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Optimizing a Building’s Preventative Maintenance With Real Time Energy Management

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This piece is part of a new series that was created in conjunction with The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to help educate the real estate community about the positive impacts of Real Time Energy Management.

A milestone of the American dream is the freedom and power of driving a car. Teenagers turning sixteen feel like the entire world opens up after they’ve earned their license and are handed the keys to an automobile. This passion for driving spreads into the careful care of the vehicle ranging from interior and exterior detailing shops to regular oil changes, tire rotations, and more. We are so accepting of the need to take care of our vehicles that automated alerts from the vehicle itself or estimates from CARFAX for when it’s time for maintenance are viewed as necessary and helpful.

Now imagine running a car into the ground without an oil change and when the engine quits, saying, “Must be time for a new car.” This sounds ridiculous but we do this for buildings all of the time. 

Expensive and complex building systems have manufacturer-recommended guidelines that are considered “good enough” for systems to operate under. However, these guidelines may be buried deep in the office file cabinets or lost between generations of building operational teams. That is, of course, assuming they were read in the first place and referenced as was necessary. Whether HVAC or others, these systems are often operated with a run to failure mentality or simply replaced after a certain number of years in accordance with the standard guidelines.

We spend much more time in buildings (up to 87 percent of our lives, compared to six percent in vehicles) and expect these massive, complex systems to be running at max performance and comfort without a hitch. When a problem arises, it’s addressed and any associated expenditure to make it happen is seen as a necessary cost. However, run to failure doesn’t need to be the only way. Systems are constantly showing signs of how well they’re performing, like increased machine noise or vibration, but with an already busy and stressful workload, operators simply don’t have the time to interpret why these abnormalities are appearing. Fortunately, technology has enabled operators to listen to buildings in a way that was before impossible.

Real time energy management (RTEM) is useful for more than just energy management, it enables building owners and operators to run their buildings more efficiently such as maintaining systems based on usage and workload instead of age. This modernization of traditional building operations and performance methodologies is built on centralized usage tracking. RTEM empowers HVAC monitoring, schedule management, and equipment operation while detecting equipment faults before they become failures or create an uncomfortable situation for tenants. RTEM allows teams to focus on run time and energy loads, areas that previously needed regular in-person monitoring to get data needed to improve processes.

Preventative maintenance is simply regularly performed work on a piece of equipment to lessen the likelihood of it failing. A key part of this type of maintenance is that it’s done while the equipment is still working, it happens before failure occurs. Knowing what needs to be done is made possible through recent advancements in hardware and software technology. Today’s sensors are much less expensive than in years past, with batteries that can last decades and small enough in size that they can be affixed to anything. Beyond keeping equipment running in peak condition, preventative maintenance reduces unplanned downtime and last-minute, and most likely expensive, costs to replace equipment. 

A step beyond preventative maintenance, intelligent preventative maintenance uses the data collected from RTEM from sensors, meters, and other equipment and gives operators the ability to stay on top of what their equipment and buildings actually need. Real time alerts can inform teams of what is happening right now so that adjustments, cleaning, lubrication, repairs, and replacements can be done before problems are noticeable. Sensors can pick up on run times, alerting operators to excessive runtimes or conflicting system operation, as well as vibrations showing that machinery is either not working like it should or is working too hard. 

Simple, yet hidden, problems can be found by sensors during times when the building isn’t occupied. A surprisingly common issue found in commercial buildings is running two contradictory systems such as AC and heat in the same zone or two adjacent zones, greatly impacting the run time and stress on each as they try to reach their goals. If this is done when a building is not occupied, people cannot physically feel the difference and pick up on the error, and when the equipment is acting in accordance with the rules laid out by software, no alerts will be made. Sensors act as the checks and balances needed for these systems.

Other sensors pick up more complex data like that from harmonics, distorted electrical waveforms, and can discover inefficiencies in an electrical system. Harmonics can be generated from any electronic equipment with nonlinear loads like fluorescent lights, computers, uninterrupted power supplies (UPS), and variable frequency drives (VFDs). They can lead to increased electrical usage and wear and tear on equipment as well as penalties from the utility company for bringing harmonics into the power grid.

RTEM also eliminates unnecessary upkeep on equipment that isn’t being used as expected or not giving enough attention to equipment working harder than anticipated. After all, the semi-truck and the racing Porsche do not follow the same maintenance schedule.

Incentives to move towards a preventative maintenance plan are given through organizations like the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, known as NYSERDA, which promotes energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. For example, in their On-site Energy Manager Program, NYSERDA will share up to 75 percent of costs for hiring a dedicated on-site energy manager to assess and reduce energy usage. Any commercial or industrial facility in New York that pays the System Benefits Charge and does not already have a dedicated full-time on-site energy manager are eligible.

Good buildings are like high performance vehicles when their systems are kept at optimum levels. RTEM allows building teams to listen to what equipment needs to stay in the lead, keep tenants comfortable, and save energy and money.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, known as NYSERDA, promotes energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. These efforts are key to developing a less polluting and more reliable and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers. Collectively, NYSERDA’s efforts aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate economic growth, and reduce customer energy bills. NYSERDA works with stakeholders throughout New York including residents, business owners, developers, community leaders, local government officials, university researchers, utility representatives, investors, and entrepreneurs.

NYSERDA offers cost-share incentives to support RTEM projects that serve customers in commercial, industrial, and multifamily sectors. Its Advanced Efficiency Solutions team evaluates and qualifies vendors to ensure high quality RTEM projects and analyzes RTEM market data to publish case studies and best practices.

Prospective customers can learn more about RTEM benefits and how to get started here. All of NYSERDA’s informational materials can be found in the RTEM Resource Center. Vendors interested in qualification should apply today.

For questions and help, email RTEM@NYSERDA.ny.gov

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