Article
min read
James Dice

Case Study: The Empire State Building

November 28, 2023

Welcome to our Case Study series, where we dive into case studies of real-life, large-scale deployments of smart building technologies, supported by the Nexus Marketplace.

I emphasize “real life” because this isn’t a marketing fluff story. We're here to share real lessons from leaders who have done the work to integrate smart building technology into their operations. I also emphasize “large scale” because we're not here to talk about pilot projects. We're here to talk about deeper commitments to changing how buildings are operated.

---

Case Study Data: 

  • Technology Categories Mentioned: HVAC Control, Application Layer - Supervisory Control, Data Layer, Application Layer - FDD
  • Vendor: KODE Labs
  • Number of Buildings: 9 office buildings
  • Total square footage: 8.6 million square feet 
  • Project Has Been Active Since: February 2023

Case Study Outline: 

  • Introduction 
  • Background
  • Technical Overview
  • Challenges and Lessons Learned
  • Conclusion

---

Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT) has emerged as a trailblazer in the realm of deep energy retrofits and decarbonization. With a vast 10 million square foot portfolio, ESRT, led by Dana Schneider, the Director of Energy Sustainability and ESG, has dedicated over 15 years to the mission of achieving net-zero emissions. The approach taken by ESRT involves meticulous modernization of assets, infrastructure, and systems, ensuring enhanced resilience, efficiency, and reliability. 

A key aspect of their methodology is the transparent sharing of knowledge. To that end, Schneider recently joined the Nexus Podcast with Etrit Demaj, co-founder of KODE Labs, to share ESRT's systematic approach to building retrofits and technology deployments, focusing on their transformative initiatives and the technical expertise that has propelled them to the forefront of the industry.

Background

Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT) is a prominent player in the New York City real estate market, with a diverse portfolio that includes commercial office buildings, retail spaces, and multifamily units. Notably, their iconic property, the Empire State Building, serves as a focal point for their transformative sustainability initiatives. Dana Schneider, ESRT's Director of Energy Sustainability and ESG, leverages this landmark to drive change, inform policy, and showcase innovative technologies.

ESRT's approach involves a multifaceted strategy, addressing various aspects of building performance to achieve their net zero emissions goals, defined as an 80 percent reduction in emissions. Partnering with Buro Happold, a global engineering firm, ESRT focused on envelope improvements, right-sizing HVAC systems, optimizing tenant energy efficiency, and central plant enhancements. These interventions collectively contribute to their sustainability objectives. 

The collaboration between Empire State Realty Trust and Buro Happold was pivotal for the technical advancement of their retrofit projects. Buro Happold's global perspective and extensive engineering knowledge played a vital role in the implementation of innovative energy-efficient solutions. Leveraging their international experience, Buro Happold introduced cutting-edge technologies and practices that deviated from conventional norms in New York City. This unique approach led to the exploration of inventive strategies for energy reduction and building optimization. 

However, ESRT faced challenges in the controls stack, particularly in ensuring HVAC and Lighting systems were using high-performance sequences of operations. Traditional building automation systems often lack user-friendliness and interoperability, hindering energy management efforts and seamless integration of software overlays that would help manage and optimize sequences.

Proprietary systems further complicate integration efforts, making it cumbersome to optimize building operations effectively. Schneider emphasizes the need for an advanced Building Automation System (BAS) and control sequences to optimize building performance. They aim to upgrade existing systems to align with and exceed ASHRAE Guideline 36, focusing on high-performance control sequences. Schneider discusses the challenge of integrating various technologies seamlessly and transparently, aiming for an open protocol approach. 

To address these challenges, they partnered with KODE Labs, a data and application layer vendor, that provides the KODE OS software platform and integration services. This partnership allows them to integrate base-building technologies, and provide continuous commissioning, fault detection & diagnostics, and advanced supervisory control.

Technical Overview

This project creates a centralized data layer that brings data and supervisory control features to the cloud so they can be optimized at scale. 

By enhancing their control sequences, practicing continuous commissioning, and integrating fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) into operations, ESRT can meet and, critically, maintain its decarbonization targets.

