There’s never a wrong time to consider a BMS
Specifying a building-management system (BMS) at the beginning of an energy-reduction initiative frequently provides the most effective route to optimised usage — but the installation of BMS at a later stage can still deliver major benefits, says Gareth Barber of BG Energy Solutions.
The increasing sophistication and capability of building management systems (BMSs) has seen them applied to an ever-broader range of public and private facilities in recent years. The ability of these systems to control and monitor all manner of mechanical and electrical equipment — such as lighting, air conditioning, heating, , ventilation and more — has obvious benefits — not just for energy consumption, but also for operational and employee efficiency and overall health and safety.
While some BMSs are still based around closed, proprietary protocols, an increasing number make use of open standard protocols such as, BACnet, XML and Modbus, making it possible to achieve effective control of a broader cross-section of building systems. At the systems end of the equation, an increasing number of solutions now offer compatibility with multiple protocols, making it ever easier for building managers to put together configurations that match their precise requirements.
Ambitious public/private and internal corporate targets mean that many companies are now undertaking comprehensive reviews of their energy consumption. Inevitably, this is leading to careful evaluation of the output of individual systems and their collective requirements — and beyond that to the contribution that an effective BMS can make to optimising savings both in the shorter and longer term.
For any companies embarking on such an initiative — perhaps (understandably) with a little trepidation — it can only be a logical move to think about a BMS as the very first step. The advantages of selecting a system that works effectively with the greatest cross-section of building components surely stands for itself. For example, having one BMS that communicates with, and obtains data from all or most of the building systems is the quickest and easier route to an efficient and user-friendly implementation.
Of course, this is simply not possible in every instance. There is no denying the fact that a new BMS constitutes a substantial investment, even for mid- or large-sized companies, and one that requires extensive research and analysis. So it is not surprising that some enterprises instead opt to take a more piecemeal approach and replace individual systems — lighting, heating etc. — on a case-by-case basis. Then there are other factors — such as not having a sufficiently extensive knowledge of competing BMS technologies or uncertainty about return on investment (RoI) – that can also hamper investment in BMS.
Choose carefully, choose well
For estates managers with competing priorities, finding the time to understand and assess all of the BMS technologies on the market can be a significant barrier to action. In these cases, integral to achieving the best long-term solution is the engagement of a skilled ‘open systems house’-style integrator, with experience of a wide range of BMS manufacturers. Firms with this breadth of knowledge will be able to advise on and successfully implement a solution that works with all building systems and maximises their control and maintenance. They are also likely to be able to identify possible problems that may occur as the usage patterns of a building evolve, and therefore allow building managers to put contingency plans and, if required, investment in place at an early stage.
Achieving and proving RoI
To gain certainty on return on investment, one of the key ways in which BMS can be optimised ‘after the event’ (so to speak) is by linking it to a remote bureau. A real-time monitoring and targeting service can monitor a site 24/7, quickly pinpointing any issues or areas of energy wastage so that they can be addressed swiftly. Not only can this significantly reduce energy costs, it can also create meaningful time savings for the onsite maintenance team.
For maximum transparency and accountability, real-time energy-use data should be pulled into a user-friendly ‘front end’ for facilities staff to view. This gives staff visibility over how much energy is being saved on site, allowing estates managers to prove RoI and report to the board on progress with energy-reduction targets.
Whilst no one would argue that ‘retrospective’ BMS installation is the ideal scenario, the reality is that those who look to install new building-management systems at a later stage can still enjoy impressive benefits in terms of energy bill and carbon reductions, provided that they aren’t afraid to call on expert third-party assistance and back up investment with technologies that offer meaningful visibility on energy savings.
Gareth Barber is managing director of BG Energy Solutions.