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‘Operators are overwhelmed and lagging behind’

They do not have the skills to operate today’s buildings and are rarely properly trained and oriented at building turnover, says 2019-20 ASHRAE President, Darryl K Boyce, in an interview he gave to Surendar Balakrishnan, Editor, Climate Control Middle East. Excerpts…

| | Sep 15, 2019 | 10:00 pm
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Darryl K Boyce

Generally speaking, are building industry professionals looking at buildings in a holistic manner? Is there an integrated approach that is perhaps still missing, though science and good management practices suggest such an approach would yield the best possible results in terms of improving building performance?
My theme for the Society year is ‘Building for People and Performance. Achieving Operational Excellence’. This is due to the fact that buildings are often falling short on operating to the expectations of the building designers and operators.

Here’s why:

  • Designers are not always focused on operability during the design process. Buildings are more complex.
  • We design technology to help improve operations, but it doesn’t always end up that way. For example, in 2010 at Carleton University, we

    opened a state-of-the-art engineering building with Power over Ethernet (PoE) controls, as well as enhanced sub-metering of equipment,

    lighting and plug loads. But we found that the additional data/information was overwhelming our control technicians.

  • Which leads us to the third reason. Operators are overwhelmed and lagging behind. Generally, they do not have the skills to operate

    today’s buildings and are rarely properly trained and oriented at building turnover.

    To help achieve operational excellence and apply best practices, we need to:

  • Include the building operations team representative all the way through the design, not solely at the “end of design”.
  • Ensure the design reflects the capabilities of the people operating the building. As a result, we will not be leaving operators wondering,

    “How do I make this work?”

  • Establish an effective turnover and orientation training process.
  • Design buildings for the occupant operators who will occupy the space – and remember, humans are the best sensors of comfort.
  • Evaluate design decisions for their impact on Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ).

    Several post-occupancy studies, “Do our green buildings perform as intended”, the UK-based “1996-2001 PROBE Project” and “2006-2010 Low Carbon Buildings Performance”, identified the following key causes of performance slippage, resulting in energy consumption being much higher than modeled targets:

  • Buildings were designed with systems that exceeded the capacity of the building managers to operate them. The study found a correlation between building performance and the quality of the management.
  • Systems were complex and/or innovative, requiring several years to refine and understand.
  • Insufficient commissioning. The study found a correlation between performance and level of commissioning.

    We are not the only organization that is concerned about the state of building operations. A 2017 IFMA Research study, “Raising the Bar: From Operational Excellence to Strategic Impact in FM”, concluded that: Facilities Management must adopt technology more quickly and far more deeply. It must move beyond technology to monitor space utilisation and energy consumption. And we need to focus on using technology, data and analytics to enhance the workplace experience.

    As ASHRAE members, our goal is to Learn, Engage and Act. We have launched a section on the presidential web page, ASHRAE.org/ president, which provides resources to help achieve operational excellence.

The HVACR industry seems to be a fractured one? We repurpose our buildings at will, seemingly with no care whatsoever for how doing so will affect energy efficiency or IEQ, including thermal comfort? We are perhaps seeing flaws in predictive analysis Or, is it a case of things being beyond the control of building-performance engineers?

ASHRAE recently released its 2019 ASHRAE Handbook – HVAC Applications, which is comprised of 65 chapters covering a broad range of facilities and topics. The handbook was written to help engineers design and use equipment and systems described in other Handbook volumes. Main sections cover comfort, industrial, energy-related and general applications, as well as building operations and management.

As I have mentioned in this year’s theme, the design of buildings does not always respond to the abilities of the operators, and a greater emphasis needs to be placed on operability during the design, construction and turnover with an emphasis on the Indoor Environmental Quality without wasting energy.

If undertaking a retrofit exercise, the building industry seems to have a unidimensional focus on energy efficiency, ignoring the equally important IEQ. What is ASHRAE doing in terms of steering the industry towards a balanced approach? Is the challenge partly owing to a perceived inability to quantify the benefits of retrofitting for better IEQ?
In the past year, ASHRAE formed a Multidisciplinary Task Group, Effective Building Operations. MTG.EBO will coordinate the activities of multiple Technical Committees, Task Groups, Technical Resource Groups and other stakeholders in the area of training and tools to support the operation
of buildings to enhance the indoor environment and use energy effectively. Responsibility will include suggestions for research as well as the development of technical programs and special publications on effective building operation to achieve quality Indoor Air Quality while not wasting energy.

ASHRAE has several resources focused on Indoor Environmental Quality, including Sections 62.1, 62.2, 170, the IAQ Guide and a section devoted to IAQ in the International Green Construction Code powered by Standard 189.1-2017. Our Standards are harmonized in order to help facilitate all aspects of building science with a goal of having good IEQ and energy efficiency.

