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Building performance under the spotlight

The US concept of High Performance Buildings is being seen as a way to encourage builders and operators - and the RAC industry - to achieve significant savings

As building owners, operators and developers confront the threat of soaring energy costs, the US concept of High Performance Buildings – a collection of standards for energy and water use, environmental compliance, system reliability and occupant comfort – has been steadily gathering momentum.

It was judged sufficiently important for President Obama to send a memo last month to US federal building operators, drawing their attention to the impact on jobs as well as energy that can be gained from pursuing High Performance Building specs.

And naturally the emphasis in High Performance Buildings on reducing energy through integrated services has made it an attractive concept for the HVAC sector too. 

One of the strongest advocates of the HPB approach from the HVAC supplier side is Ingersoll Rand subsidiary Trane, which has been organising education sessions for building owners and operators both in the US and Europe.

The company sees it as a useful way to draw attention to the way that a building systems approach can dramatically improve energy and comfort – and naturally Trane has a vested interest as one of the few suppliers of a full building systems equipment portfolio. It is also making a series of Energy Efficiency Leader awards to end-users that have made significant improvements to their energy use, including the Heathrow Sofitel hotel, as seen overleaf.

Trane’s conviction about bringing HPBs to Europe stems from the fact that energy costs and therefore building operating costs are rising faster than any other costs – equating to 40 per cent of a commercial building’s costs currently.

With buildings responsible for 36 per cent of EU carbon emissions, making significant improvements and looking at the building’s life cycle costs will pay dividends, says Michel van Roozendaal, one of Ingersoll-Rand’s HPB champions, especially in the face of increasing European policies aimed at carbon reduction and energy efficiency.

He says: “Operating costs typically account for between 60 per cent and 85 per cent of the building life cycle costs and High Performance Buildings reduce these costs. This enables organisations to  invest in other priorities, making the building an ‘asset’ rather than an ‘expense’.”

The EC has acknowledged that existing buildings offer the biggest opportunity for improvement, so cost-effective retrofitting is an important route.

The heart of the approach, says Trane, is tackling the building operation and maintenance with sophisticated controls and performance-based service contracts. This means modelling the occupants’ use  of the building, calculating risk factors such as the  cost of downtime, and auditing the building systems themselves.

According to Trane, such analysis will invariably produce a range of suggested energy improvements  for the operator to elect which ones to pursue. These range from increased building automation to onsite generation to load shifting technologies such as ice storage, for example.

The company offers a suite of options aimed at High Performance Buildings, ranging from supplying the equipment itself through a number of maintenance and monitoring regimes, up to a complete turnkey building systems service.

Trane’s European president Manlio Valdez sums up the challenge: “We are not here as a company with all the answers, we are together in the quest for High Performance Buildings.”

Heathrow forum

Trane recently assembled a forum of influencers and end-users at the Heathrow Sofitel to debate the priorities for energy efficiency (see box).

Providing the basis of the discussion was a specially commissioned report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which surveyed 278 senior managers, half of which were from $500 million turnover companies, for their views on energy priorities. The survey found that not surprisingly a majority (77 per cent) thought that energy efficiency would gain in importance over the next five years.

But according to EIU senior researcher Chris Webber, the surprise was the almost one in five executives (19 per cent) who thought it would become less important over that time.

Mr Webber points out the biggest drive toward energy saving was cost, with 68 per cent citing cost savings, but that the biggest businesses, the so-called ‘c-suite’ personnel need to be actively convinced to invest in energy efficiency. He says: “The c-suite seems to be much more satisfied with their energy efficiency than their more lowly counterparts.”

Mr Webber concludes: “The debate is ongoing as to where energy efficiency fits in the climate change challenge, but there is a clear business case for it.

“The scale of government intervention is currently low but the trend will be towards more intervention, and energy efficiency is a no-brainer from an economic point of view.”

Case Study: The Sofitel London Heathrow

Arora Hotels’ Sofitel London Heathrow at Terminal 5 was completed in 2008. Trane collaborated with the Arora team to provide an integrated HVAC system that would offer the 605-bedroom hotel maximum energy efficiency and reliability.

The solutions include a highly efficient chilled water system, featuring a remotely accessible building automation system that centralises system scheduling, control and diagnostics.

Arora has a strong environmental ethos, evident in commitments to staff training on environmental issues, supporting a ‘green team’ based in each hotel, and in investing in water-saving and high efficiency technologies, as well as recycling all waste.

Key among the features is a sophisticated control system for the lodgings section. When a guest checks into a room, the temperature is brought up to a comfort standard, then on entry the customer can set it to their desired temperature. On checking out, the room is taken back to an energy-efficient level of comfort.

The hotel’s green initiatives have resulted in a 15 per cent reduction in overall utility consumption compared with the previous financial year.

“We use energy when we need it, but not until we need it, which is a great advantage”, says Sofitel Heathrow general manager Vincent Madden.

The Heathrow Sofitel HVAC system

·         Three Trane RTAC 400 water chillers, with chiller plant control to optimise run hours;

·         Decoupled chilled water flow system, with inverter-driven primary and secondary pumps;

·         Tracer Summit building management system infrastructure, controlling total building HVAC  (25 individual Building Control Units) with monitoring of all plant and energy usage;

·         Energy-saving control routines interfaced with  room booking system and Trane ZN523 fan coil controllers (900 total);

·         Trane CLCE air-handling units (30 total)  energy-saving space control linked to function  room occupancy;

·         Control of heating system with gas turbine and boiler controls to optimise energy usage coupled to inverter driven circulating pumps.

The hotel has a maintenance contract and Trane reviews the controls strategy with the hotel maintenance manager on a regular basis. This allows Trane to learn more about the hotel’s operation regarding guest rooms and conference facilities utilisation and load profiles and fine-tune for further energy saving.


Improving the culture: voices from the HPB forum

·         Andrew Eastwell, chief executive of BSRIA: “We should remember, it’s not just about energy. There’s only one language to talk to finance directors about and that is money. I think as an industry we are very poor at monetising the things we talk about. We need to think about the little guys, not just the blue chips – the schools, the clinics the SME offices. Very few of them have anyone with any expertise in the building who would understand a single word of what we are talking about. Their business is selling shoes; they are not sensitised about their performance.”

·         Martin Townsend, director at BREEAM: “If we are going to build High Performance Buildings we need to ensure there is the capacity, the staff, the understanding and the training from universities to make sure we can build expertise for the future – we need to encourage people.”

·         Paul Huggins, head of financial services at the Carbon Trust: “The customer needs to take on responsibility for running the building. There is a gap between the customer being able to describe what they want and the supplier giving them what they need.”

·         Jim White, UK operations manager at Norland Stanley: We’ve gone for the low-hanging fruit. Now I am looking at chillers. The biggest way to have an impact when we are changing our kit for more energy-efficient kit is to have it handed over and commissioned correctly and the staff and engineers being a part of that. Too many times I have seen a job running out of time and the commissioning time is eaten into. You’ve got lots of money spent on energy-efficient kit and no one able to operate it. You’ve got to train these guys.”

·         Andy Ford, president of Cibse: “It is about more than persuading people to turn a light off; it is about a change in the industry and that takes an ability to communicate that we as engineers are not very good at. When I think about the car I used to drive, which was big and used a lot of energy, and I think about the car I drive now, which is small and energy efficient, I don’t even have to think about it. That’s where we have to get to with buildings.”

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