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A ‘People Problem’

08 June 2011

Is it possible to stop carbon reduction plans being derailed by the building’s inhabitants? Nicola Martin examines how low-carbon technology is being used in collaboration with staff members to achieve site-wide energy saving.

MOST PEOPLE ASSUME THAT ENERGY in the built environment is primarily wasted when it disappears through the fabric of a poorlyinsulated building. This is, in fact, only part of the story. Organisations continually underestimate how much energy is lost as a result of outdated equipment, incorrect climate settings, and even poor staff habits.
Even a carefully-designed, BREEAM-accredited building can still use an excessive amount of energy. Why? It is 'people' - they turn the lights on during a sunny afternoon; they turn up the thermostat instead of putting on a jumper. These are seemingly small energy-waste issues that can add up to a huge financial outlay and an increased carbon footprint. In order to prevent carbon reduction schemes from being derailed by ‘the people problem’ of needless energy waste, FMs are increasingly turning to new innovations in technology.
“The key is to engage staff with their working environment, making them into active energy users, not just passive inhabitants of the space,” comments Anders Norén, Managing Director of building control systems provider, Priva Building Intelligence Ltd. “Studies have proven that in order to motivate people to change their behaviour, and re-examine the way they use energy, one must capture their attention. Technology, programmed to grab attention is increasingly being used to help achieve so-called ‘behavioural change’ in organisations.”
People typically do not respond to simply being told to use less energy. Far more effective is communicating facts and encouragement, which allows them to make up their own minds about whether to change their behaviour. It is also important to remember that people easily slip back into an apathetic state, unless mechanisms are put in place to remind them to save energy.
In her 2006 report for Defra on behavioural change, Sarah Darby argues that “energy supply and consumption are sociotechnical in nature: technology and behaviour interact and co-evolve with each other over time”. According to the Darby report, offering energy users “direct feedback” that clearly shows how much energy they consume can produce energy savings of 5–15 percent.
BMS have already established a place in helping to achieve energy efficiency, through their programmable building controls. Now BMS technology is going a step further by ‘evolving’ alongside occupants’ behaviour. Under Priva Building Intelligence systems, energy data from the building is collected using meters, which are connected to the BMS using Modbus or M-bus.
The data is then stored in the Compri HX WebEngine's SQL database, which is installed in one of the control panels. Norén explains: “It is important that people within the building can fully access all site information – including energy data – via their web browsers. Using software such as Priva Energy Online, people can view in-depth energy analysis and benchmarking between buildings or sites. Wall-mounted screens, running dedicated web applications that can import any relevant data from the Priva systems via Extensible Markup Language (XML), can also be placed in common areas for all staff to access.”
Using technology to visually illustrate how much energy is being used, and making it readily available via web browsers and wallmounted screens, means that energy use becomes not just a theoretical concept for the building’s inhabitants, but something that moves and changes before their eyes. It is becomes easier to identify branches or outlets that are using more energy than the average, and it is then possible to find the cause of the problem and correct it.
Encouraging ‘behavioural change’ is a key part of creating an energy-efficient site. However, humans remain fallible and they cannot be relied upon to be perfect low-carbon energy users. What technologies are available to improve energy efficiency by circumventing ‘the people problem’?
Retrofit installation of sensors – to save energy by turning lights off when areas are unoccupied – is rising in popularity. Presence detectors have been shown to reduce energy waste and costs by 35–45 percent. They are particularly relevant when running a site with a high footfall of occasional visitors. Indeed, establishments like universities and hotels can find it difficult to engage people in traditional behavioural change programmes, forcing them to look for alternatives.
The sphere of presence detection has changed fundamentally over the past few years. “Presence detectors must work in a way that requires absolutely no thinking on the part of either the people using them or the electricians fitting them,” comments Peter Lawrence, General Manager, Steinel (UK) Ltd, the market leader in lighting sensor technology. “The most effective presence detectors become invisible to the people within a building, allowing the lighting to start up instantly when they enter a room, and staying on for as long as they remain in the room. In light of this, we’ve taken a thorough look at the demands made on sensor technology today by listening carefully to users, planners, architects, consultants and electrical fitters.”
Feedback from people in the trade led Steinel to develop its Control PRO range of presence detectors, which have innovative square-shaped detection characteristics (see left top). In contrast to traditional round-shaped presence detectors, Control PRO makes it possible to cover ‘regular’ areas, such as small offices, meeting rooms, as well as large areas such as open plan offices, large conference rooms and restrooms. A two channel version of Control PRO is also available which controls the heating as well as the lighting.
Steinel has also introduced a measuring device, PROLog, which allows organisations to build up an exact picture of how much energy they could save using presence detectors, before committing to the financial outlay of an installation. The unobtrusive device records in minute detail the actual usage of lighting over a month-long period, and PROLog software then configures the data to provide a highly-accurate projection of the total energy savings that will be accrued over one, three or ten years, if presence detectors are installed.
Re-examining refurbishment
“In these tough economic times, as organisations have become more risk-averse in their carbon-reduction strategies, refurbishment has emerged as a popular solution,” says Lawrence. “Presence detectors, alongside other lighting upgrades or installation of energysaving equipment, make financial sense. Retrofitting sensors to existing lighting is a relatively simple job, so installation costs and disruption are minimal.”
Retrofit projects involving equipment changes also provide a way to save energy without relying on people. And, as part of a site-wide carbon-reduction plan, they can provide tangible evidence for employees that energy-efficiency is not only possible, but also worthwhile. Retrofit solutions – like boiler controls, high-tech insulation materials and lighting converters – represent a growing section of the low-carbon market, because utility costs are immediately reduced (through lower fuel bills), and no extensive refurbishment needs to be done in order to install the energy-saving equipment.
“Inefficient lighting systems, boilers and heating units can be sources of energy waste that are often overlooked by even the most energy-conscious facilities managers,” comments Aidan Salter, Managing Director of Energys Group, a specialist in low carbon retrofit technologies. “Installing a simple, retrofit device to allow ‘plug-in and play’ installation of T5 fluorescent lamps or LED replacement of 2D lamps, can cut lighting energy use by up to 65 percent. Meanwhile, a device to more intelligently control how gas or oil is used within a heating system can provide further energy savings of up 30 percent.”
Energys’s well-established ‘Save It Easy®’ lighting converter (see left bottom) and 2LED Replacement Lamp, alongside its newlylaunched range of Energy Saving Boiler Solutions, are finding a crucial role to play for organisations looking to jumpstart carbonreduction programmes.
A ‘big picture’ approach

For as long as people continue to inhabit buildings, FMs will continue to decry ‘the people problem’. However, even though staff members and site visitors may remain fallible, technology is providing better ways to cut carbon. The answer lies both in collaborating with the building’s inhabitants, through technology that engages them with their own energy use, and, where appropriate, simply finding ways to circumvent human interference. In this way, a ‘big picture’ approach that takes advantage of innovations in technology can unlock valuable energy savings.


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