Monitoring Based Commissioning For Facilities Energy Management

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If you’ve got a soft spot for energy synonyms, the commercial energy monitoring market will not disappoint.

Whether it’s known as Monitoring Based Commissioning, Continuous Optimization, or Real-Time Energy Monitoring, the returns on implementing an analytics driven energy efficiency system is increasingly, an investment worth making. After all, industrial and commercial buildings that propel the economy forward account for 39% of total US energy consumption and 38% of CO2 emissions. Though variable, electric costs alone account for nearly 75% of the energy expenditures of a typical commercial enterprise. Fault detection and diagnostics under the umbrella of energy efficiency is an area of great potential.

“Monitoring based commissioning and the world of fault detection and diagnostics are all about three primary goals; optimizing building performance, reducing energy consumption and improving occupant comfort,” says Peter Serian, Director of Business Development for the Eastern US at CopperTree Analytics. For years, facilities managers have had limited insight into the performance of HVAC systems and building performance. Static energy audits and maintenance inspections scheduled around time intervals as opposed to system performance signals have been the order of the day. But data-driven firms like CopperTree Analytics, KGS Buildings, SkySpark – SkyFoundry, Ecorithm, Iconics, and BuildPulse are part of a growing contingent of firms changing that landscape and empowering energy efficiency professionals. Those changes are translating directly into real savings for businesses.

What were once known as energy efficiency “best practices” are being replaced by data driven insights. Those insights are based on complex logic sequences that translate into more comfortable occupant zone control for example or better management of set points through automatic sensing and proactive response. CopperTree Analytics has a library of 1,500 rules for making the most of these processes. They can be applied to the systems in a building automation system, and when a fault occurs (a process that isn’t running optimally) a dollar value can be attached to that fault.

“One setup would be with a chiller,” says Serian. “If the chilled water supply temperature minus the return water temperature is low, like 2 degrees, the building doesn’t have a lot of demand for the cooling. But if you’re seeing that temperature differential over a regular period during the week, it is a fault that would trigger with an actionable recommendation on how to improve the chiller system’s staging.”

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Owing to the ubiquity of Direct Demand Control (DDC) that many commercial buildings already have, advanced fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) systems can be relatively straightforward to implement in some of the buildings that need it the most. CopperTree Analytics’ solution is comprised of a CopperCube, an onsite module that buffers and transmits data to their cloud for the analytics. Customers have their own dedicated URL login, and can draw on a team of engineers that guide them with setup and support, or CopperTree can handle the setup start to finish.

The increased command and control afforded by FDD creates a direct view into how zone demands are changing over time, and relays the information back to the building operators. With all the control points in a commercial building or portfolio of buildings the opportunities for fine-tuning are plentiful. “Air flow, temperature, damper positions, heating and cooling valve positions, all that data may or may not be sent to building operators currently, but most existing building frameworks are not designed to perform analytics on them to find faults,” adds Serian. “Fault don’t have to be equipment failures but often a sequence of operations that are not optimized.”

The ROI on an advanced FDD investment can be eye-opening. On the maintenance side, simply re-programming or fixing a damper or set of valves at a low cost or no cost can yield a 60% savings (compared to schedule-based maintenance), reducing the number of times a technician has to walk a building. “Plus we see an average of 18% energy savings on the building’s baseline energy usage,” says Serian. But like so many analytics-driven pursuits, the FDD market is still emerging, remarks Serian, and it can be challenging for all vendors to match features and pricing to meet user needs; something that’s still a work in progress across the board.

Medium and large-sized commercial enterprises with DDC systems are generally good candidates for an FDD system, especially those with a portfolio of buildings that can benefit from the economy of scale that an FDD solution provides. To make the leap, and trust that there is a sizeable ROI associated with the investment, vendors are using pilot programs to convey value. “It really is a cart before the horse-type proposition. You can’t realize the savings without setting up the platform,” adds Serian. “You have to install the software on the expectation that you’ll reap the benefits. We are in over 1,000 buildings across the globe – over 150,000,000 square feet – we do pilots for 3 or 6 months at a reasonable fee. We need to achieve savings that at least match the savings of the pilot, otherwise we will not invoice the client.” Since the company formed in 2011, he is glad to report that every pilot has produced enough savings to justify the customer’s initial investment, and 96% of their customer base renews their service annually.

Where the opportunity exists to provide greater comfort in an office or on a factory floor through smarter building performance automation, facilities managers would be wise to jump on the chance. In this realm, small changes are translating directly into a greener economy and a better bottom line for business.

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