HVAC and big data
Any facility manager serious about a sustainable future, employee health and well-being and low business costs should have an improved HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) system at the top of their 2017 new year’s resolution list.
Recent advancements in how we process and analyse big data allowed building managers to achieve improvements in plant and equipment efficiency by providing them with greater insight and intelligence over existing systems.
When you consider that buildings account for up to 40 percent of energy use in most countries and that HVAC) contributes up to 50 percent of a building’s total power usage, the opportunity from a sustainability perspective is clear.
Beyond the environmental benefits of improved equipment efficiency, there is a range of additional benefits to be gained from the use of big data. By choosing to improve HVAC systems through heightened intelligence, facility managers are choosing a solution that can simultaneously help reduce occupant discomfort, improve productivity, reduce energy costs and reduce costly equipment outages.
While analysing and actioning big data may seem like a daunting task, particularly when restricted by available staffing resources and funding, there is a range of solutions available to overcome these challenges. With that in mind, big data should be the starting point for any HVAC sustainability improvement project on your horizon.
USING BIG DATA TO DRIVE HVAC IMPROVEMENTS
In the last decade the amount of data available has grown exponentially. With the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT), there are more connected devices offering more information than ever before. Thankfully, our ability to analyse this data has also vastly improved. Intelligent analytics tools have meant that data sets, which previously would have been far too large to analyse with traditional methodologies, are now a valuable source of insight into how we can improve systems and behaviours.
For facility managers, this means they are now able to gather information from thousands of data points within their buildings. The installation of a vast array of information gathering and intelligence/ analytical technologies – for example, smart sensors, smart meters or smart breakers – to inform operational decisions, can mean the difference between having oversight over your facility and having it overwhelm you.
Using data analytics, facility managers can collect and analyse large volumes of building data and turn it into actionable information to target underlying problems, and opportunities for energy savings. This type
of management can save up to 20 percent a year on maintenance and energy costs as big data is leveraged to refine service programs and achieve optimal building performance
and cost-effectiveness. For example, with smart HVAC systems and the right sensors, a building manager will be made aware of system leakages, where cool air may be leaking from the building causing energy loss overnight.
This same technology can simultaneously assist in driving environmental sustainability. Take, for example, the use of an occupancy sensor. By checking carbon dioxide levels to see if people are in the room, a BMS (building management system) can manage the HVAC systems to respond to presence appropriately, saving energy where possible. If someone is detected, a BMS may turn on ventilation to bring in fresh air, turn more lights on and adjust the temperature out of a power conserving deep setback. When people leave, everything goes back to an energy saving state.
THE BENEFITS OF IMPROVING HVAC SYSTEMS
The major drivers for investment in technology and building design are commonly a combination of saving operational cost, the need for innovation, increased productivity and talent attraction/retention.
The link between our environment and our well-being has been researched in depth over the years. Dr Esther M Sternberg, a pioneer on mind-body-stress-wellness and environment interrelationships, found that there are connections between a person’s health and their environmental factors. Patients in hospital with a view of nature heal faster than those without and there is also a strong correlation between the availability of green space and people’s perceived health.
Similarly, the health and well-being of workers are frequently impacted by their comfort within the workplace environment. Aside from the impact this can have on reducing sick leave, a comfortable environment, driven by efficient HVAC systems, has been shown to directly and positively impact worker productivity. In a recent survey, Schneider Electric found that 95 percent of the respondents said that the well-being of their employees and the impact this may have on productivity are key components of their corporate and real estate strategy.
In addition to health and productivity benefits, there are maintenance-cost benefits to getting equipment management right with big data and analytics. Smart systems will offer embedded analytics, including an automated fault detection and diagnostics (aFDD) capability. By automating detection and diagnosis of equipment health, aFDD capabilities will help organisations better predict the timing of costly equipment failure. This allows them to make informed decisions when it comes to addressing problems and repairing equipment before critical failure. Right now, problems such as unnecessary equipment operation, suboptimal strategies, faulty equipment or poorly tuned loops are going undiagnosed and in turn create energy wastage and comfort issues.
For every facility manager, the ROI of a project is the first question on their lips. While one-off investments in infrastructure may appear to be simple solutions, their long-term ROI is often uncertain. A new solar panel may promise a reduced energy bill; however, without proper analysis it may not properly address your facility’s underlying energy inefficiency issues. When decisions are made without proper guidance by data and intelligence, your investments in the future may be a white elephant.
Guided by experience and insight, the right expert will be able to identify the optimal use of your investment. When choices range from repairing/replacing existing outdated infrastructure, to analysing and resolving system inefficiencies and/or recommending new infrastructure where necessary, the best ROI is going to be found by someone with extensive training and knowledge in the latest trends and technologies. ●
Cara Ryan is offer manager, Building Performance Centre for the EcoBuildings Division of Schneider Electric.
This article also appears in the February/March issue of Facility Management magazine.
Lead image: olivierl / 123RF Stock Photo