Are You Sure Your Building Is Running Efficiently?

July 5, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

energy_managementOrganizations spend a lot of money deploying energy efficiency systems and “tuning” buildings to peak efficiency. These, of course, are good steps to take. In a sense, though, they are just the beginning.

The key is to follow those moves with common sense steps that maintain those initial gains. The logical reality is that a building that is working at optimal efficiency at one point in time won’t continue to be unless great care is taken it to made course corrections along the way.

Lucid Founder and President Vladi Shunturov suggests that a lot of money is wasted by energy managers who think that their buildings are running well — but are wrong. Shunturov used lighting as an example. “You may have a lighting control system, which is all well and good, but if you are not running it correctly, it is not going to save you any money.”

The good news is lot of low hanging fruit:

The problem with efficiency is that by definition it isn’t persistent. That is because buildings have an increasing number of dials and levers to pull or push and when we go in and change the configuration the building to suit needs for a day or event we rarely go back and put the building where it is supposed to be. Without building technology to manage that, to let you know when things are out of whack, there no chance to effectively manage a portfolio of buildings.

Shunturov estimates that 20 percent to 30 percent of inefficiencies “are purely from operational pieces that have nothing to do with capital improvements.”

This is good news for building managers and the people who sign their pay checks: The simple act of what in essence is being more careful can significantly cut expenditures. Shunturov said that paying attention to such details in a test at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory resulted in an immediate increase of 17 percent.

There are three main reasons that buildings, to use Shunturov’s expression, “go out of whack:”

Building scheduling: There are two variations in this area. The first is when the way in which the building is used no longer is in line with the heating and cooling schedule. Suppose, for instance, that the building’s management system originally is scheduled when it is heavily occupied during long periods – such as during a startup phase or holiday season rush. If the system is not reset when the schedule moderates, the company may be paying to heat and cool empty offices.

The related variation is overrides. Often, Shunturov said, an exception is made to the normal process. Perhaps an evening meeting is held. In such cases, the HVAC schedule may be overridden to keep participants comfortable. Often, however, nobody bothers to rescind the override.

Peak demand management: Organizations’ energy rates often are determined by peak usage. Thus, it makes sense for buildings to back off energy consumption as these limits are being reached. Switching at those crucial times to alternative energy or simply cutting back on non-essential equipment would save a lot of money – if building managers are aware of it. They often aren’t, Shunturov said. Putting systems in place that alert the proper person is a relatively easy task — but one that often is overlooked.

Building changes. A building’s baseline on day one is not its baseline on day two…and it certainly isn’t on day 180 or 365. “Over time, people bring things into the building,” Shunturov said. “It could be space heaters, servers that we don’t use and other things. We let it all run all the time and kind of forget about them. The baseline of the building creeps up. You really need to have a good sense of what the optimal baseload was when there was a full commissioning of the building. For instance, perhaps it was agreed that the load was 40 kilowatts – and now it is at 85 kilowatts. Where did the 45 kilowatts come from?”

Building managers continually look for low hanging fruit – rudimentary and low cost steps that can create significant savings. Usually, these are physical installations, such as LEDs and occupancy sensors. It seems that there is another type of low hanging fruit: Doing things smartly and paying attention.

5 comments on “Are You Sure Your Building Is Running Efficiently?

  1. Embracing the continual improvement processes whether ISO, LEAN, IPMVP or other is to be recognized and congratulated in leadership. Such behavioral improvements are constant and deliver that additional 20-30% year after year.

    Veritatis Advisors

  2. Does anyone measure what is being lost up the boilers chimney? This waste heat energy can be recovered and used as building space heating or be converted into electricity.
    There is no reason to waste it.

  3. Good article! At ALTANOVA, we provide Energy management assistance for this reason. When combining continuous commissioning with the normal replacement cycle of systems in building portfolio, 20-30% savings is achievable in many buildings that will also benefit of improved IEQ for the benefit of their tenants.

  4. Vladi Shunturov comment that 20% to 30% of inefficiencies from operational aspects is being proven by the results of low-cost/no-cost improvements in ISO 50001 and Superior Energy Performance case studies. His comments that buildings change is key and to me it should highlights the common problem where building owners have a short term view of improvement projects. Managing and constantly reviewing the changes fits perfectly with the continuous improvement approach of ISO 50001 and SEP and leads to more and more savings. Thanks for the good article.

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