What smarter strategies and measures can we employ to lower the cooling load in buildings and, consequently, indirect emissions? We have numerous instances where building engineers are allowing heat into the built-environment, when it is perhaps perfectly avoidable. Would you recommend we take an even closer look at u-value of fenestration?
U-value and SHGC are aspects of energy transfer into the building, but Standard 90.1 and Standard 189.1 have requirements/credits for external shading, and they’re also tackling thermal bridging – how to better prevent energy transfer from the environment to the building. With respect to U-factors, ASHRAE committees are continually looking to increase the energy performance of fenestration, but there’s also a need for the industry to more widely provide cost-effective, higher-efficiency products. At this point, if you’re increasing the U-Factor, you’re likely also making the fenestration darker, which means less daylighting, which is a key aspect of occupant comfort and IEQ. It’s a delicate balancing act to try to maximize energy efficiency while also creating a good indoor environment.

How is ASHRAE aligning to the outcome of the Paris and Kigali talks? Are you happy with the pace of alignment of the industry at a global level?
ASHRAE is working with OzonAction of United Nations Environment (UNEP), the Energy and Climate group within UNEP and the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program to link efforts to increase efficiency with the transition to lower-GWP refrigerants. ASHRAE is providing training targeted to both specialists in developing countries along with awareness efforts for government officials. It is important to note that ASHRAE is not a governmental body – its activities reflect the mission of the engineering community to protect the environment while using energy efficiently. Those are engineering ethics that ASHRAE is fully committed to implement on a global basis.

Climate change mitigation efforts seem to be mired in controversy, with climate change-deniers muddying the waters with rhetoric. What leadership is needed at an industry level to move away from a business-as-usual mindset?
ASHRAE’s strategy is to serve as a model for engagement and to give engineers a seat at the table, so technical perspectives are considered in climate discussions along with economic, environmental, sociological and political factors. The voice of the engineering community is essential for a successful transition to alternative refrigerants, which do not impact the ozone layer, while at the same time reducing the carbon footprint and enabling greater energy efficiency.

Why is there still so much of inertia in establishing a new world order in balancing the need for energy efficiency with good IAQ? Why aren’t we allowing more fresh air changes?
Generally speaking, you could build an incredibly energy-efficient building out of concrete that no one will want to be in, because it’s just a bad building to be in. You have to pay attention to the effects of IAQ on occupant comfort. As far as I know, there’s no upper limit on air changes, but the more outside air you bring in, the more energy you spend conditioning the air.

There is a school of thought that seems to suggest that the minimum fresh air changes prescribed by ASHRAE is perhaps not enough, given the magnitude of pollutants in the built-environment. Is ASHRAE looking to review the standard?
We are continuously reviewing this standard and the other critical standards and are committed to a balance between IAQ and the effective use of energy.

Would the use of industrial-scale Renewable Energy tilt the balance in favour of IAQ? Do you see solar energy efficiencies going up rapidly, where it becomes feasible, one day, to get all the power we need for air conditioning from solar PV or CSP? Do you see the encouraging progress being made in energy storage, especially in the automobile industry, as a precursor to using renewable energy for running low-tonnage chillers, say?

I do not believe the source of the energy plays a large role in the design and operational considerations affecting the Indoor Air Quality; there will always be a balance between the use of energy and the impact on the Indoor Air Quality.

Do you see solar energy powering District Cooling plants?

I’ve never seen one, but it is possible.

Speaking, once again, on IEQ, do you feel more respect needs to be given to fully understand and acknowledge advances made in air filters, so that we incorporate the filter media that can best counteract the dust characteristics or pollution characteristics in a given area – Kuwait, say, with its frequency and intensity of sandstorms – as opposed to using ill- suited air filters in the name of filtration systems being responsible for pressure drop?

ASHRAE is the secretariat of ISO TC 142, Cleaning equipment for air and other gases, which is the international equivalent of ASHRAE Standard 52.2. Yes, we’re interested in great performing filtration, and we’re also interested in people participating in our processes, if our guidance doesn’t sufficiently address their situation.

ASHRAE is establishing Guideline 41 for VRF design, installation and commissioning, which we have reliably learnt, will be out next year? What is the significance of the guideline? Will it be a boost for VRF industry in the United States, where to date, it has received a lukewarm welcome?
Guideline 41 is close to being complete. The intent of this guideline is to expand on the basic information currently provided in Chapter
18, Variable Refrigerant Flow, of the ASHRAE Handbook – HVAC Systems and Equipment. In particular, enhanced guidance on installation, commissioning, start-up and operation is provided. Our hope is that Guideline 41 will provide more information to make the technology more widely accepted, which is a benefit to the industry as a whole.

What is ASHRAE doing to improve food safety and the thermal integrity of thermally sensitive vaccines? Are you ringing in any changes – suggestions, standards, guidelines for strengthening the cold chain? Often, the need is more behavioral in nature. We seem to have the technologies, but usually it is a case of either not adopting them or inadequately adopting them? Or, it is perhaps a case of poor specification, design and installation, plus poor operation and maintenance. What are your thoughts on this?

ASHRAE Standard 72, Method of Testing Open and Closed Commercial Refrigerators and Freezers, deals with methods of testing equipment so that comparative evaluations can be made of energy consumption, product temperature performance, refrigeration load, the suction pressures required and other performance factors. We’re also working on Proposed Standard 220, which is another method of testing for Commercial Blast Chillers, Chiller-Freezers and Freezers. On the standards side, we’re focused on the equipment. Safety guideline are regulated by the Federal Government.

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