June 2012
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Four Energy-Saving Tools for Facility Managers

Energy benchmarking software, energy dashboards, energy analytics and event automation software.

Tonya Russell
Tonya Russell,
Product Manager,
Streamside Solutions


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A recent series of articles by Angela Lewis on FacilitiesNet emphasized the benefits of energy benchmarking software, energy dashboards, and energy analytics. While these tools can provide facility managers with important information about their facility’s energy use and efficiency, they do not actually reduce energy use or save money. In order to save money using these tools, a perceptive facility manager must use the information they provide to make sound decisions that lead to effective, energy-efficient improvements within the facility.

While I agree that these tools can be valuable additions to a facility manager’s toolbox, there is a fourth tool Lewis did not mention that can save energy, labor, and money with no additional monitoring, analyzing, or decisions necessary. This tool is event automation software.

Event automation software pulls data from event scheduling software (Microsoft® Exchange Server/Outlook, Dean Evans EMS®, EmergingSoft MeetingPlanner, etc.) and automatically sends commands to the building automation system (BAS) to control heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) in scheduled rooms. If compatible systems are in place, this software can also automate lighting and electronic door locks in scheduled rooms, with no additional scheduling needed in the BAS.

There are three major ways facilities can save money with event automation software: (1) reducing energy use, (2) extending the useful life of HVAC, lighting and security equipment, and (3) eliminating redundant data entry. Let’s look at some examples.

Energy Savings

Energy savings will be most significant in facilities that are currently running buildings on a daily schedule (i.e., 9 am to 5 pm) rather than on a room schedule where individual rooms are returned to unoccupied settings when not in use. Because energy expense varies widely, it is difficult to quantify the savings in general terms. However, the chart below provides ballpark data on energy savings for a 1000 square foot room operating 2000 hours per year (40 hours/week for 50 weeks) at several different room operating costs and occupancy rates.

Energy Savings

Let’s consider an example from the chart above. If the room costs an average of 25 cents per hour to keep at a comfortable temperature for occupants, and it is currently occupied 40% of the day, the expected savings would be $300 for the year. That might not sound like a whole lot, but in a building with 50 rooms or on a university campus with 20 buildings it adds up quickly.

Equipment Savings

Reducing wear and tear on your equipment also adds up quickly. One facility that implemented event automation software went from running HVAC systems 515,424 hours per year to running them only 128,856 hours per year. While cutting energy savings 75%, the facility manager also expects to increase the lifespan of his HVAC equipment by three years for every year they would have been running HVAC without the software. In addition, his expenses for repairs on equipment are also cut by 75%.

Control Solutions, Inc Granted, not every facility will experience this much success with energy and equipment savings. Facilities that will save the most will be those with low occupancy rates and high energy costs. But even facilities with 70-80% occupancy with buildings running all day long can see a reduction in expenses.

Labor Savings

Now, some facility managers are already scheduling their BAS down to the room level in order to save energy and extend the life of their equipment. However, if scheduling software is used by others in the facility to schedule classes, meetings, conferences, and rooms for other uses, then the facility manager must somehow get that information into the BAS. Most likely this takes the form of redundant data entry as someone in the facilities department takes on the responsibility of manually re-entering schedule data into the BAS.

Each BAS is a bit different, but entering schedules and going back to make changes later as schedules are updated takes a significant amount of time. One university facility manager told me he counted the necessary “clicks” to enter a single change in his system – it took 17 clicks to make one minor change. With more than 13,000 events per year at his facility, that’s a lot of clicking!

Labor expenses vary as widely as energy prices, but the chart below provides ballpark data on labor savings for one room at several different salary ranges and numbers of bookings for per day. It is assumed that the room is used 250 days per year (5 days per week minus holidays) and that it takes five minutes to set up the BAS schedule for the first event and one minute for each event thereafter. So for example, a room that is booked four times each day would require 5 + 3 or a total of 8 minutes of scheduling time.

Labour Savings

As an example, if the facility department employee is paid $30 per hour, and the room has four bookings per day (four classes, four meetings, etc.) the expected savings would be calculated as follows:

250 days / year * 8 minutes /day * 1 hour / 60 minutes = 33.3 hours / year

The labor savings for that room per year would be:

$30 / hour * 33.3 hours / year = $1000 per year for each room

If schedules change frequently or the employee makes mistakes in data entry, this number could be higher – as would be the facility manager’s stress level.

Conclusion

There are a few companies offering event automation software “off the shelf,” and some companies that develop custom solutions for this sort of integration. Some types of event automation software offer special features such as supporting multiple types of HVAC controls so you are not locked into one vendor, daily email reports of all events or commands for scheduled for the day, and email alerts for commands are not executed for any reason (power outage, equipment failure, etc.). If you are interested in this type of software, you will need to carefully consider the needs of your facility, examine compatibility with your existing systems, and think about the types of systems you might want to purchase in the future.

Yes, energy benchmarking, energy dashboards and energy analytics can be valuable tools for making energy efficiency decisions. Perhaps you should use them to establish an energy baseline for your facility so you will be able to track the energy and labor you save with event automation software.


About the Author

Tonya Russell is a product manager for Streamside Solutions, a company that has been providing software products, custom solutions and services for the building automation industry for 15 years. 


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