Introduction: Welcome to the 15th Annual BCxA NEC Commissioning Summit
Every year, the Building Commissioning Association’s Northeast Chapter (BCxA NEC) hosts hundreds of industry professionals from across 8 U.S. states to share their knowledge, news, and insights at its Annual BCxA NEC Commissioning Summit. At this year’s event, held last month in Albany, there was no shortage of interesting and informative presentations covering a wide range of timely topics – from building envelope commissioning to the role of commissioning providers with changing energy codes. We also had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on the ways commissioning providers (CxP) and specialized technologies can help regulatory authorities keep pace with our ever-evolving energy codes. While the discussion was focused specifically on a new pilot program from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), the most salient takeaways should be relevant to anyone interested in making regulatory compliance less cumbersome. After all, whether you’re in New York or New Mexico, energy efficiency/conservation standards aren’t getting any easier.
A Look at NYSERDA’s New Energy Code Compliance Program
While the key takeaways can be applied practically anywhere, it helps to have some context around the initiative in question. The New York State Energy Research & Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) “Third-Party Support and Advancing Code Compliance Technology Pilot Program” (PON 4600). According to NYSERDA, “the overall goals of the Pilot Program are to support improved technical and online capacities within Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) in relation to residential and commercial buildings plan reviews and inspections, as well as energy code compliance,” and calls for “the use of qualified third-party support providers and electronic code compliance platforms” to meet those goals. The Program Opportunity Notice (PON) explains that using these resources “allows for streamlined building plan reviews and inspections, addresses existing time and resource constraints faced by code enforcement officers, and improves energy code compliance.”
CxPs Could Be the Key to the Program’s Success (and others like it)
If proven viable in the pilot phase, the program hopes to establish a pool of third-party providers that can assist inspectors in their energy code compliance efforts, asking specifically for those with “expertise in energy code plan review and inspection for commercial and residential buildings” citing ECCCNYS 2020 and ASHRAE 90.1-2016 as the two primary measures of compliance (along with several other additional or alternative codes depending on municipality).
Unsurprisingly, the BCxA saw an opportunity in such an initiative. After all, who knows these codes better than the state’s own CxPs? Thankfully, NYSERDA immediately recognized the logica and opened the door for CxPs to take part in the Pilot Program. Of course, only time will tell how effective the program ultimately is, but one thing is for certain — any shortcomings won’t be for lack of skill or expertise on the part of the CxPs. CxPs are practically purpose-built for this work, offering a degree of fluency in standards, regulations, and building design that few others can claim. This program might be a sign of what’s to come for the wider commissioning world. While the energy codes themselves grow increasingly demanding and complex, so do the expectations and standards around tracking their compliance. And, soon, the scope and role of Cx and its providers may very well expand to meet those needs – either as third-party support professionals, vitally important consultants in the development of these programs, or both.
What Successful Third-Party Compliance Technology Looks Like
The second part of PON 4600 calls for the adoption and implementation of digital platforms to help authorities — and their aforementioned pool of third-party supporters — as they inspect and enforce the state’s ever-evolving energy codes. NYSERDA explains the potential value of these technologies for the program as follows:
“Issuing building permits, licenses, and ensuring energy code compliance are critical functions for AHJs, and can be made more efficient, transparent, and responsive through electronic/online compliance technology platforms. Online/electronic permitting and compliance platforms can expedite building plan review, inspection, and approval processes while also reducing workload for code enforcement officers and improving energy code compliance”
To help direct their search for such technologies, NYSERDA outlines an exhaustive list of essential capabilities a technology must have to qualify, including: plan submittal and review; project tracking; inspection scheduling; administrative workflow; and plenty more. While such a list makes sense in order to establish a baseline, it fails to capture the higher-level variables that so often make or break these types of technologies. Here, too, commissioning can help.
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that a platform can only be as effective as the people implementing it. Meaning, even the most sophisticated, cutting-edge technology won’t be able to help in this role unless developed by and for the express purposes of energy code compliance and tracking. And that means an effective solution isn’t going to come from some disinterested startup in Silicon Valley. As we’ve seen in the Cx software space, these tools do best when developed by professionals with intimate understanding of the industry — not just its regulatory landscape, but how processes actually happen on the ground.
Secondly, such a technology will have to be customizable. The code landscape — even within a single state like New York — is far too complex and convoluted to have a one-size-fits-all tool capable of working off-the-shelf in any given municipality. On the contrary, NYSERDA will undoubtedly need an underlying technological framework, that can then be customized by dedicated development teams to each local jurisdiction. As you probably can imagine, this is yet another reason the first requirement is so important. Creating these customized solutions will require not only skilled software developers, but savvy Cx professionals – who understand the world of development and regulatory compliance.
Energy initiatives like New York’s aren’t new, and they aren’t going away anytime soon. What is new (and will continue to be new with each passing year) are the rigor and technological requirements needed to keep up with legislation. And, although this may be a New York exclusive now, the Empire State has always been a strong indicator of what’s to come for the rest of the country. From the Northeast chapter and beyond, connected compliance monitoring is on the rise, and Cx providers are all but guaranteed to play a role.