Some building managers think that buying, installing, and operating an ultramodern energy management system (EMS) will solve all their occupants lighting and comfort problems and at the same time lead to great energy cost savings. It’s not so simple. An EMS needs professional management and maintenance for it to perform seamlessly as intended and to save you aggravation, time and money. Before buying an EMS, you should understand some of the maintenance issues that may come up and occupy your time, despite the responsive, ultramodern system. If these are difficult, you may want to consider alternative ways to reduce energy usage and costs without EMS. Here are some EMS issues that your building may face and that you and your staff must address:
• Proper sensor location: A modern EMS system can work less effectively than you expected if the sensors are located improperly. Sensors should be located near where people are present to truly indicate the level of comfort and lighting desired. A sensor located in an out-of-the-way location may relay incorrect information and not truly serve those intended, costing the building money. A sensor should also not be receiving supply air directly. This may turn off an HVAC prematurely and cause occupants to be uncomfortable, which in turn may cause other components to overcompensate.
Bottom line: Ensure that your sensors are located in optimal areas, reflecting the use of various rooms or sections. Periodically, note if there are changes in occupancy or needs or if complaints can be rectified by moving the sensor. It is often worth the extra cost of electricians and all to move sensors to more logical locations.
• Assure proper maintenance: Sometimes building managers are so amazed by all the wizardry (as told by a sales person) of a modern EMS that they think that maintenance is unnecessary. “The system can take care of itself.” Well, that’s wishful thinking that will ultimately cost a building money, time, and the effectiveness of the EMS. Regular maintenance and checking of an EMS’s effectiveness and value must be performed to assure that settings are appropriate and that the proper controls are working. Even if the EMS is performing well, it is also important to check its settings as the needs of occupants can change over time. For example, if a new tenant moves into one portion of a building and has different or unique heating/cooling needs or occupancy schedules, then the EMS algorithms may become outdated. Even less drastic changes may have the same effect.
Bottom line: So it is important to review building operations, occupancy, and needs on a regular basis and ensure that the EMS is properly responding to any changes. Otherwise, change the settings and programs. Not doing so will take away a lot of the energy efficiency cost gains you expected and paid for in procuring the EMS.
• Manual program overrides: An EMS is pre-programmed to provide building occupants with the perceived needed lighting and comfort needed, while saving energy use, too. However, because building managers must address lighting and comfort complaints by occupants at any time, an EMS must allow manual overrides of system settings to quickly respond to any complaint. Because a complaint can happen at any and at odd hours, the building manager or those trained in operating the EMS may not be present and a less- or untrained worker may need to manually override the system, potentially affecting controls over other areas of the buildings and other times and affecting long-term savings. There are certainly many cases where occupants themselves frustrated with too much or too little heat or cooling will try to alter settings themselves. But they cause major errors or problems and only care about their own comfort and not that of others or of energy efficiency. Therefore, make sure that an EMS thermostat or occupancy sensor is locked or otherwise out of the reach of an untrained occupant, although this will add to the cost and are more keys to carry around.
Bottom line: make sure more workers receive recurring training on EMS operation to intelligently respond to complaints without affecting others comfort or lighting and without sacrificing much in energy cost reductions. If there are frequent complaints, catalog them, determine trends and reasons, and perhaps “permanently” change settings.
• Alarms: Some EMS systems are so complex and measure so many parameters that they sound alarms for nearly anything that is abnormal. Some of these are critical and need to be addressed rapidly, such as an electrical or a pump failure. But, many EMS alarms are for less critical items, such as a dirty filter, an imbalance in air flow rate, or a change in occupancy rates. While important to be informed about, such issues need not be addressed right away. Over time, when alarms sound too frequently, workers become insensitive to them. They may even shut some alarm systems off or do not react to them, including some critical ones.
Bottom line: Determine which parameters are most critical and reprogram your EMS to sound alarms only for the most critical malfunctions that must be addressed quickly. Inform maintenance staff in less intrusive ways (reports) for the more routine or less critical problems that an EMS detects.
With this said, you may ask the question of whether it makes sense to even purchase an EMS system for your building. Certainly, advanced technology that automatically adjusts parameters to what is best for building occupants or a specific situation in an efficient manner is a good thing for comfort and to save money. But planning to install thermostats, sensors, and a control system means understanding that an EMS system will not be productive without major input from you and staff. All the “headaches” will not go away and some of the expected savings may not occur, as well. You have to invest labor and time to maintain and use properly an EMS system. Or you should consider implementing other energy upgrades without an EMS system, of which there are plenty.
CCES has the technical experts to help you assess EMS systems, whether they are right for you, what alternatives will serve you well without an automated system, and what parameters, alarms, notices, and controls should be included should you decide to procure an EMS. We can perform meaningful energy upgrades for your building with or without an EMS. Contact us today at karell@CCESworld.com or at 914-584-6720.