Retrocommissioning: Finding Barriers to Energy Efficiency
Retrocommissioning is the application of the commissioning process to existing buildings. Commissioning ensures a new building operates initially as intended and that in-house staff are prepared to operate and maintain its systems and equipment to ensure energy efficiency and reliability.
While retrocommissioning has proven it can deliver benefits to organizations, many managers have uncertainties about the process that prevent them from using it. In some cases, the issue is simply a lack of familiarity with the word.
“Some people aren’t sure what it is,” Flatley says. “It’s not a term most people are familiar with, or they’re not as familiar with it as an energy audit. Some intuitively understand what the idea is, and some are still blank in the face.”
Whether they use the word or not, managers probably have used some of the steps in the process, says Jim Newman with Newman Consulting Group, adding, “Many of them have done this, but probably without using the term.” Some managers also have bottom-line concerns about investing in retrocommissioning.
“One of the most common is, ‘It’s going to cost too much,’ ” Newman says. “It actually depends on what they decide to do. There are expensive things that have a relatively quick payback, and there are expensive things that have a long payback.”
Managers can determine whether a facility is a candidate for retrocommissioning — and, therefore, whether the organization will see a worthwhile return on investments — by using the Energy Star program’s Portfolio Manager, an online tool that incorporates utility costs and facility data to determine energy efficiency.
“If you are below the 50th percentile, you certainly have room for improvement, and more than likely, wasteful operation is contributing to that score,” Flatley says, adding that other conditions might indicate an opportunity to retrocommission. “Also, if you’re experiencing excessive equipment maintenance in that things are failing on a regular and consistent basis, this could mean overheating or overcooling or just running longer than they should.
“A new building that never received a commissioning at startup would be a candidate as well. Any building that had a recent major renovation would benefit from retrocommissioning the new systems. Or if a building changed its occupancy type and, for instance, went from a warehouse to an occupied space.”
Newman recommends that managers first conduct an energy audit of the facility in question to determine if opportunities exist for energy-efficiency savings.
“First you do an energy audit, then you do retrocommissioning,” he says. “But even though a lot of building engineers and facilities people will not have a formal energy audit — whether by their own staff or by outside professionals — they will know there is something wrong with their HVAC or lighting system. They might not address it with a major retrocommissioning project that’s going to have a high capital expense because they don’t have that in their maintenance budget. But we will do an energy audit and identify the kinds of things they should be thinking about and doing.”