Too often, poor understanding of how the system operates undermines the potential of an energy management system or other controls technology. Well-meaning operators tinkering with a system they don’t fully understand can throw an EMS so far off track that the only way to untangle the mess is a thorough recommissioning. However, if the root problem — the lack of knowledge, record keeping and training — is not corrected, the controls will soon be out of whack again.
But merely scheduling training sessions after installation of a new system isn’t enough. The first hurdle is often differences in knowledge levels and learning styles. Whenever a new system is brought into a building, the manufacturer usually provides training for the staff. If one staff member is fairly seasoned with similar systems, that person might tune out during training and miss important information. A rookie team member might be completely unfamiliar with the technology, and the training could be overwhelming.
For this reason, it’s important to audit staff periodically to take stock of what they actually know. “You need to assess their levels of awareness and technical acumen. Make sure people know what managers think they know,” says Kelly Shelton, president of the Chicagoland Association of Professional Energy Consultants. She cautions that these audits should not be tied to performance reviews, or people will hesitate to be honest.
The second step in effective training is to make sure it is continuous. Periodic refreshers, perhaps as an adjunct to routine staff meetings, can keep staff in top shape, Shelton says. “Everyone needs to be kept up to date on the changes that have taken place in the last year or two,” she says.
In addition to the natural tendency to forget what is not frequently used, the continuous training benefits those that were hired after the EMS or other system was put in place — or who missed the original training for other reasons. It also provides a forum for transferring information from the more senior staff into the heads of more junior members.
“When you’re new, what you don’t have are the building’s nuances. You’re given the manual and told, ‘Happy reading,’” Shelton says. While ideally the manual details all of the mechanical systems’ operations, some building information is gained only through time. Live exchanges of information are useful to new staff members who can learn, for example, that a certain room is always cold. Such trouble spots exist in all buildings, Shelton says, and clueing in new people on the six things that have already been tried will help them avoid repeating past efforts and perhaps come up with a new solution.
Because knowledge can so easily walk out the front door as senior staff retire or change jobs, it is important to get as much information into as many heads as possible, Shelton says.
“It’s very important that any time you’re making a change to operations to keep a record and incorporate the input of the operations staff,” she says. Asking for input helps ensure that the entire staff understands and buys into the change, thus spreading knowledge throughout the organization. What’s more, the entire staff’s knowledge can be brought to bear on the problem that required the change in operations.
Building green doesn’t involve the cost premium it used to. But there is a catch: Building for efficiency puts a premium on facility executives using their best project management skills.
The starting point is to gather all stakeholders to hammer out a vision, expectations, and a budget that are understood by all parties involved — a meeting that’s often called a charette.
But one meeting isn’t enough. Stakeholders should meet throughout the process, and evaluate the project as it unfolds. Not involving the team could lead to ill-advised knee-jerk decisions to handle a surprise.
Perhaps the design calls for using photovoltaic panels, but demand is too tight to get the panels in time. Or a site survey shows that the light isn’t optimal. Normally the solar-power option would just be dropped. But a team could hash out other options — for example, redirecting the money for a more efficient chiller.
— Brandon Lorenz
For other ways to avoid mismanaging the EMS, go to: www.facilitiesnet.com/1499bom and www.facilitiesnet.com/4474bom
Also, check out the Federal Energy Management Program’s “Operations and Maintenance Best Practices Guide”