Building Management

Better Buildings Challenge: Connecting Disparate Energy Initiatives

This is the first post in the Better Buildings Challenge Blog Series.

It may be surprising to learn that nearly a third of energy used in commercial buildings is wasted (according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), but on the flip side, this also presents a massive opportunity for buildings. As facility managers are increasingly challenged to manage tighter operating budgets and reduce their building’s environmental impact, they have many opportunities to reduce waste.

Of course, reducing inefficiency is easier said than done. Facility managers today face a myriad of hurdles, perhaps none larger than trying to connect disparate energy initiatives. Many buildings traditionally layered on new solutions to address changing needs and technological advancements, leaving a tangled set of systems that may overlap but do not connect with each other. While this setup may have initially worked on an ad hoc basis, it is far from ideal as a longer term solution. Because disparate systems cannot be interconnected, they lack a number of key features that would otherwise help facility managers identify key areas to improve upon – features such as trend reporting and real-time centralized monitoring. In addition, managing this number of systems can also be burdensome to already stretched maintenance professionals.

Blog1_BetterBuildingsChallenge_Schneider Electric-01As a first step to address this challenge, facilities should look at their existing disparate systems. First and foremost, are the existing systems meeting the buildings’ needs to help support and achieve the goal of operating more efficiently? If not, what features or capabilities are missing? Identifying these key needs will also help shape the building’s strategy moving forward, such as identifying which systems to keep, upgrade, and remove.

Many buildings will find that their disparate systems are not properly addressing their needs or are operating inefficiently. To eliminate redundancies, buildings can turn to a building management system (BMS), a single system that integrates and centralizes building control. Buildings should look for solutions that utilize long-standing protocols such as BACnet®, LonWorks®, and Modbus® to ensure different systems can be integrated into a comprehensive, holistic system.

Installing BMS is not as daunting as it seems – the Davis School District in Utah transitioned more than 90 facilities to an integrated BMS in a matter of weeks with the help of Schneider Electric. Using a single, unified system opens an array of capabilities to help facility managers identify inefficiencies or opportunities to save. Because all systems and data are centralized, the BMS can measure, monitor, and control an entire facility from a single interface for better energy management. Some BMS can also integrate external data, such as weather statistics and utility rates, to further optimize resource use and reduce spending. BMS can also help ensure a building’s longevity, as many provide functionalities to ensure routine and preventative maintenance schedules are being adhered to and to alert facility managers on faults in the system.

Facility managers should be sure to select the BMS that meets the specific needs of their buildings. Large commercial buildings and small- to medium-sized buildings use and consume energy in different ways, so the BMS should be “right sized” so that its recommendations are tailored to be as relevant and applicable as possible.

While outfitting buildings with the most effective technology to reduce spending may sound like a daunting task, technological advancements have made the process an easier one that can help ensure that buildings are operating efficiently not only in the short-term but the long-term as well. Rather than rely on disjointed building systems that may not provide the proper functionalities for a building, facility managers can turn to more flexible and intelligent BMS to drive efficiency over the course of the building’s lifecycle.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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