Effective facilities management

John Nicholls, BG Controls
A way through the CRC jungle — John Nicholls.

Facilities engineers should be the ideal people to respond to the Carbon Reduction Commitment — so why are so many of them baffled and disillusioned. John Nicholls gives his off-the-wall perspective.

To the humble facilities engineer at the HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) coalface, the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme should be an attractive world to delve into. The impending need for footprint reports and the purchasing of carbon allowances, should be making them a legend in their own lifetime, or at least within their own department. Their knowledge of HVAC applications will become more and more valuable. This will be especially true if the predicted benefits of new advances in lighting technology, lead to energy costs becoming less and less of a concern.

This is an opportunity to show off his or her skills in reducing the carbon footprint — an opportunity to dust off all those proposals for energy savings submitted over the last 10 years, which were previously rejected due to cost-cutting exercises.

And the facilities engineer can ‘wow’ all around campus by the mastery of this black art. Schedules for air-handling units (AHUs) schedules are now synchronised with varying occupancy times. Pumps have a little more quiet time than they used to. Controls software strategies are no longer in the same state they were when originally installed in the 1990s. Temperatures within boilers and chillers have changed, and the facilities engineer would struggle to squeeze in another inverter in the plant room. Boilers are sequenced with military precision. With an estimated 35% reduction in energy use, he or she can go home a hero or heroine.

So why do I meet so many baffled and disillusioned energy managers?

First, life in the CRC slow lane is not simple, which is acknowledged by the Department of Energy & Climate Change. Why else would they have held a seminar in March to review simplification of the scheme? Any such events make you fearful of a room littered with people who meet for a living, and their sole purpose is to generate acronyms. This highbrow geekdom makes it difficult to follow the conversation, let alone interject — little like going to a Microsoft seminar, putting your hand up and asking the speaker why your printer does not connect.

I am pleased that the plutonium consultation has been launched. I am pleased we have a resounding commitment to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). But how does that stop the occupants of our humble facilities engineer’s premises from leaving on all the lights when they go home?

Second, much of the advice our street-savvy engineer would look for comes from larger organisations, which often have a product to sell or an agenda to pitch. That in itself is a disadvantage, but — and this will be a hammer blow to the engineers out there — technology is not the answer, or at least, not the answer in itself.

Preparing for the CRC is not a task, or even a project, it is a programme of activities. As with all things in life, it is ‘a people thing’. This is bad news, as there are so few people out there who really know what they are talking about at the ground level. You can lose a lifetime getting involved in the Carbon Reduction Commitment festival and still not end up with a smaller footprint. I admire those who persevere through the legislation and committees debating a subject that should be simple.

One of the first things that I learnt about reducing a carbon footprint, is that energy management is actually management consulting. The building’s occupants have a habit of doing something different on a daily basis. They have a habit of restructuring, upscaling, downsizing, moving location and even changing their business model. Which means that you cannot look at the problem from a technology and machinery point of view.

The solution requires two champions, one at each side of the table. Our humble facilities manager is the first to pull up a chair. Our hero understands W.E. Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and has embarked on audit of the current equipment around the organisation. They do this using their quirky passion for metering anything that has something flowing through it. They then set up a method of gathering information into a central point.

The second champion then steps in to assist. Here the choice is limited. As we all know, the industry still fails to attract the right skill set. As my son looks for a further education path, my first thought is not, ‘Oh I wonder how he can prepare for a career in building management.’ Our second champion may not know everything, but they know other specialist champions and a team is built. This is where our two champions look at the site as a whole. There is no prearranged technology sitting waiting in a hidden storeroom to magically appear. Methods of reducing carbon emissions are identified by developing a strategy and allocating a budget. With the help of a board-level advocate, responsibilities are allocated, processes and technologies are implemented, and the results are clearly demonstrated and communicated.

In a nutshell, for the humble facilities manager, you have got to find ‘the right person’ — a product-agnostic individual without any product axe to grind. Not all of these people have the word ‘energy’ or ‘auditor’ in their job title. They can often be the very engineers that supplied and installed the controls equipment in the first place. They know what is in there and where the skeletons in the cupboard can be found. With this knowledge they can find a way through the CRC jungle.

John Nicholls is a director with BG Controls.

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