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Tackling the detail of energy management projects

27 June 2013

There is often a lot more to managing an energy-saving project than many people realise, as Geoff Newman of Sabien Technology explains

When it comes to improving energy efficiency there are many options for retrofitting new technologies to existing systems, ranging from replacing traditional light sources with LEDs to installing additional controls on boiler plant. Our experience of the latter has given us a keen insight into the factors that make for a successful project. They include selecting the right technology, of course, but it’s also important to implement a methodology that takes account of other issues, such as stakeholder engagement and the measurement and verification of savings.These are general principles that can be applied to any energy-saving initiative.

Understanding the current situation
Clearly the first step is to understand how much energy you are using and, ideally, where you are using it –which to some extent will be determined by the level of metering in place. For example, if gas consumption is only measured at the level it enters the building, it may not be possible to differentiate between gas consumption for heating, hot watergeneration onlyor catering. Sub-level metering will provide a more accurate picture on which to base investment decisions.

Such an understanding before the project will also assist with subsequent validation of savings and must be part of the measurement and verification programme.

However, not all buildings are equipped with the ideal level of sub-metering so in some cases a suitable on/off regime will help to compare the efficacy of the new technology. To explain that further, we have developed a ‘toggling’ technique for our M2G intelligent boiler load optimiser that switches between running the M2G one day and then bypassing it the next, usually over a period of one month. The result is a comparison of ‘with and without’ an energy saving device – thus taking account of demand variations within the building.

This general principle can also be applied to many other types of energy-saving project so validation – which is discussed in more detail later – is still possible without extensive sub-metering.

Making the right choice
Having identified the areas of focus it’s now necessary to identify potential solutions – and to ensure those solutions will deliver what they promise. The technology providers you are considering should be able to explain how their product works without trying to lose you in technical jargon.

The explanation should also make sense. Returning to the example of boiler control, it is obvious that the basis of controlling a boiler is to respond to changes in temperature. So if a boiler control technology works by artificially lowering the boilers’ temperature set points, it may compromise the comfort conditions in the building. If it controls on the basis of time – such as by delaying the firing of the boilers - again it may impact on temperatures and comfort conditions.Also, if the savings are reported as a reduction in boiler run time then it is not a reduction in actual energy i.e. kWh..

Of course, where new control technologies are being introduced to an existing system it will have to work in harmony with existing controls. Many heating systems, for example, will already be using control systems such as a building management system, weather compensation, demand control or sequencing. It is therefore essential that additional controls do nothing to interfere with these. Rather, they should add to the energy savings that are already being achieved by the existing control strategy.

For that reason, in addition to checking out the technology you are considering, you should make a point of talking to other organisations that have used it to verify they have not experienced any issues with existing controls. They should also be able to tell you about the verified energy savings they have achieved using that technology.

Stakeholder engagement
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the technology itself is only one factor in the successful delivery of such projects. We have found that the project management aspects are almost as important to the success of an energy efficiency initiative as the technology that’s being used.

This is because any such project will involve multiple stakeholders, all of whom might influence the outcome. So, from the start, it’s important to identify who these stakeholders are and ensure they are included. The last thing you want is for someone who hasn’t been involved to say “I didn’t know this was happening” when the project has already begun.

For example, in many such projects the proposed technology may initially be identified by an in-house FM or an FM service provider. They may have carried out the initial evaluation as described above and, in the case of an FM service provider, they may have introduced the concept to their client.

Assuming senior managers in the organisation are happy with the concept in principle, the next stage will involve the finance or procurement department in building a business case. A robust asset log and consumption data will help with this, as well as for later validation.

Assuming the business case is approved, the project will involve arranging access to all appropriate areas – such as all the boilers listed on the asset log. This requires close liaison with the managers of each building to ensure that plant rooms are accessible at the appropriate times.

Such people will also need to understand the purpose of the project and be reassured that their building will be unaffected e.g. in terms of ambient temperatures and designed set points. Similarly, if another company is maintaining the plant or the BMSthey should be made aware of what is being done and how the technology controls the boiler, integrates with the existing controls and what the benefits are for the client.

Of course, such extensive stakeholder engagement can be very time-consuming and taxing on resources but it will mitigate obstacles to deliver a seamless project. It is therefore important to verify that the technology provider can take care of much of this, with the FM providing contact details etc.

Meaningful measurements
Evaluating the success of any such project clearly depends on being able to measure the energy that has been saved and a clearly defined measurement and verification programme should be put into place. In the case of heating systems, energy consumption will be influenced by weather variations so it is vital to adjust the energy consumption measurements using degree day data supplied by the meteorological office.

When dealing with a number of variables it is reassuring to work with a Certified Measurement and Verification Professional (CMVP), who has certified under the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP). This ensures that person or company is working within in internationally recognised framework.

The changes in energy consumption over longer periods of time (pre, during and post project) can be established by CUSUM (cumulative sum) analysis, a Carbon Trust-approved tool that examines trends for sequential events, such as energy consumption, over time.

In parallel with accurate measurement, it’s important to ensure that energy reduction initiatives are carried out one at a time. If there are two projects running simultaneously for the same energy source, for instance, it will be virtually impossible to determine which is responsible for the results by using CUSUM.

Similarly, it’s important to be aware of other changes in the building that could impact the results. These include changes in the occupancy and occupant behaviour, changes to the building fabric, plant failure and changes to equipment configuration e.g. BMS.

The underlying principles of the methodology described here can be applied to any energy-saving initiative. They have been tried and tested in over 5,000 installation of our M2G technology, often in conjunction with FM services providers and end users. These include Serco, Jones Lang LaSalle, BT, Aviva, Royal Mail, central government departments such as Defra, and CLG, along with many local authorities and universities.

*Geoff Newman is Marketing Director with Sabien Technology

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