HVAC analytics are key to improving energy performance in the commercial built environment. With large corporates and owner-occupiers facing more investor pressure to disclose a net zero transition plan, HVAC analytics will be key in helping to achieve emission reduction at scale in the built environment. HVAC analytics can also improve occupant health and safety during COVID and optimize building operations & maintenance.
2020 has been a critical year for the commercial built environment. While the coronavirus pandemic upended the status quo, it also accelerated the shift to sustainable finance and increased the urgency to plan for and anticipate the next global crisis: climate change.
Public businesses such as real estate investment trusts (REITs) and large corporates who own or occupy buildings will be increasingly pressured to disclose their ESG performance and net zero transition plan in order to remain competitive and attract investment.
Buildings contribute 40% of global CO2 emissions, and so achieving meaningful reductions in building energy performance will be critical to the net zero transition.
It’s well known that commercial buildings are under-performing – strategies for building operation and maintenance are a huge contributor to emissions in the built environment.
While building energy performance improvements often take the form of equipment retrofits and upgrades, the truth remains that poorly run buildings deliver poor outcomes, no matter how high spec the infrastructure. This is evidenced by the fact that, as building occupancy has plummeted to as low as 10-15% in 2020, the energy reductions have not kept pace; only 10% of facilities reduced their energy use more than 20%.
It makes sense to focus energy and emission reduction opportunities where you will get the biggest impact. In large commercial buildings, HVAC electricity consumption typically accounts for around 40 per cent of total building consumption and around 70 per cent of base building electricity consumption, so optimizing your building with HVAC analytics is a great place to start.
Much can be accomplished from optimizing your building and its existing energy infrastructure – if you know where to focus. That’s where HVAC analytics come in.
What is HVAC analytics software?
HVAC analytics software captures and analyses real-time operating data from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to help inform building operations and maintenance decisions.
The operating data that powers HVAC analytics software can be derived from Building Management Systems (BMS), through physical sub-meters, or from IoT sensors. HVAC analytics can encompass or overlap with Automated Fault Detection and Diagnostic software, Energy Management Software, IoT energy analytics and Digital Twin Software.
Envizi’s HVAC analytics software, HVAC Fault Detection, uses software-derived energy meters (SoftMeters) for electrical motors and thermal plant that combines equipment performance specifications with actual operating data from building management systems (BMS) to calculate energy demand, consumption and other performance metrics in real-time. This is achieved without referencing any physical sub-metering or current transformers.
SoftMeter data is transmitted to the cloud where out-of-the box fault detection and diagnostics rules are applied. The resulting HVAC analytics detect the most common, costly and fix-able issues in your HVAC systems. Many of these faults can be rectified with simple fine-tuning of your BMS settings.
HVAC analytics using SoftMeters provide equipment-level energy transparency, don’t require installation and are less costly than physical sub-metering. HVAC analytics are ideal for scenarios where traditional sub-metering is prohibitively expensive or impractical to install on every item of equipment (such as RTU’s, fans, pumps, chillers, cooling towers & boilers).
How do HVAC analytics compare to other energy management tactics?
HVAC analytics vs. an energy audit
The traditional pathway to assess a building’s performance is a static audit. Enormous amounts of money can be spent assessing the efficiency of just one asset. The building owner gets handed a fat report with a stack of recommendations – but that report is based on one moment in time, and the value is not realized until the recommendations are implemented.
As data analytics become more accessible, we can access real-time data feeds from a building to check whether the systems are running at optimal performance. This amounts to an audit every few minutes – and at a fraction of the cost of a static audit. What once took organizations months to undertake by way of costly energy audits can now be achieved continuously, in real time, with HVAC analytics software.
HVAC analytics vs meter/submeter analytics
Using meter data to identify operational deficiencies in HVAC systems is challenging as wastage can be incremental in nature, stay hidden in energy profiles, and go undetected for long periods of time. Energy meter data alone tends not provide enough contextual information to detect and diagnose the likely root cause of system related issues.
Sub-meters typically measure grouped loads fed from main electrical and mechanical switchboards so the energy profiles from several items of equipment are amalgamated. Normalization techniques can be applied to highlight peaks and troughs in energy consumption and demand; however, an investigation is often required to identify the equipment responsible for an anomaly and the root cause. Building operations teams are already stretched and have very little time to investigate issues.
In portfolios of small to medium-sized buildings, where building management systems aren’t used, portfolio benchmarking analytics can be applied to meter data to better interrogate building energy performance anomalies.
HVAC analytics vs Building Management Systems (BMS)
Many large commercial buildings have a building management system (BMS) or building automation system (BAS) installed to control HVAC equipment operating schedules. The BMS is commissioned, or configured, by mechanical or electrical engineers at one point in time. Once deployed, it’s often a “set it and forget it” scenario, where the settings might not be reviewed again for some time. Therefore it can be difficult to ‘catch’ faults or incorrect settings such as the HVAC running full blast when the building is unoccupied.
Adjustments over time to the BMS or “quick fixes” can also lead to energy drift that degrades HVAC equipment performance. This can shorten the lifecycle of costly assets and make the building environment more prone to disruption and equipment failure.
HVAC analytics such as Envizi’s Equipment Fault Detection can serve as a “watch dog” for the BMS – adding additional monitoring and fault detection capability to alert building O&M teams how equipment is performing in real time, and how the BMS is configured.
HVAC analytics insights
HVAC analytics detect and diagnose the most common faults and inefficiencies within HVAC systems such as:
- equipment operating outside of scheduled hours,
- motors working harder than expected under part-load conditions or starting and stopping too frequently (short cycling),
- chillers or boilers not staging up and down in the most efficient manner.
They can also be used to identify peak demand contributors and therefore opportunities to minimize future peak demand events.
HVAC analytics software and triple bottom line benefits
HVAC analytics case studies
A large hospital building identified over $60,000 AUD in energy cost savings opportunities within the first 8 weeks of deployment.
An airport terminal realized $100,000 AUD in costs savings within 12 months of deploying building optimization technology.