Lowest price leads to highest cost

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The difference between the price of something and what it costs can be enormous. This is equally true with building control, where even the simplest premise can be difficult to enact, as Richard Hipkiss of Schneider Electric’s Transparent Building Integrated Systems argues.


Competitive tendering and price pressures in new building continue to focus attention on capital costs. This is in spite of the evidence that operating costs typically amount to almost three times the capital required in acquiring the building. Moreover, the figures do not reflect the maintenance costs that can also be twice the capital build costs. The time to invest in equipment and systems that reduce operational costs is clearly at the time the building is commissioned. This can be achieved without increasing the capital expenditure only if a convergent approach is adopted from the beginning.
A further consideration, which is never considered in any value chain, is that for most commercial buildings, the staff that reside in it make up about 80% of the operational costs. Intelligent building schemes can significantly improve the performance of this massive operational investment through an improved environment and greater efficiency within the workplace infrastructure.
Taking into consideration the primary systems within all buildings, there are numerous opportunities to reduce running costs by judicious specification and installation of equipment in the mechanical plant – for example, selection of energy-efficient boilers, chillers, heat pumps or combined heat and power plant is a primary consideration. Anywhere electric motors are encountered, variable speed control brings huge energy savings. It is a fact that some 65% of electrical energy consumed is in powering motors.
Electrical plant, while fundamental to any building, is often ignored. The electrical network can cloak hidden costs. By managing the utility bill, a realisation of up to 5% savings can be achieved – but this is just the beginning. An additional 5% can be saved on increased equipment utilisation, avoiding unnecessary capital purchases, while improving system reliability can save a further 10%. Other considerations include avoiding under and over voltages; supply losses; harmonic issues (for which there is now the need to comply with G5/4, which forbids harmonic pollution); maintenance savings; maximum demand avoidance; and load shedding. All of these factors require controls.
So what prevents better planning at the first and second fix stages? One clear impediment – especially through its impact on price – is the fact that most building systems are discrete. In other words, there are separate security and access controls, lighting and heating controls and electrical infrastructure. Even in systems running under some form of building management system (BMS), there is a distinct lack of joined up thinking. What we describe does not require integration, for true integration of all these disparate systems is still mythical, but rather it is convergence. By enabling common cabling, protocols and data sharing, costs can be slashed at the same time as controls and, hence, costs can be instated.
Only by including installers and manufacturers on the top table alongside the design team can convergence be achieved. The focus can then be energy efficiency; future maintainability; ease of installation; and the de-skilling of the installation. In short, all those areas with the greatest impact on operating expenditure can be addressed.
Considering the typical building, there are distinct areas of control. These include: electrical distribution; centralised heating and cooling plant; distributed heating and cooling equipment; access control; CCTV; security alarms; and data infrastructure. The aim is to achieve: an energy-efficient building by ensuring cost effectiveness through its operation; a common information portal that is accessible from multiple locations by multiple disciplines and which covers all information in a similar format. The aim is also to share functions wherever possible, resulting in a lower installed cost.
A fundamental aspect of a convergent and intelligent system is its transparency. In other words, if the convergent, rather than integrated, system is to have the necessary coherence to maintain control and reduce costs, it must have a common platform. While this does not preclude sophisticated BMS, a simple, readily understood interface, such as Explorer, can deliver a user-friendly platform from which to realise a powerful system. Moreover, adopting such an approach allows the fundamental structured cabling infrastructure to be fully utilised in a broad variety of ways – removing the need for many proprietary cabling or datacomms installations.
Schneider Electric’s Transparent Building Integrated Systems (T-BIS) show that, even by substantially increasing control technology, significant cost reductions can be made. In a recent model where the company’s engineering team was invited to participate from the design stage, some 40% of the capital costs were removed, while achieving an intelligent and energy-efficient building.
The bulk of the saving was made by using integrated communications cabling. In this scheme, segregation of services was carried out at several levels: individual patch panels for each service were installed, patched into a discrete switch for each service; common patch panels for all horizontal and backbone cables were installed where the segregation was made in the patching process; and common patch panels for all horizontal and riser cables were used with no segregation. The corporate data LAN was used for all the services.
The building in question has an overall scheme, plus zones under local control and with local buses. In the zoned areas, an energy controller was specified for controlling heating and cooling valves, lighting, alarms and access control, with a link to the main network via a simple network interface to the main building controller in the incident room.
As a result of working as part of the design team and taking ownership of the control at installation stage, the reduction in overall installation costs amounted to 40%. There was also an energy-efficient platform achieved, controlling the building in line with ambient and outside conditions. Combined infrastructure, sensors and information systems were attained. Importantly, a framework for ongoing planned maintenance, resulting in minimum unforeseen costs, was achieved.
There are a number of factors that influence the approach that is taken when considering the operational expenditure at the design, build and commissioning stage of a project. These include government initiatives and regulations, end-user specification, consultant specification and manufacturer co-operation. Of these, the one that most imagine would drive a more considered approach to building controls is the imposition of legislation. Paradoxically, this has so far been shown to have little effect.
The Climate Change Levy has had little impact and the Inland Revenue’s associated Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme has had nothing like the uptake expected. The Building Regulations Part L were amended as long ago as October 2001, when the new L1 and L2 covering conservation of fuel and power were published. But, while these are excellent documents, there is no power that exercises actionable authority.
As recently as July 2004, Lord Rooker, the minister of state in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, said in a written Ministerial Statement: “Energy used in buildings is responsible for roughly half the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions.” He then added that “driving up the energy efficiency of our buildings is critical to our success in achieving the carbon emission reduction targets”. He concluded later that performance standards must be raised and that requirements for efficiency must be introduced. However laudable the words and the will of the ODPM, the real drive towards better building control will come elsewhere.
It is the designers and the end users that will ultimately make a difference. At present, about 80% of building specification is brokered but the end users of a building are becoming increasingly aware of the need for efficient and intelligent buildings. This is one area where government intervention is beginning to have an effect. Since the introduction of CIBSE’s TM31 logbooks, facilities managers have been more focused on energy and building performance. The knock on from this is that eventually greater demands will be placed on the designers to create means by which the TM31 logs add value to the property.
Naturally, the end users will resist additional costs and designers will be placed with the dilemma of how to deliver better building performance without increasing the capital expenditure. This is where the manufacturers new role will exert itself, for only by adopting early consultation will the designers achieve their objectives at no additional cost, or, as our earlier example showed, at a reduced cost.