Michael Scriven believes that not factoring in energy-efficient control features in a project is a myopic way of looking at cost cutting, and reiterates the importance of building maintenance systems.
At a recent energy conference that looked into ways of reducing carbon emissions from non-domestic buildings, based on a number of real-life case studies, one of the main findings was that good building control systems are a key driver to achieving low carbon buildings in operation.
I, of course, agree wholeheartedly with the conclusion, as it is something that I have been saying for many years. However, the current market in the UAE poses a number of challenges for providers of controls and users.
Challenges start at the contractual stage. In the UAE, customers need to be encouraged and educated to think about their building controls from day one. Control systems tend not to include energy-efficiency features, where the choice of controls is led by a performance specification or a design-and-build contractor. Many developers do away with BMS systems, as they consider it a capital cost saving – a truly criminal act on the environment.
Building owners and operators need to understand that in order to have in place a BMS system that ensures energy-efficient (and low-carbon) building operation, they have to make the objective clear from the start and not accept other unsatisfactory alternatives. Long-term thinking is required in order to ensure that energy-efficient controls features are not value engineered out of the project. While the industry can do its best to educate people in general, only those paying the bills can really make this happen.
Another important point to bear in mind is that BMS systems are regarded as a must-have in most of today’s commercial buildings. This means that controls are ubiquitous, but because they are everywhere, no one really sees them. People expect to have them in a building, yet there seems to be little interest in anyone wanting to take ownership to ensure that controls deliver low-carbon outcomes.
This might seem like an insignificant point, but it highlights an important issue in training and handover and routine maintenance by skilled professionals. Even if the control system in a new building is explained extensively to the facilities manager at handover, staff changes and lack of ongoing maintenance of the control systems imply that this knowledge can easily slip out of a business.
The challenge is not the training itself, but selling the idea that training and specialised maintenance have a value to business managers, who may not always see the point of it. However, the industry has clearly shown that where controls were considered successful by customers, there was always an individual who understood controls and was motivated to use them. Finding this person and, perhaps, others who can also be trained in using the system, along with routine maintenance by specialist contractors are the keys to the successful use of controls for low-energy building operation in the long term.
The writer is Business development manager, optima international. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org