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4  FM quick reads on Building Automation

1. BAS Can Help Facility Managers Take Advantage of Smart Grid

The electric grid is in line for a nationwide makeover, and building automation systems could help facility managers take advantage of the development.

Today, the electric grid is essentially a one-way street, directing power from the utility to the facility. The so-called "smart grid" will allow both power and data to flow in both directions, with smart meters not only gathering data about the facility's electric use, but also relaying information from the utility to the facility.

The flow of data promises to be increasingly important to facility managers. A big goal of the smart-grid movement is to trim utility peak loads. That will both cut costs and improve the reliability of the grid by reducing the risk of blackouts and brownouts.

One way to achieve that goal is through time-of-use pricing, which brings higher rates at times of peak demand. Another strategy is to send out signals to facilities to cut back on loads as part of a demand response program. A building automation or energy management system can help facility executives take advantage of time-of-use pricing by automatically making adjustments to building systems to reduce peak energy use. For example, the building automation system could automatically direct variable frequency drives on fans to slow in sequence, thereby trimming demand without a noticeable effect on occupants.

The transition to the smart grid will take years. But for facility managers, now is the time to start thinking about how the building automation system will help take advantage of opportunities presented by the smart grid.

2.  Retrocommissioning Quickly Pays for Itself in Energy Savings

Today's topic is payback for retrocommissioning.

Problems with controls &emdash; HVAC controls in particular &emdash; can waste energy and raise operating costs significantly. The way to find and fix those problems is well-established but too rarely used. Retrocommissioning applies the principles of commissioning to existing buildings rather than to new ones. Studies have shown retrocommissioning to be a cost effective way to improve the performance of controls and to remedy other problems within a building.

Retrocommissioning takes a relatively modest upfront investment. According to a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), the average cost for retrocommissioning is $.30 per square foot. But the return on that investment comes quickly: The median payback time is a little more than a year. That's not surprising considering that the median energy savings is 16 percent. And those savings last, says LBNL: "Energy savings tend to persist well over at least a 3-to-5 year timeframe." Savings may last longer than that, but the study didn't have data for longer periods.

3.  Building automation and maintenance

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is building automation and maintenance. When organizations face tough economic times, maintenance and engineering managers often receive one overriding directive: Cut department costs. But that objective often is a complex task, as managers with Pittsburgh International Airport understand all too well. Fortunately, the airport's decision to upgrade its building automation system, or BAS, has paid dividends that go far beyond the more common benefits of energy efficiency. The airport upgraded its BAS in 2002, just as the airline industry was entering a prolonged financial slump. Managers knew the upgraded system would have to meet cost-cutting objectives and energy-efficiency demands. The arrival of the BAS has translated into benefits that also involve technician productivity and worker efficiency. For example, the BAS streamlines troubleshooting activities by allowing technicians to trend areas to analyze the indoor environment more accurately. "Trending is probably one of the best things we can do," says Len Boehm, an HVAC supervisor. "If we know we have a problem area, or if we know we have an area where we're over-conditioning, we can definitely go into that right away. We're way ahead of everything, instead of being behind it." The BAS also directly affects the way technicians look at long-term equipment performance. The system aids technicians in performing thorough preventive maintenance, ensuring strong performance throughout the equipment's life cycle. "We're checking the zones, we're checking pneumatics, and the (direct digital control) panel's checked,” Boehm says. “Even the air that feeds our pneumatic electronic systems, we're checking that for moisture and oil content." The new BAS not only has helped the maintenance department become more efficient. It also has helped follow through on the goal of lowering utility costs. Says Boehm, "One of the things we can't afford to do is be behind the 8-ball here because we don't have that manpower that we used to have. This system has made it that much easier. I guess you could call it the 12th man."

4.  BAS Has an Important Role with Demand Response

A demand response program is an opportunity for a facility to reduce electricity costs. In a demand response program, a facility gets paid for reducing energy use when asked to do so by a utility. The programs kick in when demand on the grid approaches capacity or when wholesale power prices get very high. There are plenty of ways that a facility can reduce its demand without having a dramatic impact on operations or comfort. The trick is to shave a little energy here and a little there, rather than making larger changes that might have a big impact on building occupants. Enter the building automation system. It's the perfect tool for implementing the small changes that can trim energy use enough to meet demand response goals. For example, the BAS can allow temperatures to rise a degree or two, or dim lights slightly. The number of demand response steps that can be automated through the BAS depends, of course, on which building systems are integrated and how the BAS is programmed. For facilities that have aging building automation systems and that aren't taking advantage of demand response programs, the savings offered by demand response can be one more factor to help justify a BAS upgrade.


Building Automation , Variable Frequency Drives , Smart Grid , Demand Response , Cost Control

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