Step-by-step efficiency

Published:  03 October, 2013

Marflow Hydronics
A step-by-step route to improving energy efficiency ó Adam Wardley.

Modern technology makes it possible to achieve major improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings, including the operation of piped services. Adam Wardley of Marflow Hydronics wonder why take-up is still limited.

With many organisations still struggling in this difficult economic climate, the construction industry is continually having to find ways to be efficient and save money in whatever way possible. There are numerous tools on the market today that can help companies achieve greater efficiency, but they are still not being used to their full potential. Is it because the up-front costs are high, despite the chance of a keen return of investment, or is it because so little is still known about these products?

One of the major ways for businesses to help save costs and increase efficiency is to monitor energy expenditure and use the data collected to improve the way energy services are installed and maintained.

On paper it sounds great, but many organisations are still hesitant to use such a tool. An important reason for the reluctant uptake is the upfront costs. Any HVAC project will have hardware, installation costs and, perhaps, a building-management system. This all comes with a cost in itself, without finding the budget for an energy-management system.

This electronic pressure-independent flow-control valve converts temperature information to a flow setpoint and lends itself to continuous commissioning using Modbus.

Although this reluctance is totally understandable, this restricted viewpoint can actually cost more. Itís the return on investment ó the long term view ó that needs exploring, as this is where the true savings can be found. Thereís no avoiding the fact that an energy-management system will increase the initial budget, but if it were possible to use it to optimise the way in which a building functions it would generate savings immediately.

Considering just the HVAC system, it could improve pump efficiency to provide energy savings. But it would do far more, looking at the building as a whole, making everything more efficient and actually monitoring and targeting areas for improvement. This would create return on investment straight away, offering significant savings long term.

Other barriers are preventing more users from adopting an energy-efficient approach. Reluctance to change is one such example. Many old buildings still use heating systems installed decades ago; as they still provide adequate heating when itís needed, many building owners donít see the need to change. Without knowing what other options are available, users seem satisfied with what theyíve got.

It comes down to far more than just whether a person is warm enough in a room, though; itís the wastages that end up being the costly factor. What about the rooms that arenít occupied or if downstairs is colder than upstairs?

As well as saving money in this difficult economy, we are all being encouraged to save as much energy as we can. Comfort for those in a building is a high priority, but the ability to achieve comfort in the most efficient way is also becoming a very important issue.

Do people really understand the benefits they could get from a properly managed energy system? It would seem not, but if theyíve never been told or have never been given the chance to find out, how would they know?

Product manufacturers need to provide more training and knowledge to building owners so they can judge the benefits for themselves; in essence itís building efficiency through people. And it neednít be a major change all at once; a step-by-step approach can be very effective and not such an impact to the user.

To facilitate this process, energy-management systems have been designed with the user in mind ensuring they are user friendly and they actually encourage building owners to work with them.

The capabilities of building-management systems now extend to remote commissioning, enabling the loading of heating and cooling into a space to be changed quickly and easily.

Investment in a properly managed system wonít just provide a way of monitoring energy, it will also open up other techniques for making savings. For example, a remote-commissioning approach could be taken. This would allow the building owner to change the loading of heating and cooling into a space in just minutes. Also, with more information at the userís fingertips, troubleshooting becomes a simpler task, with problems resolved far more quickly than ever possible before.

All this innovation has been put in place because there is a need for it. It offers vast savings in terms of time, money and energy. However, all these opportunities canít possibly work if the potential users are still reluctant to take them on board.

It would seem that there are numerous reasons for the reluctant uptake of solutions that have greater energy efficiency. We all need to understand the true costs of the system and look beyond the upfront price. To achieve this, greater support must come from the industry as a whole to ensure that we are all ready for the changes that need to take place to reach that greater level of efficiency. Without everyone working together to properly advise and educate the market, it will be a slow move forward and one that is costing us anyway in the meantime.

Adam Wardley is applications engineer at Marflow Hydronics



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