The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers is taking the first steps to developing what could become standards for interactivity between buildings and the electric grid to accelerate a broader decarbonization effort.

A society task force wrapped up two years of study on cutting grid carbon emissions, and how the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning sector can contribute to the shift toward a dynamic, two-way relationship between buildings and the grid. The approach would enable buildings to respond with more flexibility to changing grid conditions, including time-varying carbon emission rates.

Task force Chair Katherine Hammack says ASHRAE formed it to determine “"gaps in the body of knowledge” that the society provides to the design and construction community on the subject. “We identified that the way buildings talk to the grid and the way the grid talks to buildings is an area that's undergoing a change,” she says. “We focused on what's going on; what could be better understood and what needs to be explained.”

The results are included in ASHRAE's new offering called Grid-Interactive Buildings for Decarbonization: Design and Operation Resource Guide. It is the second in a series of guides the task force developed for building decarbonization.

The document provides best practices, design considerations and operational guidelines to target grid integration—with an emphasis on reducing carbon emissions, creating cost savings and enhancing grid resilience. While the guide provides general information, Hammack says it could evolve into a document with technical information for plans and specs, and ultimately into a standard to guide code compliance.

The significance of two-way communication has grown, driven by the integration of renewable energy sources, grid reliability concerns and the impact of extreme weather conditions, Hammack notes. As a result, utilities, grid operators and the building community are reassessing the role buildings can play in supporting grid reliability and decarbonization.

Design professionals need to be prepared for the inevitable adoption of more policies and regulations on grid interactivity, she says. “We hear people say, ‘My utility does not currently have a program,’ and that may be true today, but it does not mean that a year from now [it] won't,” Hammack contends. 

“We’ve identified some opportunities for new construction that can be designed [into projects] today at very little to no incremental upfront cost, as part of a 'get ready' strategy," she adds. "We want design professionals to understand what's coming related to policies and regulatory issue connected to the intersection of decarbonization and the grid."

Hammack emphasizes that the connection "is now entering codes ... and building performance standards.”

The guide presents a range of solutions from simple upgrades that can be done for a few hundred dollars to more advanced system installations. While the ASHRAE guide primarily focuses on commercial and multifamily buildings, it also includes interaction aspects relevant to the residential and industrial sectors.

ASHRAE will host a seminar at its 2024 winter conference in Chicago, set for Jan. 20-24, to present findings and case studies that contributed to the guide’s content and development.