Monitoring-Based Commissioning (MBCx), the method of maintaining and improving building performance continuously, though prevalent in the West for some time, is still new to the GCC region, even in terms of the understanding of the concept, says Rehan Shahid, Director, P&T Group. It is quickly gathering momentum in the region, though, he says.
MBCx is a long-term commitment, he says. This realisation has dawned on many stakeholders and facility managers, and they have begun to take it seriously, he says. Further, quite a few utility providers have adopted the method to reduce energy consumption, ensure longer equipment life and lower operating costs, he adds.
Mohamed R Zackariah, Chief Consultant, Suhaimi Design – Protecooling, while enthused by the gathering momentum of MBCx, says that before adopting the method, it is essential to address the foundational commissioning process outlined in ASHRAE’s Guideline Zero; he points out that the baseline process itself is not widely mandated, even in projects led by many leading institutions in the region. The commissioning process, he says, starting from project conception to completion, is often neglected in the absence of mandates, leading to last-minute startup procedures rather than a thorough commissioning approach. Moreover, he adds, the challenge lies in the lack of widespread adoption of the fundamental process, pointing to the need for increased awareness and enforcement.
That said, Zackariah highlights how MBCx can offer an automated solution for rectifying facilities that have not been appropriately commissioned and for aligning with their design intent, in terms of operation sequence and performance efficiency by continuously monitoring performance and executing strategies to maintain or enhance efficiency. The method, he says, can provide a feedback loop, alerting operators if performance deviates from the intended plan.
Picking up the thread from Zackariah, Khalid A Al Mulhim, Business Development Director, Suhaimi Design – Protecooling, emphasises the collaborative effort needed amongst technical experts, industry organisations and government bodies to establish, adopt and regulate best practices for optimal industry performance and compliance. He says that with industry practices and regulations in place, it would become easier for clients and governmental bodies to define and enforce standards. He says a proactive role for technical experts and industry organisations in establishing best practices becomes essential to set standards for industry operations and to provide a foundation for future regulations and procedures to be adopted by clients and government entities.
Shifting the discussion to the factors driving the adoption of MBCx, Shahid says it is a viable and effective approach for various reasons, such as poor utilisation of the building management system’s potential, as many such systems historically are not well maintained, commissioned or are operated by operators with the appropriate skills. MBCx, he says, can also be used to bridge the gap between the design and day-to-day operations of a building. Shahid adds that the operations and maintenance phase is where MBCx has a pronounced impact, with the chance to optimise the building’s ongoing performance through real-time data analysis.
Zackariah says that despite the current low uptake of advanced technologies, like AI, there’s an expectation that adoption of MBCx will eventually be necessary. He says that over time, as companies operate with older control systems, there will be a demand for visible advantages from investing in advanced technologies. The force for the uptake of MBCx, he says, is expected to come from owners and stakeholders who have invested in the technologies and are seeking measurable results. However, he adds, the challenge lies in their potential lack of understanding of what specific outcomes to demand from these investments in control segments.
Maximising efficiency with MBCx for HVACR systems
Shifting the discussion to how MBCx can be employed to improve the energy efficiency and sustainable performance of HVACR systems in the Middle East region, Shahid says MBCx can quite effectively address performance concerns, and it can reduce energy waste by up to 30% in some retrofit cases. Shahid says that like any other systems management tool, MBCx is as good as the data it receives through various media; it has the analytical ability to translate that into meaningful and useful output in the form of reports, he adds. Furthermore, Shahid says, it can offer improved energy-efficiency, enhanced comfort, lower operating costs, ensure better data management and increase building value when applied correctly. For instance, he says, in the projects at the DAFZA headquarters and Dubai CommerCity, the facility management teams were able to fine-tune further their central utility plants, making them up to 10% more efficient, plan preventive maintenance effectively and even predict energy consumption following the addition of any new leaseholder.
Additionally, Shahid says, fixing the basics with existing controls and monitoring system; enhancing the existing control and operation as applicable; making repairs and upgrades, if necessary, to existing equipment to make it run more efficiently; adding monitoring and measuring apparatus to allow real-time visibility to energy consumption and having a comprehensive commissioning strategy will improve the performance of the HVACR systems. MBCx, he adds, can provide performance improvements and operational savings persistently, but it’s not going to deliver results without a comprehensive commissioning strategy, which building owners can demand from commissioning specialists.