The transition involved:

  1. Identifying Needs: Recognizing the need for advanced control sequences and optimization technologies.
  1. Engaging KODE Labs: Partnering with KODE Labs as the data layer and software application provider.
  1. Evaluating and Developing: Assessing existing control sequences across the portfolio and deploying new, high-performance sequences based on ASHRAE Guideline 36.
  1. Ensuring Transparency: Making the control logic transparent and in ESRT’s control.
  1. Change Management: Providing training and support for building operators.
  1. Testing and Documentation: Rigorous testing, validation, and documentation of the new sequences.

Schneider and Demaj highlight the importance of scalability, transparency, and customization in implementing control sequences based on ASHRAE guidelines. They focus on bridging the gap between existing systems and high-performance controls, ensuring flexibility to accommodate different building needs and operator preferences. The approach emphasizes continuous improvement and change management to optimize building performance effectively.

ESRT's pursuit of net-zero targets and sustainability goals necessitated an examination of their building automation systems and control sequences. Recognizing the critical role of these systems in achieving optimal energy efficiency, Dana Schneider emphasized the importance of automating and optimizing building operations. The control sequences serve as the language that communicates with all equipment within a building, enabling automation and essential optimization.

"I firmly believe that transparent control sequences and continuous optimization are the cornerstones of successful building performance. Our collaboration with KODE Labs exemplifies the power of innovative solutions and open protocols, enabling us to achieve unprecedented levels of energy efficiency and sustainability in our real estate portfolio."—Dana Schneider, Director of Energy Sustainability and ESG at Empire State Realty Trust

To align with their ESRT 2.0 net-zero roadmap, ESRT embarked on a comprehensive assessment and upgrade of their building automation systems. Schneider's unique perspective acknowledged the importance of integrating engineering into sustainability initiatives, emphasizing the necessity of transparency and collaboration between roles.

Demaj emphasized the scalability and transparency of their approach, ensuring that ASHRAE Guideline 36 standards were met while accommodating building-specific requirements. KODE Labs' bi-directional capabilities and ease of enabling data flow provided ESRT with the ability to analyze performance and improve it using the same software platform. 

The collaboration between ESRT, Schneider, and KODE Labs highlighted the importance of software integration and control optimization in achieving decarbonization goals. By bridging the gap between sustainability initiatives and engineering expertise, ESRT paved the way for a more efficient, transparent, and data-driven approach to building retrofits and sustainable real estate practices.

Challenges & Lessons Learned

Dana Schneider and Etrit Demaj shared valuable insights on the challenges faced and lessons learned in implementing this approach to building management systems and control sequences.

Lesson 1: “Just because you have a control system doesn’t mean it’s optimized” 

Dana revealed that the common assumption that a Building Automation System (BAS) guarantees optimization is flawed. The industry lacks expertise in control sequences, leading to inconsistent results in building management. Dana emphasizes the need for transparency and understanding of control sequences, acknowledging the challenges posed by proprietary practices. 

The Resolution: The key takeaway is a call for an ongoing commitment to improving control sequences for energy efficiency.

Lesson 2: Transparency Around Control Sequences

The challenges in achieving transparency around control sequences were significant. Many people wrongly assume a Building Automation System (BAS) ensures optimization, leading to misconceptions about efficiency.

A shortage of skilled experts in control sequence programming complicates efforts for optimal building operations. Despite claims of open protocols, proprietary practices limited access to sequences, hindering analysis and improvements. Finding skilled programmers was challenging, and upgrading legacy systems required that expertise.

The Resolution: The KODE OS software sits on top of the portfolio’s building automation systems, lighting control systems, and other base building systems. The KODE OS software and the KODE team analyze the performance of the system and can send commands in order to test each control sequence to see if it was programmed correctly. This digital commissioning process can be repeated over time to ensure the sequences remain optimized. 

Lesson 3: Embracing continuous change

Another significant lesson from ESRT’s project is the recognition that continuous adaptation and embracing change are integral to progress. Dana emphasizes the importance of understanding that maintaining any building, whether it's a commercial property or a personal residence, requires ongoing effort. The key is to ensure that this effort is informed and evolves with advancements in technology and knowledge.

