By Phil Gregory, senior regional executive: Johnson Controls global workplace solutions, Middle East & Africa

19 April 2013 – Facility managers have a complex role to fulfil. They must ensure that the functional requirements of facility owners and tenants are met. That means creating a smoothly operating facility that runs economically and meets regulations and business policies. Energy conservation is also assuming increasing importance as owners and tenants look to reduce costs and improve the environment. Fortunately, a number of proven energy efficiency solutions – some at no cost – are now available.

Worldwide, buildings are estimated to be responsible for 40% of annual energy use. Over the next few years, as South Africa’s already expensive energy continues to increase in price, energy conservation is expected to become an even more important issue for facility managers. This is especially true where organisations are committed to longer-term facility rental or ownership. Now companies that lease space are not just concerned about the rent, but also about operational costs, providing incentives for building owners to invest in energy efficiency measures.

Here are six quick and cost-free to inexpensive solutions that can assist facility managers to gain better control of energy use and spending and another five that will help facility owners and managers to develop long-term efficiency solutions.

Fast and cost free (or very inexpensive) energy efficiency solutions:

Optimise time schedules through the building management system (BMS). This will help ensure that lighting, air conditioning and other systems are only running when there are people are in the building or in a particular sector. For example, to save energy lights can be shut off at either a specific time or when the access control system indicates there are no people in a building sector. This way, there is no need to rely on the last person out to switch off the lights. And if you have overtime workers, there are easy mechanisms to override the system, such as a telephone interface to the BMS or a push button system that will give staff another 45 minutes of lighting.

Reassess the facility’s cooling and heating needs based on time of day and year and functions performed in the building. Then optimise the configuration of chillers and other equipment used. For example, it may be useful to check whether chillers and other equipment need to run together or separately, when is the earliest or latest you can switch off equipment and when it is best to schedule cooling pumps.

Separate air conditioning and light controls. Switching off the air conditioning system a little earlier, say 30 to 45 minutes, won’t affect staff performance or comfort, as building temperatures will remain stable for that short period of time.

Review the status of air handling units, which quite often are not functioning correctly. Optimise the building’s airflow by employing dampers that use return air to assist with heating or cooling to achieve additional savings.

Ensure a maintenance schedule is in place and is being implemented. This will improve the reliability, efficiency and performance of equipment.

Long-term solutions and investments for energy conservation in commercial buildings
Look at updating your heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Consider using advanced components like variable speed drives that can increase chiller efficiency by as much as 20% in partial load conditions.

Upgrade aging fluorescent lighting – the brightness of a fluorescent light fitting deteriorates over time. Look for energy efficient replacements.

Consider creating operational metrics and enacting behavioural solutions.  First, define what you will measure and then create a means to measure it. By creating baselines it will be easier to set efficiency goals and see that they are being met. Also, educate staff, partners and suppliers about the need for and importance of energy conservation. Once people are aware of a need, they are more likely to take actions to achieve a goal.

Certify your building as being green. A Green Star certification from the Green Building Council of South Africa can increase the value of the property and the attractiveness of the facility to potential tenants. However, these certifications can sometimes only be achieved with a major retrofit, refurbishment or a new build. It’s definitely worth looking into for facility managers that also serve as property portfolio managers.

Benchmark and optimise building system performance with real-time monitoring. A new trend is to send performance data from HVAC systems, lighting, lifts, access control, fire and other systems – into a cloud environment. There it is benchmarked against the systems of industry peers and is monitored and analysed on a real-time basis with live guides (facility management professionals) offering optimisation advice.

A single last piece of advice is to call in proven building efficiency experts to help assess your energy conservation opportunities. They can help identify specific actions and recommend solutions that can save money over the long term.