Beyond the BMS: a holistic approach to energy management

Beyond the BMS: a holistic approach to energy management

From an energy perspective, companies can achieve considerable added value by bringing together expertise which scrutinises the building as a whole, advises Marc Harrison.  

Many facilities assume energy management is simply about installing a building management system (BMS) – job done, right? Well, no in fact. Sure enough, selecting a BMS represents a fantastic starting point. Data regarding the condition of the building’s environment is collected from sensors, fed back and collated ready for scrutiny.

Alas the solution is not usually that simple. A BMS is typically linked closely to the controls for elements of mechanical and electrical services such as power, ventilation and lighting. As a result they are often focused on the plant than on any desired energy efficiency outcomes. Furthermore, they are often poor at accommodating evolving usage patterns and post-installation hardware changes.

Full circle service

Some BMS vendors are guilty of selling a system, installing it and walking away – leaving the customer with little more than a manual and best wishes. As a result, the uptake of bureau services is a marked industry trend. Bureaus focus on delivering a ‘full circle’ service which makes it possible to cross-examine energy data and work with customers (often over many years) to continually monitor and optimise their site or sites.

This represents a far more holistic way of viewing estate management, and indeed energy management. It means the bureau can also scrutinise what’s sensible in terms of upgrading equipment such as HVAC plant, boilers, chillers, lights/controls, voltage optimisation units and so on, ultimately delivering even more savings.

Growing numbers of facilities are adopting bureau services as a cost effective way of obtaining the maximum from their BMS installations. A BMS can serve many purposes, overseeing factors such as heating, hot water, ventilation, cooling, shading, air conditioning and lighting. However, even in buildings featuring the very latest BMS there appears extensive failure to optimise the technology.

External expertise

The solution to achieving unrealised energy and maintenance savings from a BMS lies with external expertise. Crucially, this is not just about a service contract and routine maintenance, it’s about knowledge sharing and helping bureau users better understand their BMS. A bureau service can include features such as telephone/internet support, engineer call-outs, pre-planned maintenance dates and proactive visits to pinpoint potential energy savings and beneficial upgrades.

Data analysis and alarm monitoring are among the many vital tools servicing the quest for better energy management. A bureau service can identify issues such as stuck heating valves, a common cause of excessive energy use, or heaters or lights that have been unwittingly left on for extended periods.

Multi-site benefits

Among those high on the uptake are large, multi-site businesses in the entertainment industry. Here, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning form a vital part of delivering a comfortable and enjoyable environment for visitors. These sites operate typically using an integrated system based on open protocol technology. A master controller connects each on-site system to multiple sub-controllers within the entertainment venues and public areas. The bureau can then connect to and remotely monitor and interrogate each site from a central location, 364 days a year.

Temperatures can be monitored and controlled to a set point with tolerance, for instance. The sites can also be contacted automatically at least daily to check boiler and chiller performance. In addition, remote monitoring enables bureau engineers to identify problematic areas using site alarms – subsequently informing area managers before any disruption is caused to venue visitors.

Tailored to suit

Adjusting building controls in accordance with fluctuating occupancy levels at each venue can also be key in the fight against energy consumption. A weekly supplied ‘occupancy table’ ensures bureau technicians can program the building’s controls for each area. As a consequence, valuable energy only gets used when required and is not wasted on unoccupied space.

Energy can also be saved by deploying optimum start/stop strategies along with ‘midday pause’ control, which uses the inertia of the building’s fabric to retain warmth. Such multi-site users typically receive a financial return of two-to-four times their annual investment with the bureau, which is far above and beyond what a simple automated solution could deliver. This equates to a minimum of 10% in energy savings.

Numerous benefits

When functioning correctly, a BMS is able to deliver a range of advantages. Yes they can minimise running costs, energy consumption and energy-associated pollution, but they can also boost comfort for building users, prevent the unwanted or out-of-hours operation of equipment, limit excessive wear and tear on systems and plant, and minimise maintenance, repair and replacement costs. Ensuring this happens requires a holistic approach.

Over 90% of first-time bureau users renew year-on-year – a statistic that speaks volumes about the growing need for full circle energy management services.

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