April 2009


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Steve TomEMAIL INTERVIEW -  Steve Tom & Ken Sinclair

Steve Tom, PE, PhD, Director of Technical Information, Automated Logic Corporation

Steve Tom, has more than 30 years experience working with HVAC systems.  At ALC he has coordinated the training, documentation, and technical support programs, and frequently works with the R&D engineers on product requirements and usability. 

Prior to joining Automated Logic, Steve was an officer in the U.S. Air Force where he worked on the design, construction, and operation of facilities (including HVAC systems) around the world.  He also taught graduate level courses in HVAC Design and HVAC Controls at the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Energy Efficiency and Comfort

We have developed our Environmental Index, or EI, which uses the existing data from the building automation system. The EI can help owners prioritize upgrade projects, as it lets owners see which buildings are failing to provide a suitable work environment.

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Sinclair:  What’s new in Building Automation?

Tom:  Energy efficiency is such a hot topic in building automation these days. Soaring energy prices and a growing environmental consciousness have renewed everybody’s focus on sustainability, energy efficiency, and minimizing building energy consumption. There are some immediate Energy Conservation Measures building owners and facility managers can perform, the so-called Low-Hanging Fruit, such as Retro-Commissioning, proper scheduling, and system optimization.

Sinclair:  Is ALC doing anything specific to address this energy focus?

Tom:  We are introducing a new web application called EnergyReports that works with WebCTRL, our building automation system. It provides a simple, graphical user interface that displays consumption and demand data for all energy sources in the building. This makes it easy to compare energy use in a building before and after an Energy Conservation Measure, compare energy patterns between different buildings, or just track monthly and yearly energy use.

But of course measuring energy efficiency is only half the story.

Sinclair:  What’s the other half?

Tom:  Many studies show a direct link between comfort and productivity, and that energy cutbacks which adversely affect comfort wind up costing more in terms of lost productivity and revenue than they save in energy costs. Fortunately there are many ways to save energy that either don’t affect comfort or actually make the building more comfortable. The problem is, most building automation systems don’t measure comfort. With multiple buildings, evaluating energy efficiency and comfort becomes even more difficult, and more important, as owners and facility managers want to be able to objectively compare each building’s performance against the others so they can direct their efforts toward the projects that can provide the greatest payback and offer the best opportunity for improvement.

Sinclair:  Isn’t comfort subjective?

Tom:  Most facility managers determine comfort based on the amount of complaints they receive, which is very subjective. What’s needed is an objective way to measure comfort. We have developed our Environmental Index, or EI, which uses the existing data from the building automation system. The EI can help owners prioritize upgrade projects, as it lets owners see which buildings are failing to provide a suitable work environment. Buildings with high energy use and low EI ratings definitely have a high potential for payback. It’s also important to track the EI after an upgrade project is completed to see what impact, if any, the Energy Conservation Measures have had on the work environment.

Sinclair:  So will measuring energy and comfort improve energy efficiency?

Tom:  It gives building owners the tools they need to improve efficiency. Our building automation system has always had very powerful features for detecting problems and saving energy. Hierarchical scheduling, algorithmic alarming, trim and respond setpoint optimization, virtually unlimited trending – the list goes on and on. The trick is to know where to start. Nobody has “free time” to play with a system nowadays. Most automation systems track some energy data, somewhere, but it’s often so hard to find this information that customers buy third party energy reporting systems just to give them the information that’s already buried in their automation system. Very few customers are measuring comfort, and in many cases those that do are using an expensive third party system. These new tools let building owners easily measure energy use and comfort, using their existing building automation system. There’s an old management axiom that “what gets measured, gets done.” We’re providing the measurements.

Environmental Index
Balancing Efficiency with Comfort

Our Environmental Index provides a simple and effective solution. Starting with temperature as a key component of comfort, the Environmental Index, expressed as a percentage, reflects how close the zone temperature is to the effective heating and cooling setpoints. Accessed through a browser using WebCTRL®, the Environmental Index is shown on an easily read analog gauge, using the red segments to indicate poor environments, and graduating to green as conditions improve and the Environmental Index begins to approach 100%.



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