Taking the long view

BMS, BEMS, BCIA, Building Controls Industry Association

Steve Harrison, president of the Building Controls Industry Association considers some of the key points made during the 2014 Building Services Summit about the long-term efficiency of buildings.

One of the main reasons the BCIA (Building Controls Industry Association) worked with B&ES (Building & Energy Services Association) on a conference about building services was that we felt that the topic was being overlooked. While energy efficiency and sustainability have come to the fore in recent years, with many conferences and exhibitions dedicated to these topics, building services seems to be taking a back seat.

The downside of value engineering — Steve Harrison.

But readers of MBS know only too well that it is building services that are the main energy users in non-dwellings, and it’s here that building managers can find the most savings. Hence the Building Services Summit 2014 was focused very much on the operational efficiency of buildings and how this can be achieved.

As the voice of the UK controls industry, the BCIA was naturally keen to hear how clients are using their building and energy management systems (BEMSs) to monitor and manage energy use. Clients at the forefront of energy saving are certainly doing this, and they were at the summit to explain.

Phil Osborn, head of energy for Sainsbury’s said that the supermarket was very focused on meeting tough carbon reduction targets by 2020. ‘We are now at 2005 levels,’ he commented. ‘But we have 30% more savings to make in five years, so it’s no picnic. We are optimising our use of BEMSs and incentivising our store managers on targets.’

Another client using building controls in a sophisticated way is Debbie Hobbs, sustainability manager for Legal & General Property. Hobbs commented that they are now at the stage of using BEMSs to ‘fine tune’ buildings.

Using BEMs to ‘fine tune’ buildings — Debbie Hobbs.

Both of these clients regard the BEMS as the source of information on how their buildings are performing in the long-term. Building controls are supplying data on performance that is used at the corporate level to make decisions about operational efficiency.

‘I want to see what I need to know from the BEMS. Are we performing as required?’, said Debbie Hobbs.

However, it is clear that not all clients are getting the most from their building controls. Dr Kerry Mashford pointed to research by the National Energy Foundation and Innovate UK that shows BEMSs are still viewed as complex, with users not sure how to operate them.

Most BCIA members would agree that these issues often arise because value engineering at the early stages of design leaves the building controls lacking the resources for proper commissioning.

This reflects the reality of the construction industry; the emphasis is still on capital expenditure and value engineering. Areas such as commissioning of the controls and the building services in general are reduced to nothing as a result of cost cutting.

BEMS are still viewed as complex — Dr Kerry Mashford.

Glen Hawkins of the Commissioning Specialists Association, commented: ‘Buildings should be handed over in full working order, and this is not happening. That wastes time and money.’

David Frise, head of sustainability for B&ES added: ‘We are an activity based industry, so getting on site quickly is always a priority. Design and planning are not regarded as ‘activities’, so people won’t pay for them.’

But a number of factors seem to indicate that change may be on the way. Firstly, big clients with a lot of influence in the commercial property market are thinking long-term about the energy rating of buildings.

‘At Legal & General we see that sustainability and value are linked in the property market, and will continue to be in the future,’ said Debbie Hobbs. ‘Most of the commercial property market is now aware that a G and an F on the EPC rating are no good and that you certainly don’t want to buy a building with that sort of rating.’

Secondly, energy prices are making people take notice of how much it will cost to run a building. Phil Osborn said that Sainsbury’s has saved 11% of its electricity use, which represents about £18 million at today’s prices. Big numbers like this always draw attention in the boardroom.

Optimising the use of BEMSs — Phil Osborn

And Building Information Modelling (BIM) is also regarded as a driver to thinking about whole-life costs. David Frise said, ‘BIM will not work with the way we do business now. Currently, every single contractor in the supply chain takes a tiny step away from the design, but these small steps add up to a long way.’

This approach, he added, is destroying the value of buildings and making them difficult to commission and operate.

There is no easy fix to the problem of moving the construction industry away from the focus on capex. First, we need to recognise our own challenges. For example, the BCIA has introduced the first professional assessment for controls engineers so that we can raise the standards of building applications in our sector.

But we also need to help the clients who are not controls experts like Legal & General or Sainsbury’s. Information and standards such as BS EN15232 on what to do are out there, but as an industry we need to show other clients what can be achieved by taking the long-term view.

Steve Harrison is president of the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA) and global product manager for Belimo Automation.

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