Using cloud computing to cut energy and operating costs
SIMON JAMES, general manager for Honeywell’s Energy and Environment Solutions Business, shares how cloud computing can be used to cut energy and operating costs.
When I talk to facilities managers, our conversations often turn to their buildings’ energy efficiency levels and whether they operate at the level they seek. Of those answering ‘no’, many are already attempting to reach specific energy targets, while others know they can improve their outputs by employing energy management tools to help improve returns – tools such as those hosted in the cloud.
However, and as most people will understand, there are often a number of hurdles to overcome to both understand and commit to investing in new and more helpful solutions. So, why then are facilities managers holding back in seeking and implementing these solutions? For the most part, three challenges have prevented this.
UNDERSTANDING THE CHALLENGES
The first challenge is to balance energy management with the main outcomes of the facilities management team – namely, maintaining system uptime and ensuring the right building conditions. Naturally, these main outcomes take precedence over energy management due to time limitations and the priority directed at fixing building conditions over maintaining energy performance.
The second challenge is the constraint of budget limitations and concern around additional investments. Between major retrofits of plant or controls it’s critical to get the most out of the existing systems without incurring large costs. Here, cloud-based solutions offer a cost-effective means to generate returns that would otherwise remained untapped.
The third challenge is having or seeking the right expertise to identify the best course of action when it comes to improving energy efficiency. With the variety of backgrounds of facilities management staff, coupled with the mix of various vendors’ technologies, it can be difficult for staff to know how to get comfort conditions on track while also maintaining or improving energy performance. Or, if comfort conditions are within bounds, to improve energy performance without compromising conditions.
THE BENEFITS OF A CLOUD-BASED SOLUTION
For organisations experiencing any of the above challenges, I have found that an outsourced pool of building management experts combined with cloud-based analytical tools can be an effective combination for improved results. The combination enables the balancing of energy and operational conditions day-to-day without compromising one over the other. It also allows analysis of output data to be carried out both quickly and cost-effectively.
For facilities with both the time and expertise to run the building management system (BMS) from day-to-day, managing energy costs can still present difficulties. This is particularly the case with large facilities. The traditional approach is to install a variety of tools on-site and then sift through the large volumes of information to determine where the best opportunities lie. Without the right knowledge, such volumes of data can pose significant challenges when attempting to diagnose the issue and determine the right course of action.
As an example, combined expertise and a cloud-based solution helped an exhibition centre in Switzerland respond to problems quickly and provided regular in-depth knowledge to help improve overall efficiencies. Over the course of a year, energy savings realised were greater than 20 percent.
Operational benefits were also realised – more than 30 percent of issues were identified and resolved remotely, saving callout charges for a visiting technician. This was achievable as a result of the cloud-based solution allowing remote access to on-site information.
In the above case, remote access to a facility’s management system means a technician can arrive on-site better informed about the nature of the problems and prepared to resolve the issue more quickly.
COST VERSUS BENEFIT
For a range of organisations employing a cloud-based approach, I have witnessed savings results range from 10 percent through to more than 25 percent of the facility’s energy costs. Not least, the cost to implement the recommendations has been extremely low. For example, recommendations delivered to a commercial office in the US over a number of months created energy savings of more than 25 percent, yet the return on investment (ROI) was achieved in two months.
BLENDING ANALYSIS WITH DAY-TO-DAY INTERVENTION
The expertise required to operate such systems effectively can take years to acquire and can be difficult to recruit or retain, especially if the workload doesn’t warrant a full-time staff member. This is particularly the case for organisations with multiple sites and multiple vendors’ control equipment. As such, I have found that a hands-on approach blending energy and operational analysis with day-to-day intervention, as in the case above, reduces the load on the facilities team and enables it to get out of ‘fire-fighting’ mode to better deliver energy savings. For the exhibition centre in Switzerland, the equivalent of half a person’s time was freed up.
A cloud-based approach has also been used for a large Melbourne hotel, where a combination of remote automated diagnosis tools and expert analysis helped to identify immediate energy saving opportunities. While a very large part of the hotel’s mechanical plant was being controlled and operated very effectively, it was still possible to extract detailed data that helped realise energy savings of eight percent in the first three months of operation.
Despite the hotel retaining day-to-day control of the facility’s operations, the blend of operational and energy data and the cloud-based analytical tools was crucial to achieving actionable recommendations. The approach allowed various diagnoses of even the smallest pieces of equipment tracked by the BMS, which enabled very specific action items to be presented.
As the industry turns its attention to improving both building conditions and energy efficiency levels, it’s important that proper guidance is acquired to maximise returns in both areas. Through the implementation of cloud-based analytical tools, I have seen this type of solution increasingly become an important part of reducing energy costs.
In addition, regular and rigorous analysis of energy patterns often leads to better comfort and earlier warnings of impending mechanical issues – an investment worth being made for the long-term viability of buildings Australia-wide.
Simon James is the general manager for Honeywell’s Energy and Environment Solutions Business covering Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, India and the Middle East. With over 25 years of experience working for Honeywell, he has held a number of leadership, marketing, technology and engineering roles focused on developing and implementing intelligent energy efficient solutions for buildings and facilities.
He has a diverse range of experience, having worked in the Australian, Asia-Pacific and the US markets. He is the current president of the Australian Energy Efficiency Council and has served as vice chair and a board member of the North American Continental Automated Buildings Association, which promotes advanced technologies for the automation of homes and buildings.