Unlocking HVAC savings with cloud-based analytics

by CIM Enviro


Reducing a building’s energy expenditure through performance monitoring requires software that fully empowers facility managers, writes David Walsh, CEO of CIM Environmental Group.

Heating, ventilation and air- conditioning (HVAC) units are designed to provide tenants with a comfortable and safe working environment whereby room temperature, humidity levels and air movement remain within predetermined comfort ranges across every room of the building. This in turn ensures energy output is optimal, energy bills are minimised and tenant conditions are consistently ideal.

However, this is very rarely the case, with faults and inefficiencies in HVAC units occurring almost constantly and conditions consistently deviating from ideal.

Data shows that an average of 15 percent of a site’s energy consumption is due to faults and inefficiencies – a figure that can be as high as 36 percent in some sites, depending on the age of the asset and how frequently maintenance is scheduled. This is even more concerning because HVAC units account for around 40 percent of a building’s total consumption and 70 percent of a landlord’s energy bills – making them the largest portion of any energy-use component of a building.

Short-term consequences of this can be elevated energy bills, dissatisfied tenants and time wasted handling continual complaints.

Longer-term outcomes could even be higher tenant turnover, lower National Australian Built Environmental Rating System (NABERS) star ratings and an overall reduction in the value of the asset signifying smaller returns to shareholders.

CURRENT LIMITATIONS

Substantial increases in electricity prices over the past decade means building owners are acutely conscious of the impacts of these units on their bottom line. Frequent hot and cold complaints by tenants mean many are also painfully aware of the prevalence of faults and inefficiencies in either the building management system or in the plant and equipment.

Many building owners are still in the dark about the exact causes of these issues, how many issues are in the building, which issues to prioritise and how to go about fixing them.

A building management system (BMS) provides enormous crude data streams about a building’s performance, which is often interpreted at intervals decided by maintenance teams instead of at the point of equipment malfunction. This means buildings can be constantly functioning inefficiently and faults left for months before being identified and addressed.

Some facility managers have sought to overcome this using software designed to read the data from the BMS and correct faults automatically. This software seeks to control the building and all pieces of mechanical plant and equipment contained within using computer code. It overrides the BMS, where the software perceives performance to have strayed from an optimal level determined through this code, based on the classic software engineer approach, which says: ‘I’ll build a good software tool, install it in a building and everything will work perfectly.’

ON-SITE EXPERTISE AND CLOUD-BASED ANALYTICS

The built environment is unfortunately far more complex than this. One single commercial building could contain around 2000 individual pieces of mechanical plant and equipment, many of which contain moving parts. Computer code on its own will never be enough to make all of these individual parts function optimally 100 percent of the time.

Bypassing maintenance teams and making remote adjustments may work eight out of 10 times – but may have disastrous outcomes those other two instances where the software has simply got it wrong.

This is where a union between advanced software analytics and specialised building services engineering becomes invaluable. Building owners need a data-driven solution that enables immediate identification of operational faults, prioritises issues by cost and then, importantly, empowers on-site teams to remedy these issues easily, quickly and at very little cost.

For this reason, we’ve spent the past two years developing our own solution – the ‘ACE Platform’. This technology digs into multiple sources of data such as BMS, sensor and control data, occupancy figures and weather data. It then feeds this data into a cloud-based analytics engine to determine optimal energy usage and where deviations are occurring by recreating the structure of the plant and equipment virtually.

Simple, clear and actionable reports are then generated where energy usage deviates from optimal – empowering facility managers and maintenance teams precisely at the point where issues arise.

Engineering experts are also on hand to assist throughout the process, providing maintenance teams with increased visibility into on-site issues. This allows the delivery of a better client service, protects existing maintenance contracts and generates a greater understanding of the building’s functionality overall.

As a consequence, plant and equipment perform optimally, maintenance teams are up-skilled and empowered, issues are resolved before they become tenant complaints and energy wastage is minimised.

TRIALLING THE TECHNOLOGY

A recent trial of the ACE Platform within the large commercial shopping centre, Wollongong Central, uncovered estimated yearly savings of $63,000 and reduced energy usage by around 12 percent over the six-month trial period.

Though this trial was just on one site, with many owners holding over 50 sites in their portfolios the potential savings of the ACE Platform for a business could amount to millions of dollars per year.

We’re currently in negotiations for the installation of ACE across several portfolios and sites, with further interest coming from developers in Asia and New Zealand. The New South Wales Government is funding its installation in specific sites.

Article first appeared at Facility Management Magazine Online.