Operational Energy Efficiency: A Hidden Gem for Local Governments

15 Sep 2015 by Peter

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Allow me to let you in on a secret; managing the energy performance of buildings is a lot like managing a room full of kids: You can watch them like a hawk and everything is fine, nothing to see, but turn your back for a moment and all hell can break loose. If you think that your buildings are performing perfectly when you’re not watching, then put yourself in the same category as parents who think their kids are always little angels: You’re deluded.

The reality is that without some close supervision, much like the naughty child, things can start to go off the rails and the energy performance of your buildings will likely deteriorate over time.

This applies to all facilities, whatever their age and regardless of how much fancy automation they might have. How you identify and respond to this performance drift will have a major influence on the overall efficiency of your building or portfolio, both in terms of energy consumed and dollars spent.

Thanks to one of our local council friends, this post discusses a real-world example of how operational issues can crop up in buildings, the impact they can have on energy budgets and how a bit of technology can go a long way to keeping things in check.

Meet the miscreant – The Library

Greensense has been working with this particular council for the past 18 months or so. The first building to be hooked up to our software was one of their libraries.

Just recently the library suffered an operational mishap that lead to a significant increase in electricity use. The issue was detected by our Greensense View® software and has since been fixed, but the sequence of events, and the potential implications for energy budgets is interesting and reinforces a key element of the energy efficiency story, that of operational efficiency management.

Overridden time clock leads to 44% increase in energy consumption

The issue occurred on part of the library’s HVAC system, and we’ve illustrated it in the chart below. The blue line represents energy demand for the HVAC for a typical week. The orange line shows demand during the week that the issue occurred. You don’t have to be an energy guru to spot the difference. Not only is daily demand much higher than normal but it remains high throughout the night when the library is empty.

Richmond Library's HVAC demand profile comparison of a typical week and event week

Rolled up to a daily level, the issue resulted in a sixfold increase in consumption for the HVAC system compared to typical use, equating to a 44% increase in total building consumption. Had the event gone undetected this translates to an additional 81,000 kWh over 12 months, or about $10,500 when you apply the relevant tariff.

Richmond Library's HVAC daily electricity consumption

So what was the root cause of all this energy excess? According to staff, there was an issue with a temperature sensor and this resulted in a complaint over the temperature of the space from an external group who were using the library’s theatrette for a period. The short-term solution adopted by somebody on site was to simply override the HVAC settings, such that the system ran 24/7. However this was a short term gain, presumably the theatrette folks were satisfied, that could have easily turned into long term pain as the change to the HVAC was quickly forgotten about.

Technology to the rescue

Looking at the data, even to the untrained eye the issue is immediately obvious, but the reality is that very few organisations have someone dedicated to energy management, with the time to continually log in to software in the hope of stumbling across efficiency issues. Even the most energetic and capable energy teams can’t be everywhere at once.

Fortunately though, in this case the issue was automatically detected by our software’s Smart Alerts feature and emails were immediately sent to the relevant council contacts. The smart alert used in this instance was based on a ‘minimum daily demand’ compared against the calculated historical norm, plus a small buffer, and this is nicely illustrated in the chart below.

In simple terms this alert is triggered if the daily energy demand does not drop below the threshold. This is a great way to detect unexpected increases in baseload. Click the below image for a larger screenshot.

Greensense Alert Screenshot

Wrap Up

It’s a fact of the facility manager’s life that no matter how advanced their facility is, or how large or small the team, operational issues are going to occur. How you identify and respond to them will determine your building or portfolio’s overall energy performance, spend and whether or not you hit your sustainability targets. Using energy data and a little technology to help detect problems as they crop up will save you a world of time by catching the events early and this is obviously critical because energy consumption costs are driven by time.  If you’d like to know more about our smart alerts or anything else we’ve mentioned here, drop us a line, we’re always up for a chat.



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