The Resolution: Dana underscores the value of investing in upfront analysis to develop a long-term plan. This plan should not shy away from updates as new technologies emerge and insights are gained. The core principle is integrating asset performance, sustainability, and optimization considerations, continuously. This proactive approach, Dana argues, leads to significant returns, especially when considering inevitable replacements or updates.

The discussion also touches on the significance of a robust data layer as the foundation for informed decision-making. Real-time data optimization is crucial for effective building management. Dana highlights the transformative potential of having accurate, timely, and easily accessible data, underscoring its role as the basis for all actions and applications in building operations.

Lesson 4: It’s a system of systems 

Dana underscores the importance of taking a holistic approach to building optimization, considering the entire building and all its systems. Traditional energy audits often neglect crucial elements such as the building envelope, tenant equipment, and human behavior. 

The Resolution: Dana emphasizes that all these systems interact with each other and play a role in optimization. Furthermore, Dana discusses the idea of providing services to tenants by arming them with tools for a low-carbon and healthy space. This approach benefits both landlords and tenants, meeting the increasing demand for sustainability in the real estate sector. Dana sees sustainability and decarbonization not as isolated initiatives but as integral components integrated into the overall business model.

James Dice supports this perspective, emphasizing the importance of not treating sustainability as a science project isolated from the business. He advocates for integrating sustainability into the business, recognizing that the ultimate goal is to provide a comfortable, productive, and healthy environment for tenants. This customer-centric approach, according to Dana, aligns with tenants' priorities and positions the real estate company as a leader in delivering sustainable, data-driven services to its clients.

Conclusion

ESRT's journey toward making its buildings more energy-efficient and sustainable, guided by Dana Schneider, showcases a down-to-earth and practical approach. By teaming up with Buro Happold and KODE Labs, they tackled the complexities of managing building systems and control sequences. 

The challenges they faced underscore the importance of being open, ready for change, and understanding the entire picture when optimizing buildings. The lessons learned emphasize the ongoing effort needed for improvement, making informed decisions, and integrating sustainability into everyday business practices. ESRT's experience serves as a reminder of the ongoing commitment required to make buildings more energy-efficient and sustainable, focusing on transparency, adaptability, and a practical understanding of building operations.

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Welcome to our Case Study series, where we dive into case studies of real-life, large-scale deployments of smart building technologies, supported by the Nexus Marketplace.

I emphasize “real life” because this isn’t a marketing fluff story. We're here to share real lessons from leaders who have done the work to integrate smart building technology into their operations. I also emphasize “large scale” because we're not here to talk about pilot projects. We're here to talk about deeper commitments to changing how buildings are operated.

---

Case Study Data: 

  • Technology Categories Mentioned: HVAC Control, Application Layer - Supervisory Control, Data Layer, Application Layer - FDD
  • Vendor: KODE Labs
  • Number of Buildings: 9 office buildings
  • Total square footage: 8.6 million square feet 
  • Project Has Been Active Since: February 2023

Case Study Outline: 

  • Introduction 
  • Background
  • Technical Overview
  • Challenges and Lessons Learned
  • Conclusion

---

Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT) has emerged as a trailblazer in the realm of deep energy retrofits and decarbonization. With a vast 10 million square foot portfolio, ESRT, led by Dana Schneider, the Director of Energy Sustainability and ESG, has dedicated over 15 years to the mission of achieving net-zero emissions. The approach taken by ESRT involves meticulous modernization of assets, infrastructure, and systems, ensuring enhanced resilience, efficiency, and reliability. 

A key aspect of their methodology is the transparent sharing of knowledge. To that end, Schneider recently joined the Nexus Podcast with Etrit Demaj, co-founder of KODE Labs, to share ESRT's systematic approach to building retrofits and technology deployments, focusing on their transformative initiatives and the technical expertise that has propelled them to the forefront of the industry.

Background

Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT) is a prominent player in the New York City real estate market, with a diverse portfolio that includes commercial office buildings, retail spaces, and multifamily units. Notably, their iconic property, the Empire State Building, serves as a focal point for their transformative sustainability initiatives. Dana Schneider, ESRT's Director of Energy Sustainability and ESG, leverages this landmark to drive change, inform policy, and showcase innovative technologies.

