Controls as a cost-effective way to reduce waste

Published:  07 November, 2008

Doug Robins
Controls influence every aspect of a building’s operation — Doug Robins.

BCIA President Doug Robins, president of the Building Controls Industry Association, explains how building controls offer a cost-effective solution to reducing expensive waste in today’s business environment.

In today’s business environment, the word ‘costs’ is liable to send a shiver down the spine of any finance manager. Cost-effective ways to reduce business overheads are not always easy to find, but as the price of energy continues to rise, this is one area that is under very close scrutiny. The Carbon Trust recently revealed that UK business is wasting £7 million a day on poor energy efficiency, illustrating the enormous impact that energy use has on the bottom line.

Building controls can play an important role in reducing energy waste for today’s businesses. Controls influence every aspect of a building’s operation: heating and hot water; ventilation; cooling and air conditioning; lighting; windows and shading. This means that controls can monitor and control every bit of energy used by the building at all times.

The Carbon Trust states: ‘Poor control of heating, ventilation, cooling and lighting is responsible for excessive consumption in many buildings.’

In premises with well-controlled systems, heating bills can be 15% to 34% lower than in poorly controlled buildings. By the same token, inadequate or incorrect application of boiler control can easily add 15% to 30% to fuel consumption, compared with a boiler which is properly controlled.

Manufacturers have made great strides in minimising the energy their equipment uses. However, the laws of physics dictate a boiler or a chiller can only become efficient to a certain degree, and some manufacturers are close to that point. However, no matter how efficient the equipment you specify, its energy efficiency and its sustainable credentials depend on how it is used in the building. Leave the heating running at the same time as the cooling system and you might just as well throw cash out of the office windows.

Controls can also extend the life of plant, by reducing unwanted or out-of-hours operation. This also reduces wear and tear and replacement costs. Controls can ensure office lights are not on when occupants are not present, or they can ensure a school boiler is not running during the holidays. Controls can also make use of ‘free’ energy such as daylighting. The Carbon Trust estimates that making use of daylight can reduce lighting costs by 19% in a typical office — and automatic controls are the best way to achieve the savings.

Building controls is an industry that shares many of the features of the IT sector. In that sense, the hardware produced by manufacturers in this sector is getting physically smaller, while offering more features. At the same time, prices have remained steady — giving greater access to advanced controls features to a wider range of buildings. Clients no longer have to be planning a high-spec. city centre office to think about a building and energy. Schools can now afford systems that help them keep long-term running costs down.

The use of controls is not only an option for new buildings. Controls are relatively easy to retrofit, and offer a scalable solution for most businesses. With wireless technologies, retrofitting has become much simpler, and older buildings can benefit enormously from better controls. This is also a scalable technology, offering a wide range of options according to client needs.

In many cases, perhaps, the most inefficient aspect of a building is the people working in it. Most of us do not really think twice about how much it costs to leave on a computer and monitor — £50 a year, according to the Carbon Trust. While it is never advisable to remove all control over the working environment from occupants, building controls can now take over a lot of the responsibility for ensuring the standard position for energy-using equipment such as lighting or cooling is off, ensuring that waste is minimised.

However, there is no substitute for educating occupants about the need to save energy, and this is certainly something that we should all be involved in as much as possible. The BCIA will hold its conference on 14 May 2009 with the theme centred on reducing energy costs by using controls. Our aim is to help end users understand the importance of using controls correctly, and also to learn how we can help them do that better.

For more information on the BCIA Conference 2009, contact BCIA executive officer Karen Fletcher on karen@keystonecomms.co.uk



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