How Can Big Data Analytics Drive Better Retrofit Outcomes?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016
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In Australia, energy efficiency has been in the spotlight for decades, particularly with regard to the operation of buildings.

Currently in Australia, buildings account for 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. This is putting increasing pressure on facility managers to reduce the carbon footprint of their buildings and to move to a more sustainable operating model. Throw in an aging infrastructure, reduced budgets and rising energy prices, and it is clear facility managers are facing challenging times ahead.

In addition to this, over 75 per cent of the buildings we will occupy and operate in Australia in 2050 are already built today, so change is required if we want energy efficiency and better outcomes. The answer to this is using big data analytics to reduce energy consumption and improve the overall operations of buildings.

Over the past few years, cost effective cloud-based storage and processing power have provided increasing opportunities for facility managers to leverage the big data generated by today’s building management systems for the better. Big data analytics offer a genuine opportunity to change the way building information is managed and decisions are made. When fully utilised, big data offers facility managers many advantages, including intelligent information about a facility’s operational performance and energy use that can help identify root causes and correct deficiencies in buildings.

Big data analytics are currently used in high performing buildings to drive proactive maintenance, and its use is expected to grow at 20 per cent per annum over the next few years. With that in mind, what opportunities exist to take the next step and use big data analytics to drive better retrofit outcomes?

Prioritising activity

The best analytics solutions excel at identifying and prioritising. They therefore provide a perfect input to retrofit planning as the most important tasks are undertaken first.

How to start

Barriers to implementation are minimal. Analytics are highly scalable when using cloud-based solutions for implementation. As a result, demand for big data will only increase with many more building operations actively preparing for adoption in the next 12 to 18 months.

One important step when deciding to deploy a data analytics solution is to identify the process that will be used to incorporate the findings into a retrofit strategy. No matter how good the analytics solution, executing on the findings is what drives results.

What then is the best approach facility managers can take to utilise big data to benefit them and ensure energy savings?

  • Identify the deployment method that suits you and your team: customised on-site (flexible, but most expensive), SaaS (lowest cost, but requires you and your team to implement and manage), or MSaaS (low cost, with expert support). MSaaS provides particular benefits in a retrofit environment, as analytics may need adjusting after retrofit activity.
  • Identify the process you, your team and contractors will use to take advantage of the actionable information: the analytics will identify and prioritise the most impactful things you can do. How will your team drive performance by executing on those findings when dealing with both maintenance and retrofit activity?
  • Periodically validate results: analytics serve as an excellent measurement and verification tool, used to ensure your activity has addressed performance issues, and that energy savings have persisted.

Using data analytics means facility managers are in a better position than ever to achieve sustainable building operations. With knowledgeable staff and the right technology, management can make informed decisions that go beyond band-aid maintenance solutions. Data analytics means managers can get on the front foot to not only improve energy use, but reduce inefficient processes. In turn, these benefits are amplified through cost savings, improved employee satisfaction, and productivity.

After retrofit works

The benefits of analytics continue after retrofit activity is complete. Once retrofit activities are determined and carried out, analytics are the right tool to:

  • Confirm retrofit activities have resolved pre-existing issues
  • Provide measurement and verification to confirm expected savings have been achieved
  • Ensure savings and improvements persist, and that conditions do not again deteriorate
  • Identify opportunities for further improvement

Ultimately, using data analytics provides significant benefits in a retrofit environment planning works and verifying successful outcomes. It allows building owners and operators to reach and maintain a higher level of building intelligence and performance by providing a baseline, and prioritised actions to improve performance, which impacts the bottom line.

The use of data analytics as a retrofit planning and verification tool requires minimal further effort or cost and ensures benefits gained through retrofit activity remain. For this reason, it is a tool that is now becoming an essential part of the retrofit process, before, during and after activity.

Retrofits that replace aging equipment and allow for more sophisticated control strategies are essential for reducing energy consumption and improving comfort in buildings. However, even very efficient new systems can run inefficiently in their operation. If equipment is left on when it doesn’t need to be, or control sequences are suboptimal, we will not achieve the desired benefits from retrofits. We may drive a car with the most efficient engine, but if we leave the keys in and the engine on at night, we won’t achieve anything.

Building HVAC systems are complex and ongoing diagnostics ensure that the necessary investments made in retrofits perform as designed and continually drive performance into the future.

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