Beyond measurement towards management
Ian Ellis, president of the Building Controls Industry Association, encourages building owners and managers to consider the data from their BEMS as an asset — and to use it to save energy and reduce operating costs.
The BCIA and its members often talk about the importance of gathering data on energy use in buildings. Thanks to the latest technologies and platforms, it is now possible to collect data from a wide range of areas and equipment in the building — from the plant room to meeting rooms, from meters to light fittings.
In fact the amount of data could seem overwhelming when compared to the days when a clipboard and spreadsheet could do the job.
However, the latest software for building and energy management systems (BEMSs) software can help not only to collate that data, but also to put it into formats that can be used by building managers and facilities managers to help them take control of energy use and other important areas of asset management.
It is challenging to know what to do with data or how it might be presented without some idea of what might be possible in terms of analysis and potential uses. Presentation of data might be something that users and specifiers want to consider at the start of a BEMS installation. It is important to think about this from the user point of view, asking what groups of users might want access to information.
Groups of users need not be confined to the facilities team. For example there are a number of schools where the BEMS has been used to show data on energy use specifically to educate students and other occupants about energy use in buildings.
It is also now possible to offer sophisticated plant-room visualisations on front-end BEMS software for facilities managers and maintenance teams as well. This can help draw attention to problems in the plant room.
Data can be presented in report format, with outputs such as graphs and time-lines. This is increasingly useful with energy use in buildings becoming a key management issue. It is possible to use the information to show performance against key performance indicators (KPIs) or for use in other benchmarking schemes. Comparing buildings across a portfolio can help to identify successful energy-saving strategies in one building that can be successfully transposed.
Using data in the right way can quickly highlight where the building is not functioning as it should — and why. Analysis of data can therefore have a direct impact on areas such as maintenance, which can reduce down-time and costs by pinpointing problems early and giving the maintenance team a good idea of what might be wrong before they arrive on-site.
Once the question of who needs the information has been considered it might be a good time to think about where the information might be accessed. Most employees now use laptops, or PDAs and other mobile devices. Delivering the information to these formats can't be ignored as an important option.
Web-enabled interfaces are a growing element of the BEMS and can give access to information on building performance in a familiar and easy-to-use format. Such interfaces can also give remote access to the data, which might be an important consideration if buildings have to be managed from a central point.
When thinking about using the data it is also possible to combine other information gathered from beyond the building itself — for instance, weather data or degree days. Information from the BEMS can be very powerful when measured against business performance — has our energy use risen because our productivity has too? Can we grow without incurring unnecessary energy costs or growing our carbon footprint? These are the sort of questions that modern image-conscious businesses are asking.
Although the ideas of analysis and energy management can seem intimidating, they are in fact the most cost-effective places to begin an energy-efficiency strategy. If there is a BEMS in your building, which is highly likely, then the data is already being gathered.
The potential to turn all that data into information is already there. It only takes some small first steps to start seeing some useful and ultimately profitable results.