ESRT's approach involves a multifaceted strategy, addressing various aspects of building performance to achieve their net zero emissions goals, defined as an 80 percent reduction in emissions. Partnering with Buro Happold, a global engineering firm, ESRT focused on envelope improvements, right-sizing HVAC systems, optimizing tenant energy efficiency, and central plant enhancements. These interventions collectively contribute to their sustainability objectives. 

The collaboration between Empire State Realty Trust and Buro Happold was pivotal for the technical advancement of their retrofit projects. Buro Happold's global perspective and extensive engineering knowledge played a vital role in the implementation of innovative energy-efficient solutions. Leveraging their international experience, Buro Happold introduced cutting-edge technologies and practices that deviated from conventional norms in New York City. This unique approach led to the exploration of inventive strategies for energy reduction and building optimization. 

However, ESRT faced challenges in the controls stack, particularly in ensuring HVAC and Lighting systems were using high-performance sequences of operations. Traditional building automation systems often lack user-friendliness and interoperability, hindering energy management efforts and seamless integration of software overlays that would help manage and optimize sequences.

Proprietary systems further complicate integration efforts, making it cumbersome to optimize building operations effectively. Schneider emphasizes the need for an advanced Building Automation System (BAS) and control sequences to optimize building performance. They aim to upgrade existing systems to align with and exceed ASHRAE Guideline 36, focusing on high-performance control sequences. Schneider discusses the challenge of integrating various technologies seamlessly and transparently, aiming for an open protocol approach. 

To address these challenges, they partnered with KODE Labs, a data and application layer vendor, that provides the KODE OS software platform and integration services. This partnership allows them to integrate base-building technologies, and provide continuous commissioning, fault detection & diagnostics, and advanced supervisory control.

Technical Overview

This project creates a centralized data layer that brings data and supervisory control features to the cloud so they can be optimized at scale. 

By enhancing their control sequences, practicing continuous commissioning, and integrating fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) into operations, ESRT can meet and, critically, maintain its decarbonization targets.

The transition involved:

  1. Identifying Needs: Recognizing the need for advanced control sequences and optimization technologies.
  1. Engaging KODE Labs: Partnering with KODE Labs as the data layer and software application provider.
  1. Evaluating and Developing: Assessing existing control sequences across the portfolio and deploying new, high-performance sequences based on ASHRAE Guideline 36.
  1. Ensuring Transparency: Making the control logic transparent and in ESRT’s control.
  1. Change Management: Providing training and support for building operators.
  1. Testing and Documentation: Rigorous testing, validation, and documentation of the new sequences.

Schneider and Demaj highlight the importance of scalability, transparency, and customization in implementing control sequences based on ASHRAE guidelines. They focus on bridging the gap between existing systems and high-performance controls, ensuring flexibility to accommodate different building needs and operator preferences. The approach emphasizes continuous improvement and change management to optimize building performance effectively.

ESRT's pursuit of net-zero targets and sustainability goals necessitated an examination of their building automation systems and control sequences. Recognizing the critical role of these systems in achieving optimal energy efficiency, Dana Schneider emphasized the importance of automating and optimizing building operations. The control sequences serve as the language that communicates with all equipment within a building, enabling automation and essential optimization.

"I firmly believe that transparent control sequences and continuous optimization are the cornerstones of successful building performance. Our collaboration with KODE Labs exemplifies the power of innovative solutions and open protocols, enabling us to achieve unprecedented levels of energy efficiency and sustainability in our real estate portfolio."—Dana Schneider, Director of Energy Sustainability and ESG at Empire State Realty Trust

To align with their ESRT 2.0 net-zero roadmap, ESRT embarked on a comprehensive assessment and upgrade of their building automation systems. Schneider's unique perspective acknowledged the importance of integrating engineering into sustainability initiatives, emphasizing the necessity of transparency and collaboration between roles.

Demaj emphasized the scalability and transparency of their approach, ensuring that ASHRAE Guideline 36 standards were met while accommodating building-specific requirements. KODE Labs' bi-directional capabilities and ease of enabling data flow provided ESRT with the ability to analyze performance and improve it using the same software platform. 

