Michael Bobker, Executive Director
Energy engineer Michael Bobker is a Senior Fellow at the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems and Director of the Building Performance Lab, a permanent focal center for the study and practice of enhanced building performance. Bobker comes to this activity from a background of twenty five years of work in NYC buildings and energy management organizations, with experience in building equipment evaluation, energy analysis, engineering and construction management, technology application, and technician training.
As an implementer of a “retro-commissioning” pilot for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), he became aware not only of the scope of opportunity in NYC’s commercial property sector but also of the fact that leadership nationally has come from a handful of university-based programs that have taken building operations as a serious area for academic research and knowledge application. For example, the Energy Systems Lab at Texas A&M has been developing and applying operations-based techniques for performance improvement, granting numerous engineering degrees (through the Ph.D level) in the process. He believes that, with perhaps the largest, most sophisticated commercial real estate portfolio in the world, NYC would benefit from such a resource based locally.
With this question burning and with support from CIUS’s Robert Paaswell and David Levine, Director of Continuing Education and Public Programs at the Graduate Center, Bobker organized a workshop in the spring of 2005 that introduced the Building Performance Lab concept to the CUNY community. Through the Graduate Center, Bobker is also continuing the Sustainable Building Initiative’s work under CUNY’s Workforce Development Initiative to define educational and training products for enhanced building operations in terms of their valuation by the marketplace. This work comes at a time when there is heightened interest in the employment potential and implications of new building system technologies.
A particular technology area of interest is the advanced use of building automation systems. While digital control of building systems is now common in the commercial sector, there are a variety of functions involving data acquisition and visualization, statistical analysis, and artificial intelligence programming that can greatly extend the value of these systems. Bobker worked with CIUS intern Chris Andrichak to define this area, following work at Texas A&M and at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Commercial Technology Division. A unique aspect of the CIUS work was interviewing local vendors to assess the ability of current systems to add such functionalities. These interviews revealed that a significant level of operator training would be required to make use of such capabilities, a finding that reinforces the importance of establishing a Building Performance Lab.
Bobker enjoys educating and training technicians and has a particular appreciation of hands-on, experience-based learning. Starting from an academic background in social sciences from Oberlin College, he began learning about energy and building systems as a community organizer in neighborhood self-help housing efforts in the South Bronx in the late 1970’s. Working with boilers he recognized in himself a connection to fire-tending and apprenticed himself to an oil burner service contractor and then got more direct experience of building systems as an energy auditor while returning to graduate school for a Masters in Energy Management. As a Principal in an energy services company, he needed to master new technologies such as cogeneration, to a level sufficient to complete installations and manage a portfolio of installed systems.
The second mortgage on his house is a testament to his learning the importance of accurate cost-estimating procedures. His favorite saying: “Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgement.”