4  FM quick reads on Building automation

1. When Upgrading Building Automation, Review Capabilities of Existing Systems

Today's tip from Building Operating Management: Before upgrading an existing building automation system, be sure to review the capabilities of the existing automation and HVAC systems.

When facility managers are considering upgrades to existing building automation systems, they are likely to be wowed by the capabilities available. But those capabilities will be useful only if they are implemented.

One of the most important factors to consider when reviewing the capabilities of the new system is that most existing systems are not used to their full potential. Some functions included in the original system may not have been needed when it was first installed. Management may have decided that some functions required too much effort or the collection of too much data to be of value. Still other functions may have been used initially, but dropped due to the lack of sufficient manpower or simply because they were too difficult to use.

Before making a decision to invest in a new system to gain additional system capabilities, make certain that they are not already available with the current system. If they are available, then the facility manager should evaluate whether anything about the new system makes it more likely that those capabilities will be used.

A review of existing capabilities must extend beyond the system itself to the building systems and components they will be interfacing with. Having the ability to control the operation of all building HVAC equipment is a feature needed if managing facility energy use is one of the primary goals of the system. If the HVAC systems themselves do not have the controls of the type and level of sophistication needed, then those HVAC systems will need to be upgraded or the energy savings impact of the new system will not reach its full potential. It may well be worthwhile to upgrade the existing HVAC system, but the option should be carefully evaluated before a decision is made to move ahead with a new building automation system.

Utility Incentives Can Help Cover the Cost of Retrocommissioning

Today's tip: Look to electric utilities for incentives that can help cover the cost of retrocommissioning.

Retrocommissioning is a cost effective way to trim energy costs and improve building system performance. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the median payback time for a retrocommissioning project is slightly more than one year. In other words, the return on investment is nearly 100 percent.

But even an ROI like that may not be enough to win funds to conduct retrocommissioning. At an average cost of thirty cents per square foot, the price tag for a 100,000 square foot building is $30,000.

One way to reduce that cost and improve the chances for project approval is with utility incentives. In some states - notably California — utility incentives have been available to help cover the cost of commissioning. Other states that have offered utility incentives include Colorado, Minnesota, New York and Texas. For utilities the benefit is very simple: By reducing the amount of energy used by a facility, retrocommissioning offers a very cost-effective way to cut the demand on the utility infrastructure.

The retrocommissioning incentives are one element of the growing effort by many utilities to reduce electric consumption among commercial and institutional customers. Those incentives peaked during the 1990s, then dropped sharply as the electric industry deregulated. Since then, however, incentive programs and associated dollars have climbed steadily.

A federally funded website is one way to find out if your local utility offers an incentive for retrocommissioning. The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funds a national program called the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency - DSIRE, for short. Go to the organization's website, www.dsireusa.org, and click on the state or U.S. Territory to see a list of utility programs in that area.

Function Assessment Is First Step in Building Automation Upgrade Planning

Today's tip: Doing a function assessment for building automation upgrade planning.

Building automation systems, like all other building components, have a finite life. As they age, they become more difficult and expensive to keep operating. Components for replacement or expansion become harder to find. And manufacturers may cut off support to older systems, rendering them obsolete. When one factors in advances in system capabilities, facility managers face a challenging question: Is it better to expand an existing system or to replace it?

Perhaps the most important and yet the most often skipped step in the expand-or-replace evaluation process is the identification of the facility's automation needs. Too many systems are sold by the "wow" factor. Facility executives are given the demonstration that includes all of the bells and whistles of a new generation automation system, and they are sold.

Start with a function assessment. Building automation systems perform a wide range of functions, including energy management, HVAC system operation, security management, asset management and financial analysis. Examine how those functions are currently being carried out. Are the systems that are currently performing those functions able to seamlessly transfer data, or must data from one system be entered manually into another system? What level of control is being exercised over energy-using systems?

Identify additional functions that would benefit the facility. System designs and capabilities have seen tremendous improvements in just the past five years, with new functions being added and old ones being upgraded and enhanced.

Look at how the facility is currently being operated, what functions are being performed, and how a building automation system might be used to support or enhance those operations.

When identifying the automation needs for a facility, remember that facility needs, like the facilities themselves, are not static. Occupants change. Occupants' needs change. Even the way in which a facility purchases energy changes. Automation function assessments must take into consideration these future changes.

New and Established Automation Companies Offer Energy Options

A spurt of innovation is offering new options for automating buildings to save energy.

Energy efficiency has become a high-profile national issue, driven by concerns about climate change and volatile energy prices plus a growing desire of businesses to present a green image. Those factors help explain why established building automation system providers are expanding their offerings, while new companies are entering the market.

Those new companies aren't limited to building automation providers. Some start ups offer products designed to improve control of lighting systems, including LEDs. Other start ups target building automation. This new generation of start-ups includes companies funded by venture capital and it draws talent from around the world.

In part these innovations are driven by advances in technology from outside the building automation arena. Faster, cheaper information processing power is one example. Another is the advance of touchscreen technology, which has now become available for use with building automation systems.

One area where technology development is evident is with energy dashboards. These fall into two categories. One type of dashboard reports on energy use in the past. These dashboards can be used to monitor and report on energy consumption for facility management purposes or to educate occupants or visitors about a building's energy use.

Another type of dashboard provides real-time energy information, reports Lindsay Audin, president of EnergyWiz and a contributing editor for Building Operating Management. These dashboards receive energy-use data from utility "smart meters" and present it in graphical form so that it can be grasped quickly. Information may include how fast power, fuel or energy dollars are being used; load profiles; and comparisons of past and present energy use. Facility managers can use the dashboards to find problems with HVAC systems and controls that are wasting energy and money. Some dashboards can help with demand response or fuel switching efforts.


Building automation , retrofit , replacement , HVAC

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