Weighing in, Zackariah says there are benefits to be gained, particularly when considering the scenario where all District Cooling plants are operating at peak efficiency. In such cases, executing MBCx might yield only marginal benefits, as the performance is already top-notch. However, he adds, the reality is that many plants are currently operating below optimal levels, presenting a significant opportunity for improvement through MBCx. He further says that the initial step involves bringing negative operations up to a baseline level, resulting in substantial energy savings. The progress will be tangible even before achieving optimal efficiency, he says. In addition, Zackariah underlines that it is crucial to recognise that the journey to improved energy performance involves incremental steps, starting from negative to zero and progressing to advanced strategies, like analytics and control sequencing. As more facilities reach the baseline, he adds, the industry will witness a shift towards advanced monitoring and commissioning practices, paving the way for subsequent advancements in energy efficiency.
Al Mulhim says there are many buildings in Saudi Arabia that are 30 years old or more. They are inefficient and consume excessive energy, he says. In such cases, while the initial efforts involve replacing outdated equipment, the true potential lies in enhancing system configurations and controls, and in understanding occupant behaviour within the buildings. The focus, he adds, is on upgrading existing systems to new, efficient ones, as seen in a successful project, where control sequencing significantly improved efficiency without replacing units. Al Mulhim underscores that the key takeaway is that retrofitting should extend beyond equipment replacement to encompass comprehensive system functions, configurations, integration, and understanding of building behaviour for sustained efficiency improvements.
Integration of MBCx with BMS
Integration has been made easy with plug-and-play monitoring performance automation tools available. MBCx does not replace existing building operators but provides an additional means to maintain and improve building operations, Shahid says. Furthermore, he says, it can act as a virtual energy manager, freeing skilled personnel from monitoring, attending and solving issues. Shahid also points out that all systems can be monitored if they integrate into other systems through industry standard protocols, such as Modbus, BACnet or SQL.
Zackariah says that when viewed from a global perspective, despite assigning various names like energy management and building monitoring, it is essentially a unified and comprehensive system. In practical terms, he says, everything within a facility operates together seamlessly as one large unit. While there may be technical distinctions, the integration is thorough, with data interchange and monitoring occurring across all aspects, forming a seamlessly integrated holistic system.
Al Mulhim says that in the next few years, technological advancements are expected to accelerate rapidly due to their dynamic nature, and the key now is to have a workforce of professionals who can adeptly navigate these technological changes and seamlessly integrate the evolving components. Leading companies, he says, possess the necessary components to enable smart and efficient integration, and it is crucial for professionals to possess the skills to tap into these resources, adding value by saving energy and enhancing the overall system in a systematic manner.
MBCx to ensure design-to-performance alignment
Shifting the discussion to how MBCx can solve the issue of inadequacies and neglect during the HVACR installation phase of building construction so that design intent is translated to field performance, Shahid says that it is an Artificial Intelligence-based approach, and it can be used to compare current, historic and target data to understand performance problems at a micro level and predict future energy use, given system configuration and identified constraints.
Zackariah says MBCx plays a crucial role in addressing inadequacies and oversights during building construction’s HVAC or installation phase. He says that regular feedback on vital signs prompts corrective actions and adjustments; just as health monitoring identifies areas for improvement in lifestyle, continuous data feedback in building systems allows for early detection and correction of shortcomings. The feedback mechanism, he adds, can be motivating and effective in identifying and rectifying issues, ultimately leading to improved performance and efficiency.
For his part, Al Mulhim says that currently, numerous organisations have heavily invested in various initiatives, particularly in facility management applications. He says: “Manufacturers, for instance, have developed sophisticated, well-designed, and financially substantial applications. However, a notable gap exists in communication between entities like ASHRAE and facility management societies.” Although there is a connection between commissioning and facility management, he adds, there is a lack of communication between commissioning professionals and facility managers due to the absence of shared processes. This disconnect, he adds, must be addressed for a more cohesive and integrated approach.