Given today’s operating realities, making the right facility investments is critical. Many building owners and managers face budget constraints, changing regulations and shifting occupant expectations. These factors increase the pressure to invest wisely in projects that provide the greatest return and impact.
Building management solutions should result in improved facility performance — impacting energy efficiency and the bottom line. But addressing occupant comfort and regulatory standards are important considerations, as well.
The good news is these results can be achieved by starting small. Don’t be overwhelmed by the idea of building improvement projects. Large-scale energy audits that result in a long list of improvements are a good solution for many buildings. However, they may not be the best option for every situation. Small projects can have a significant impact on energy savings, building performance and occupant comfort.
Consider this model that works for many building applications: start small with energy management projects and repeat the cycle after validating the results. The initial investments may be smaller in scale, but these projects can yield big results.
Setting and prioritizing goals
Having a strategy in place before starting is critical to the success of any building energy management project, no matter the size. The process should start with setting reasonable goals and prioritizing them, followed by validation after improvements are made.
The first step is considering what it is you want to accomplish. Ask yourself, “How will this meet my organization’s mission?” Be clear on what the end result should be and what resources are available, and then use that information to set and prioritize goals. From there, it’s easier to move ahead with gaining approval and allocating resources.
Because building managers and owners often have restricted funds to invest, prioritization is a vital part of determining which capital project that aligns with energy management will provide the greatest impact. It is important to consider the total cost of ownership over the entire life of the asset when determining the return on investment of a project. Energy management projects that reduce the lifecycle costs of operation allow organizations to invest in other priorities and make their building an asset that positively impacts the bottom line.
In some cases, it may be necessary to consider getting help from a partner. While some organizations have the internal skillset and staffing resources to implement energy management projects, others prefer to partner with a third-party provider that can offer expertise to help set goals, implement improvements and verify results.
The validation step is where some projects falter, so keep in mind that implementing improvements is not the end of the process. Validation is critical because it ensures that progress is being made and it helps tie the actions taken to tangible business results. A key point to consider is if the investment met the goals and objectives set when the project was first approved.
Technology advancements in building equipment and systems, and the data-gathering capabilities and tools now available with some of these solutions, make it easier than ever to measure performance and verify results. Validation can prove the business impact of the improvements, but results also can be measured around other indicators, including progress toward sustainability goals, system reliability, or occupant complaint calls.
Following through with validation of the results helps to build support internally — a critical step in gaining the buy-in, resources and funding for additional energy management projects. Implementing a cycle of bite-sized investments, followed by validation, and then repeating the process can help build momentum for additional improvements over time.
Repeating this method for small energy management projects can help address some of an organization’s core goals for improvement.
Projects with big impact
Consider the example of a facility with remote chiller controls. Commercial buildings where the indoor environment and occupant comfort are important factors can realize numerous benefits from a building energy management system (BEMS) focused on performance and optimization. Benefits can include remote resolution of system alarms 24/7, energy usage reporting and visualization, and system-level optimization through analytics.
Other improvement steps can include enterprise-level building automation system (BAS) control, integration of lighting and building controls, and the ability to make scheduling and setpoint changes remotely. This also allowed for remote resolution of system alarms 24/7 and intelligent dispatching to mobile technology.
Small building projects have a significant impact on important key performance indicators such as energy efficiency, cost savings and occupant comfort and satisfaction.
Instead of taking a big step to improve building performance, in some cases it’s a better option to take smaller steps and prove the results along the way. Small projects for building energy management provide the potential for ongoing success and significant impact on building performance, operational efficiency and the bottom line.
Neil Maldeis, PE, CEM, is an energy solutions engineering leader for Trane, a provider of indoor comfort solutions and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand. He has more than 30 years of experience as a mechanical/project engineer in building construction and energy conservation.