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Originally published to Unissu, written by Paul Walsh General Manager EMEA

Historically, owners of large complex buildings have had to choose between being environmentally sustainable or improving asset profitability. Thankfully, with the help of building analytics technology, it’s no longer a choice between the two.

All large commercial property owners and managers feel the pressure of asset valuation, rising energy costs, sustainability targets and tenant satisfaction.

Weighing heavily on the success of all of these factors is building operational performance. Operating a building is expensive and challenging, and doing so effectively requires the seamless integration of a complex web of equipment, systems and people, including expensive contractors and vendors.

One of the biggest challenges facing building operators today is how to manage all of these moving parts in the most efficient way possible while dealing with hefty capital and operational costs, risks of things going wrong, never-ending tenant complaints, and contractors who commonly shift the blame for problems to someone else.

On top of this, property owners and managers, especially on complex buildings such as industrial manufacturing sites, airports, shopping centres, and hospitals, actually have very little real control or visibility over how their property assets operate. Ask any building management team what’s on their wish list and they will likely tell you it’s to be safe in the knowledge that their assets are being optimised, at a lower cost base, without sacrificing customer experience or shareholder returns.

There has been increasing pressure on Building Management System (BMS) contractors and even proptech solution providers to share operational data from a building’s myriad of connected systems to improve visibility. However, it has often been a case of “garbage in, garbage out”.

For all the data provided, there’s been little done to make sense of it in a way that empowers independent expertise, efficiency and asset optimisation. Rarely are property owners or their facility managers confident that their BMS contractors are effectively optimising assets, including fault detection and remediation, energy efficiency and equipment performance, not to mention improving thermal comfort for tenants.

Large capital investments such as combined heat and power systems, solar panels, wind turbines and equipment upgrades are traditionally perceived as the only path to true sustainability. However, these projects often had a return on investment (ROI) period of more than 15 years if the cost of energy decreased due, for example, to fracking pushing down the price of gas.

Asset managers started realising that the net present value analysis of spending this capital on sustainability projects was indicating that it be spent elsewhere in order to maximise shareholder returns.

Most large buildings constructed since 1980 have a BMS that controls the most energy-hungry plant and equipment. It’s not possible to operate a building at its peak performance if the BMS is not commissioned properly or not running correctly. As a result, the building’s annual energy consumption is generally a lot higher than it was designed to be.

All buildings generate gigabytes of data which is collected by the BMS vendor and typically never analysed unless there is an issue. CIM and companies that offer independent building data analytics platforms such as PEAK, have identified that the current business model is flawed. This data should instead be in the hands of building operators, in the form of actionable insights.

Most service level agreements between building owners and operating companies do not have any metrics around delivering energy efficiency measures. Oftentimes the contractors prefer a building to operate inefficiently as they get paid more for unplanned equipment call outs and reactive maintenance jobs if equipment breaks down or needs to be replaced.

For a building owner, this is problematic because efficient buildings use more energy, and as consumption increases, these buildings become less environmentally sustainable and therefore less commercially sustainable too as higher operational costs negatively impact profitability.

Data analytics is changing the game

Typically buildings waste between 20% and 30% of the total energy they consume and this waste usually stems from existing plant and equipment running outside of its normal parameters, not being commissioned correctly, operating when it does not need to or when setpoints are set manually to override the automated BMS.

Building owners can significantly improve operational performance across their assets by treating demand-side energy used by existing plant and equipment as the ‘very first fuel’ and optimising this use to eliminate waste.

The opportunities for optimisation are identified by using software to apply fault detection and diagnostics rules to the thousands of data points that a building is generating every 15 minutes on a daily basis. A good data analytics platform will compare the building data to external factors such as outside temperature and occupancy or footfall to recommend low-cost actions the building owner can take to optimise building performance.

These actions represent a win-win-win scenario for building owners in that they deliver cost savings, sustainability improvement, and an uplift in asset profitability.

Technology outcomes for buildings

At a macro level, building analytics enables proactive and predictive facility and portfolio management, giving facility and operations managers and their executive teams a new level of insight, expertise and control of their assets’ operational performance.

Cloud-based collection of specific engineering data, over the top of traditional BMS systems, coupled with machine learning gives non-technical owners and contractors the same performance information and engineering smarts as their BMS contractors. In fact, by harnessing the power of real-time data analytics, building management teams can make their contractors even ‘smarter’ by focusing them on the most important building issues and streamlining the entire process of fault detection and remediation. At a portfolio level, the benefits are amplified.

This level of independent, data-driven insight, issue management and reporting will increasingly be part of what owners expect to have access to in order to give them and their investors confidence that assets are being optimised for shareholder value.

Paul Walh biography