Buildings Buzz

4 Steps for Creating Smarter Buildings

Buildings are an integral part of the global economy, using about 40 percent of the world’s energy. Even though building management technology has undergone rapid advancement, there is still a tremendous opportunity for continued improvement. Considering 30 percent of this energy consumption is wasted because of inefficient building management systems (BMS), opportunities to drastically reduce waste and overall energy consumption still exist in many building sectors today.

Although energy saving opportunities abound, building owners and managers face a myriad of challenges to achieving efficiency. Disparate energy initiatives and the siloed nature of energy equipment make it difficult to holistically report and manage energy consumption. Aging infrastructure also presents its own set of challenges – especially in managing obsolete technology, which is likely contributing to large-scale inefficiencies that can be difficult to detect via outdated systems. Pressures to cut building costs may cause owners and managers to postpone upgrading existing building technologies, even though doing so may actually result in higher long-term operational costs. Finally, as facility managers balance their day-to-day roles and staff turnover, in many cases, systems – even those that have been upgraded – may not be used correctly or to their full potential.

While it seems like there are several hurdles for owners and managers to clear before they can operate their buildings more efficiently, they can take a series of steps to improve outcomes, whether it be a reduction in energy consumption, operational expenses or both.

Step 1: Implement an Integrated Building Management System

A logical first step in reducing buildings’ energy consumption is to cut waste from existing consumption patterns. Building owners and managers should evaluate their existing BMS to understand if they meet the needs of their building and organization. Is the system currently providing a single, holistic view of all energy assets? Is there a way to get insight and control over disparate systems?

Over the past several years, the industry has made positive strides to help organizations better manage their buildings’ energy consumption. In addition to technological innovations, the adoption of long-standing protocols is enabling the integration of different systems. These protocols are used to control HVAC systems, lighting and more, along with their associated equipment. However, not all systems utilize the same open protocol, making it impossible for those systems to communicate with each other and for FMs to manage everything from one system.

Depending on a building’s size, age and function, the number of systems needed to monitor it can add up very quickly. To reduce this complexity, building owners can install one system that can connect to and communicate with all existing communication protocols. A single, open-protocol BMS acts as a universal translator designed to link disparate systems. The end result? Facility managers have the ability to measure, monitor and control the entire facility from a single interface, ensuring all components and systems of a building, whether they are old or new, are communicating to optimize functions such as HVAC, lighting, metering and fire safety. With this unified system, facility managers can also incorporate external data such as weather and utility rates to further optimize energy usage.

Integrating building systems is also changing how facility managers manage their buildings long-term. Interconnecting building components introduces opportunities to improve operations and optimize resource use on a much higher level by providing a holistic view across an enterprise. This integration makes it easy to spot underperforming areas and improve overall performance.

While these considerations are all important, it is critical to ensure that the selected BMS meets the needs of a building or group of buildings. Most buildings are not skyscrapers, but rather consist of smaller footprints of 100,000 square feet or less. These small- and medium-sized buildings (SMBs) serve a variety of purposes and organizations, such as office buildings, retail operations, schools and health clinics.

Even though SMBs make up a majority of all buildings, they are often overlooked by traditional BMS, which are typically tailored to meet the needs of large buildings. Thankfully, there are new solutions available for the specific needs of SMBs as well as multi-site enterprise organizations (such as chain stores). A solution tailored to smaller buildings offers more appropriate and effective energy savings opportunities.

Step 2: Future-Proof the Building’s Technology

Old, aging buildings are a primary concern for building owners, especially those in mature economies. In developed economies, as many as half of all buildings that will be in use in 2050 have already been built – meaning buildings that are standing today are expected to operate for at least the next 35 years. Based on this reality, building owners and managers need to consider the long-term future of their facilities. Is the building future-proof, or will its BMS be rendered obsolete (or worse) by changing technology trends?

A BMS that utilizes open protocols is adaptable to future technological upgrades. They can be updated quickly to accommodate changing technology and future advancements, ensuring that aging buildings are still equipped with the latest and most powerful technology to monitor, measure and optimize energy consumption throughout the building’s lifecycle.

