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"How you operate the equipment that you have is more important than having the latest, most energy-efficient equipment." That's the good news/bad news message that Frederick Remelius, buildings and grounds supervisor for the Upper Merion Area School District, has for the countless facility managers in existing buildings looking to green their operations.
In existing facilities, one of the major ways to be more sustainable is to shrink the building's carbon footprint, which is achieved through greater energy efficiency. Better management of the building system's controls will go a long way in that effort.
So it's good news because solutions to energy management challenges are likely already housed in facilities. But it's also bad news because it means facility managers have to face up to the challenge of learning to use the tools they already have. This was a lesson Remelius had to learn himself.
At the Upper Merion Area School District, in King of Prussia, Penn., a building automation system (BAS) was in place for at least seven years, but the district wasn't getting the savings it had expected. Getting frustrated, Remelius approached the BAS service contractor for answers. The news flash was that it was the contractor's job to put the controls in place but Remelius' to figure out how to use them.
"We didn't know how important it was to be able to drive the system," Remelius says. "People look at BAS as an autopilot." But even with autopilot someone has to be awake at the wheel.
The district sent engineers to the BAS manufacturer to learn how to use the system, something that had never been done in the first place. This started the ball rolling on energy savings, but what really kicked the savings into high gear was dedicating a "pilot" to the BAS. (See chart on page 68.)
Looking to peers with successful energy management programs, Remelius saw that a larger school district nearby has a full-time person whose mission is to make the BAS work and provide training. A full-time position makes sense in a portfolio of more than 1.5 million square feet, Remelius says, but at about 940,000 square feet, a half-time position sufficed for Upper Merion's needs.
A dedicated position is needed in part because of how dynamic the use schedule is for schools — classroom schedule changes, sporadic auditorium use, etc. — but also because controls are not infallible. Before they had set aside the part-time pilot position, a power outage during a storm reset the BAS to its original settings after months of tweaks had already taken place. Because electricity bills are only seen once a month, this spike in use was not seen and diagnosed until three months — and $12,000 — later.
These sorts of oversights are endemic in the general population. People just aren't using their controls to their fullest capabilities, says Roy Cook, managing senior vice president, engineering and due diligence, Transwestern. "It's a lack of training and a lack of attention," he says.
Energy management systems offer a wide variety of control strategies for cutting energy use. A big energy-saving strategy at one of Boeing's enterprise data centers was being able to dynamically vary the chilled water temperatures up to 60 degrees, depending on loads.
"Most buildings have a chiller water temperature and they stay there," says Michael Paul, project administrator at Boeing. And more likely than not, the temperature is set to satisfy IT's desire for a meat-locker effect. Manually resetting the chilled water to make it a little warmer will yield savings, says Paul, but tapping into the potential of a digital BAS simplifies the process.
"Before using the digital system, everything was very old-school," says Paul. "We'd have to log in directly and tweak for hours. Now, to change the chilled water temp, it just takes three or four key strokes." As an additional boon, the remote access capability means Paul can check in on the system from home.
Advances in technology are making it possible to get more out of the energy management system (EMS). For example, wireless thermostats that can convert pneumatic pressure to an electronic signal and feed that information to a building management system are now available.
Energy Management Solutions Likely Already Housed In Facilities
Size of Automation Systems Should Be Proportionate to Building
Managers Can Maintain Building Service Levels While Saving Money With BAS