The collaboration between ESRT, Schneider, and KODE Labs highlighted the importance of software integration and control optimization in achieving decarbonization goals. By bridging the gap between sustainability initiatives and engineering expertise, ESRT paved the way for a more efficient, transparent, and data-driven approach to building retrofits and sustainable real estate practices.

Challenges & Lessons Learned

Dana Schneider and Etrit Demaj shared valuable insights on the challenges faced and lessons learned in implementing this approach to building management systems and control sequences.

Lesson 1: “Just because you have a control system doesn’t mean it’s optimized” 

Dana revealed that the common assumption that a Building Automation System (BAS) guarantees optimization is flawed. The industry lacks expertise in control sequences, leading to inconsistent results in building management. Dana emphasizes the need for transparency and understanding of control sequences, acknowledging the challenges posed by proprietary practices. 

The Resolution: The key takeaway is a call for an ongoing commitment to improving control sequences for energy efficiency.

Lesson 2: Transparency Around Control Sequences

The challenges in achieving transparency around control sequences were significant. Many people wrongly assume a Building Automation System (BAS) ensures optimization, leading to misconceptions about efficiency.

A shortage of skilled experts in control sequence programming complicates efforts for optimal building operations. Despite claims of open protocols, proprietary practices limited access to sequences, hindering analysis and improvements. Finding skilled programmers was challenging, and upgrading legacy systems required that expertise.

The Resolution: The KODE OS software sits on top of the portfolio’s building automation systems, lighting control systems, and other base building systems. The KODE OS software and the KODE team analyze the performance of the system and can send commands in order to test each control sequence to see if it was programmed correctly. This digital commissioning process can be repeated over time to ensure the sequences remain optimized. 

Lesson 3: Embracing continuous change

Another significant lesson from ESRT’s project is the recognition that continuous adaptation and embracing change are integral to progress. Dana emphasizes the importance of understanding that maintaining any building, whether it's a commercial property or a personal residence, requires ongoing effort. The key is to ensure that this effort is informed and evolves with advancements in technology and knowledge.

The Resolution: Dana underscores the value of investing in upfront analysis to develop a long-term plan. This plan should not shy away from updates as new technologies emerge and insights are gained. The core principle is integrating asset performance, sustainability, and optimization considerations, continuously. This proactive approach, Dana argues, leads to significant returns, especially when considering inevitable replacements or updates.

The discussion also touches on the significance of a robust data layer as the foundation for informed decision-making. Real-time data optimization is crucial for effective building management. Dana highlights the transformative potential of having accurate, timely, and easily accessible data, underscoring its role as the basis for all actions and applications in building operations.

Lesson 4: It’s a system of systems 

Dana underscores the importance of taking a holistic approach to building optimization, considering the entire building and all its systems. Traditional energy audits often neglect crucial elements such as the building envelope, tenant equipment, and human behavior. 

The Resolution: Dana emphasizes that all these systems interact with each other and play a role in optimization. Furthermore, Dana discusses the idea of providing services to tenants by arming them with tools for a low-carbon and healthy space. This approach benefits both landlords and tenants, meeting the increasing demand for sustainability in the real estate sector. Dana sees sustainability and decarbonization not as isolated initiatives but as integral components integrated into the overall business model.

James Dice supports this perspective, emphasizing the importance of not treating sustainability as a science project isolated from the business. He advocates for integrating sustainability into the business, recognizing that the ultimate goal is to provide a comfortable, productive, and healthy environment for tenants. This customer-centric approach, according to Dana, aligns with tenants' priorities and positions the real estate company as a leader in delivering sustainable, data-driven services to its clients.

Conclusion

ESRT's journey toward making its buildings more energy-efficient and sustainable, guided by Dana Schneider, showcases a down-to-earth and practical approach. By teaming up with Buro Happold and KODE Labs, they tackled the complexities of managing building systems and control sequences. 

The challenges they faced underscore the importance of being open, ready for change, and understanding the entire picture when optimizing buildings. The lessons learned emphasize the ongoing effort needed for improvement, making informed decisions, and integrating sustainability into everyday business practices. ESRT's experience serves as a reminder of the ongoing commitment required to make buildings more energy-efficient and sustainable, focusing on transparency, adaptability, and a practical understanding of building operations.

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