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April 20, 2011 -
Today's tip from Building Operating Management: Trained staff is essential to getting energy savings from a building automation system.
At the Upper Merion Area School District, in King of Prussia, Penn., a building automation system had been in place for years, but the district wasn't getting the savings it had expected. Getting frustrated, Fredrick Remelius, buildings and grounds supervisor, approached the BAS service contractor for answers. The response: 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."
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.
Looking to peers with successful energy management programs, Remelius saw that a larger school district nearby had a full-time person whose mission is to make the BAS work and provide training. A full-time position made 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 the district created the part-time BAS “pilot” position, a power outage during a storm reset the BAS to its original settings after months of tweaks had already taken place. Since electricity bills are only seen once a month, this spike in use was not seen and diagnosed until three months — and $12,000 — later.
The lesson for facility managers: A BAS is only as effective as the staff that is using it.