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Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and Energy Efficiency

Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and Energy Efficiency

In a March 22nd article in The New York Times, three science writers—Mike McPhate, Derek Watkins, and Jim Wilson—described how this winter's accumulated snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range may prove to be an antidote to the state's drought crisis.

High-tech airborne mapping and other specialized instruments, they wrote, have provided scientists with an unprecedented understanding of the amount of water present in the snow, and the rate at which the snow is expected to melt.

The Airborne Snow Observatory, associated with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, uses these data to determine precisely the amount of water that will be released from the mountain peaks this spring to fill depleted reservoirs.​ For decades, officials with the California Department of Water Resources had estimated snowpack levels by extrapolating ground-based data gathered at a few points across the range.The margin of error for this manual process was significant—​perhaps even huge—​according to the Times journalists.

Today, firing lasers from an airplane and measuring how fast the pulses bounce back enables better and faster topographical mapping. Elevations with maximum snowpack (during winter) and minimum snowpack (during summer) are compared to assess snowpack density and thus water content. Separate equipment measures the snowpack's albedo—​or sunlight reflectivity—​which is inversely related to solar energy absorption, and thus melting rate.

What does this have to do with energy efficiency?

Technological advances are rapidly changing the resources that building owners and operators can use to understand their buildings. Previously obscured information about energy-consuming system performance is being revealed by new data-mining techniques that offer increasingly granular views of HVAC system operation. These initiatives are yield a much more complete picture enabling deeper analysis by facility and engineering staff and their technical consultants.

Energy reduction of 3%, 5%, and even 10% can be achieved through low-cost operational enhancements. These opportunities are only uncovered through the analysis of a continuous and recurring stream of data that describe the interaction of every monitored piece of a building's HVAC system. Changes in building occupancy and outdoor temperatures conditions over the course of a day are reflected in the real-time performance data.

Now is the time for building owners and operators to adopt data-driven energy management. An entirely new regime of best practices based on novel software and technology is emerging. Building owners and operators no longer have to depend on intuition, broad extrapolation, and historical precedent, or suffer from the limitations of their aging control systems. They can now have a clear-eyed understanding of specific ways to improve their HVAC system performance while reducing energy consumption and cost.

Monitoring-based commissioning from Sieben Energy Associates is one example of a successful data-driven approach to energy management. View our case studies to learn about how we have helped building owners and operators save money and energy through low-cost operational enhancements.

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