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FMs lead energy boost

Author : Tim Fryer

29 June 2012

Are FMs well-informed enough about energy efficiency? Tim Fryer found out that there may be more work to be done as FMs become central to leading and implementing energy policy

The first thing is to identify the role of the FM in delivering a company’s environmental performance. Larger companies may have an environmental manager or more likely, depending on the nature of the organisation, and energy manager. More frequently such a role will be taken on by the FM, but even if this is not the case, the FM will undoubtedly be part of any team responsible for making decisions about the fabric of the premises and this would include energy efficiency measures.

A fundamental starting point is supply of the energy. “Historically the conversation [about energy supply] would have started with someone in the procurement team,” explained Richard Scott, Head of Consultancy Services, E.ON Sustainable Energy. “But now energy and carbon dioxide emission factors mean that this is a much more important and detailed conversation that involves a number of people in the organisation. Increasingly we are talking to everyone involved in energy. Facilities managers and energy managers are a vital role in that with energy costs being an important factor for most organisations. We are talking to Finance Directors as well to complete the circle.”

This is a clearly a step forward as in the past the facility manager could have been seen as responsible for using the energy without being the person having to pay for it. Eric Asquith, of Renewable Technologies, Ergro Group, commented: “Smart organisations recognise that energy management is something of interest to all stakeholders. Research has shown [see Box] that employees and customers prefer to deal with companies that invest in more environmentally friendly technologies, so FM’s have a shared responsibility to make sure that brands are not damaged by ignoring the very real pressure to be energy efficient.”

On a more tangible level Mark Tallent, Crestron Lighting & Building Controls Product Manager sees greater communication and information as emerging trends: “Often, the FM is tasked with reducing costs. We are seeing a close working relationship between FM and Accounts. FMs care about functionality and minimal disruption to working environment, but if ROI information is not readily available then accounts cannot justify it. Part of the research project will look at ROI when using a Crestron control solution.”

The research project in question is being conducted with Sheffield University and aims to show how guidelines such as BREEAM/LEED/LENI can be met using control systems. Tallent continued: “The FM has to understand the options available to him in the marketplace. We find the FM industry is looking for robust solutions.”

Asquith equally senses this shift in the role of the FM: “The days of ‘install and forget’ have certainly gone and real time information is being captured to ensure that the best return is gained from this resource. Facilities Managers are on the front line and can influence efficient energy use at so many levels and is becoming a criteria for specifying as well as managing.”

“I think FMs over the past few years have recognised the important role they can play in understanding new technologies,” added E.ON’s Scott. “They are also beginning to understand that this is never a one size fits all question. Or to put it another way, the Facility manager knows better than anyone else that no one building is the same as the next. The technologies, or combination of technologies, that apply to that building are never going to be the same. They are in pole position to understand how combinations of technologies work for every type of building out there.”

However, do FMs have all the knowledge needed to make the most of their new responsibilities in energy and environmental performance? Not so according to Chris Plumb who is HVAC Drives Key Account Manager at ABB Ltd. His company wanted to discover how much facilities and energy managers knew about energy saving opportunities and so conducted an energy-saving awareness survey. “When asked what the best way to save energy is, most respondents suggested changing supplier. But this makes very little sense when all energy suppliers have increased costs in recent years,” said Plumb. “Also high on the list is changing light bulbs. Yet the biggest consumer of electricity is the electric motor, accounting for some 67 per cent of all energy consumed. Motors are used on air handling units, cooling towers, chilled water pumps, supply/ extract fans and so on. Applying a variable-speed drive to these motors could reduce an energy bill from 20 to 50 per cent. Yet the survey put this energy saving option in 12th slot.”

Tallent added: “No, they are not fully aware [of the technology alternatives], but this it is at no fault of their own. The industry is moving so quickly, that it is hard to keep up with developments. This is why we invest in a CPD, to keep FM’s up to date with current technology shifts.”

In fact it would be no surprise to see more technology companies address FMs directly. I asked Plumb if he envisaged more information coming direct from companies like ABB to FMs, instead of relying solely on systems integrators as a sales channel?

“I would like to think we are already reaching out to FMs. We have created a suite of literature that explain the energy saving benefits of variable-speed drives in swimming pools, hospitals, car parks, retail and data centres. These are aimed at FMs and offer practical tips and advice for installing, commissioning and maintaining the drives. It is the same messages which we give to our third party providers such as technical distributors and system integrators.

“To make it as simple as possible, we have also set-up 50 energy appraisers. These are engineers who, in just half-a-day, can spot the motor-driven applications within a building that offer the best energy saving potential.”

Martin Holt, Managing Director, Mitie Technical Facilities Management, clearly believes that FM providers are beginning to fulfil these new demands. “FMs have been talking about energy and carbon issues for a long time, yet the response has been piece-meal until very recently. Over time, different drivers have influenced the clients’ agenda. Legislative compliance was important when the CRC took effect. The economic crisis has meant the cost of energy has become a higher priority. Continuity of energy supply is the latest concern. The reality is that all these drivers are now important and clients cannot ignore the “perfect storm” now being created. FM providers certainly have the skillsets to work with clients to help tackle the energy and carbon issues as part of a FM contract. However the challenge lies in achieving ROI within the constraints of a typical three year contract period.”

His final comment could be seen as a bit of a bombshell. The ROI will be measured from the different perspectives offered by an in-house FM, who can look to the long-term, and an FM provider, who may have to squeeze a payback period into a three year contract. In the latter case it would appear to be almost impossible to justify a multi-million pound renewable energy scheme, particularly as we continue through austere times.

Not necessarily so according to Scott: “Times are tough for everyone and so organisations large and small, public and private would like to retain their capital to invest in their services, their products and their customers. Therefore making an investment case for business services equipment, for energy saving technology is a tough case to make. Facilities Managers are best placed to demonstrate if there is a genuine investment case, often energy saving and environmental considerations combined with the carbon taxes that sometimes surround them can be a very viable financial case, let alone the environmental one. It is not as difficult as it used to be, but still difficult to get on the agenda of the boardroom for building services equipment and technologies like solar panels and ground source heat pumps and the rest of it. So companies do want to see a very strong investment case for this type of equipment.

One solution is The Green Deal that was launched as part of the Energy Act 2011. It is a financial mechanism that eliminates the need to pay upfront for energy efficiency measures, as these are covered by savings on the electricity bill. Companies can then use this ‘energy performance contract route’, which may tie them into an energy supply, but removes the need for capital expenditure.

One thing that is clear from the contributors to this article is that facility managers are ideally placed to take environmental and energy portfolios by the scruff of the neck as they are uniquely placed in having both a knowledge of their buildings and the implications of investing in it. However, there is a host of new technologies out there that FMs need to appreciate, even if they do not need to be expert in them. Expect to read much more on these technologies in future issues of PFM.

Do your company’s employees and customers care?
More than four in ten employees (44%) said that it is important to them to work for a company that invests in energy efficient, environmentally friendly technology for things such as heating, aircon, water and electricity at their workplace.

Almost one in two (46%) agreed that “it is important to me to know that a company I buy goods and services from invests in energy efficient, environmentally friendly technology for things such as heating air con, water and electricity”.

One in three (33%) agreed that “it would make me less likely to buy something from a company I buy goods and services from if I believed that they did not invest in energy efficient, environmentally friendly technology for things such as heating, aircon, water and electricity”.

Populus interviewed 2,047 adults in Great Britain online between 22nd and 24th July 2011. Data has been weighted to be representative of all GB adults in terms of gender, age, SEG and region.

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