A prime example is the exponential growth of connected devices. Thanks to incredibly rapid innovation in the Internet of Things (IoT), everything from refrigerators to thermostats is now connected to the Internet and intelligently interacting with each other. The expansion of IoT benefits buildings as well – networked sensors can register room occupancy rates and create intelligent zones in a building so that minimal energy is used in unoccupied areas.

Scalability is also key – with the ability to add new systems and upgrade technology over time, facility managers and building owners will be able to “future-proof” their initial investment.

Step 3: Leverage Building Technology to Reduce Operational Expenses

Shrinking operational budgets and reduced access to funding is a major concern for building managers and owners, and affects their decision to implement or upgrade a BMS. Facility owners and managers also face increasing pressure from the C-suite to meet budget goals, show return on investment (ROI), maintain corporate social responsibility (CSR) metrics and reduce operating expenses.

These pressures often result in hesitation to upgrade a BMS due to associated upfront costs. However, studies have shown that only a quarter of a building’s costs are associated with capital expenses. The remaining three-quarters go toward operating a building over its lifecycle. Moreover, energy use in buildings is only going to rise – the International Energy Agency predicts energy demand will increase by 50 percent by 2050.

A lack of executive commitment, poor planning and competing priorities between different levels of an organization are also creating challenges in building management. For example, the data and metrics that a chief financial officer may need to demonstrate CSR results is very different than the information that a facility manager needs to effectively improve and manage building assets.

To address these concerns, building managers should examine their organizations’ needs. Do their BMS provide reporting functions that can be customized to the needs of the C-suite, operational managers and facility organizations? Do they have the proper tools to measure all energy assets in the building? Can the BMS quickly identify inefficient building systems? As stakeholders evaluate BMS, these questions should be addressed to ensure that they are selecting a system that meets the needs of both the building and organization.

Finally, in addition to leveraging the more advanced and holistic building management and automation tools that integrated BMS offer, stakeholders looking to gain the highest levels of operational efficiency should also evaluate the foundation of energy management in their buildings – down to the actuators, valves, thermostats and so on. While these components may appear too small to have a significant impact on overall system functionality, they are crucial to ensuring more efficient equipment control and impact the level of efficiency organizations will be able to achieve

Step 4: Bring in Trusted Partners

While installing a comprehensive system is a fundamental step for improving energy monitoring and use, building managers also need to consider how to interpret the data generated by a BMS. Notably, a survey found that only 20 percent of facility managers use 80 percent of the available capabilities offered by their BMS. While this is understandable given the volume of information a BMS can produce, this limitation severely hinders an organization’s ability to highlight opportunities for cost savings or necessary maintenance.

Additional factors can contribute to improper utilization of a BMS, such as staff turnover and inadequate training. There can also be a gap between the new technology and the staff’s ability to effectively grasp and understand the system. Finally, the sheer amount of data that a BMS can generate can be unwieldy and overwhelming to a staff that is already tasked with many responsibilities, leaving little time to analyze and interpret data.

Fortunately, today’s building managers can turn to trusted partners that provide the expertise, experience and ability necessary to utilize BMS’ data. These energy experts can analyze building data, predict building energy consumption, costs and needs and recommend fact-based actions on building investments backed by ROI estimations. By leveraging the knowledge and expertise of energy management experts, facility managers can ensure they are taking advantage of the BMS’ full array of capabilities without being overwhelmed. Enlisting the help of these partners also removes some pressure off the facility managers and staff while reducing energy expenses, ultimately lowering the building’s carbon footprint without sacrificing occupancy comfort.

Conclusion

In an increasingly connected world, pressure is mounting to create better buildings. These better buildings have systems and equipment in place to communicate with each other to efficiently meet their owners’ and occupants’ needs and liaise with service providers, such as utility companies, to manage energy consumption in real-time.

To create better buildings and help reduce operational expenses, facility managers should take the appropriate measures to connect disparate energy systems and future-proof existing buildings to ensure that they can utilize future technological innovations. Trusted partners can be brought in to help maximize ROI and guarantee that all opportunities to cut energy consumption are being addressed, resulting in more efficient operations overall.

Nate Bouma is Vice President of the Midwest Region at Schneider Electric.

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