President of Energy Efficiency at EnerNOC, and cofounder at TerraPass. Tom has an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. When he isn't thinking about the future of buildings, he enjoys riding his bike and chasing after his two daughters.

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