Energy is a large and growing concern for many businesses and business sectors. As oil prices rise, as environmental awareness increases, more and more money is spent on alternative energy sources. But there has been a new awareness growing that many of our environmental objectives can be met through energy efficiency.
Building Energy Management Systems — BEMS — is a growing market in the United States, as building owners and managers stop thinking of energy as a fixed cost, but, rather, as an asset to be managed. And growing in tandem with energy management, is a renewed interest in building commissioning.
Building commissioning is not a new idea. The U.S. National Institute of Building Sciences defines it as a process that “assists in the delivery of a project that provides a safe and healthful facility, optimizes energy use, reduces operating costs, ensures adequate operations and maintenance staff orientation and training, and improves installed building systems documentation.”
Not surprisingly, the explosive growth in the use of LEED in both Canada and the U.S. has led to a greatly increased demand for commissioning, or re-commissioning if the building has been commissioned previously, or retro-commissioning if the building has never been commissioned.
Re-commissioning can be important. Electronic controls can slip, too, leading to systems that operate poorly.
In fact, scientists at Texas A&M’s Energy Systems Laboratory have estimated that as much as 20 per cent of the energy used in an average commercial building is lost because systems aren’t running properly.
An example of the increased interest is shown in membership in the Building Commission Association. In 2005 the group had about 500 members. By last year that was up to about 2,000.
Commissioning a building costs money, of course, with estimates that it can add anywhere from 0.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent to the total cost of a new building. To some, that has seemed like a lot to pay to a consultant, when all he appears to be doing is confirming that the other contractors and their subs did what they were paid to do.
There is a lot more to commissioning than that, of course, and there is a large and important study that demonstrates the savings that commissioning can yield.
Done in 2009 by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the U.S., it examined the data from 643 buildings representing almost a million square feet of space.
It found that commissioning a new building represented 0.4 per cent of its total cost, or about $1.16 per square foot. But it yielded about 13 per cent in energy savings, with a total payback time of 4.2 years.
For existing buildings, the commissioning cost was about 30 cents per square foot, yielding energy savings of 16 per cent. The payback time was just more than 13 months.
So keen is the new-found interest in energy efficiency that Texas A&M scientists have come up with the concept of “continuous commissioning.”
This is simply continuous collection and analysis of energy data, which is usually supplied by an existing building automation system or building energy management system.
The data collected are compared to the performance levels desired. When readings stray out of bounds, they are immediately flagged for investigation.
The growth in such technology is driven by the emerging notion that a kilowatt hour of energy saved is a kilowatt hour of energy that doesn’t have to be generated.
We should remember that notion as we become hungrier and hungrier for more and more energy.
Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to email@example.com