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By Laurie A. Gilmer, P.E.
March 2006 -
Energy cost are constantly on the rise, and organizations’ resources are becoming increasingly limited. In an effort to keep energy costs down, maintenance and engineering managers have begun looking for ways to improve the performance of their facilities’ energy-consuming systems.
One way to significantly reduce these costs is through the process of retrocommissioning. The process offers managers an organized approach to identifying operating problems with existing facilities and systems, as well as opportunities for increased energy efficiency and reduced operating costs.
Retrocommissioning, much like commissioning for new buildings, is an organized process that identifies facility performance objectives, a methodology for testing and verifying those objectives are achieved, and documentation of the process. But retro-commissioning is performed on facilities that are already in operation, and it is typically in response to problems that exist within building systems.
The overall goals of the retrocommissioning process are to:
During the process, problems with building systems are identified, and recommendations for fixing the problems are made. The process can range all the way from very simple to highly detailed, but the bottom line is always the same: identify ways to save money through better system performance.
Retrocommissioning typically is called for in response to operational problems in a facility. Among the timing issues manager should consider are these:
There is no simple answer to the question of the cost of retrocommissioning. Costs for the process will depend on the type of facility involved, the complexity of its systems, and the type and number of systems that are going to be retrocommissioned. Typical costs for retrocommissioning can range from as low as $0.50 per square foot up to $2 per square foot.
The key to keeping costs in line is to identify, ahead of time:
The results of retrocommissioning obviously will vary. Depending upon the problems identified and recommendations implemented, annual operating cost savings can range from $0.15 per square foot to $1.15 per square foot.
With this type of savings possible, the cost for retrocommissioning is relatively small. For example, a 100,000-square-foot facility with a retrocommissioning cost of about $88,000 — $0.88 per square foot — yielded an annual cost savings of about $20,000, or $0.20 per square foot. The payback for the retrocommissioning often is less than five years.
The make-up of the retrocommissioning team depends upon an organization’s needs. The team typically includes a maintenance and engineering manager, key members of the facility operations and maintenance staff, contractors, and the retrocommissioning consultant.
Selecting a retrocommissioning consultant is an important decision because the firm will be the key partner in the process, responsible for coordinating and managing the overall retrocommissioning process. When selecting a retrocommissioning partner, managers should look for a partner that:
Retrocommissioning can be as simple or complex as a manager wants it to be. But some areas of investigation will have a more significant impact on reducing energy use and operating costs. The number one area is building heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. HVAC systems account for the majority of building operating costs.
By concentrating on the performance of these systems, a manager can target the “low-hanging fruit” — those systems and components that make the most significant improvements to an organization’s bottom line. Common HVAC system problems identified during the initial stages of the retrocommissioning process include:
Addressing these problems can quickly reduce a building’s energy use.
Once a manager and a retrocommissioning partner have identified system problems and the opportunities for energy savings, the manager must select the recommendations that will be implemented. Once this has occurred, the building systems should operate more efficiently and in accordance with the needs of the facility. And with the retrocommissioning plan and recommendations in hand, the manager has a baseline for measuring results.
The success or failure of retrocommissioning lies with answers to these questions:
Retrocommissioning is an invaluable tool that managers overseeing existing facilities can implement to produce results. When it is used effectively, the process can provide an organized approach for verifying system performance, improving energy efficiency, and reducing a facility’s overall operating costs.
Laurie A. Gilmer, P.E., CFM, is with Facility Engineering Associates (FEA) — www.feapc.com — a nationwide consulting firm that focuses on extending the life of and improving existing facilities.
Retrocommissioning can be a complex process because of its potential to cover a range of facility systems and equipment. But it also can be well worth the commitment of time and resources. Managers looking for more information on the process can check out these available resources: