Cleantech Market Intelligence
Continuous Commissioning will Transform Energy Efficient Buildings
Today, few buildings meet their energy efficiency and operational potential. High performance buildings such as those certified under LEED generally achieve high levels of efficiency not only at the point of design but also in the first years of operation. These buildings, though, represent only a small fraction of the total building stock worldwide. What’s more, efficient performance is guaranteed only in the first few years of operation, allowing buildings to drift outside their ideal energy and operational parameters over time as building use changes and systems degrade.
Today, the common approach to guaranteeing operational efficiency in buildings is through commissioning, or the systematic process of assuring that operational performance meets the builders’ intentions. This approach is applied only at specified points in a building’s lifecycle, leaving long periods in between during which many systems operate unchecked and fall short of the high performance levels at which the buildings were initially designed to operate, often at considerable cost to the building owners.
In the last few years, the advent of building energy management systems (BEMS) has generated considerable talk of using continuous energy monitoring systems to ensure persistent high performance in buildings. Applications such as fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) tie into a building’s automation systems and compare ongoing data to predicted performance metrics and alert managers when buildings operate outside their intended parameters. Many believe that the type of ongoing visibility that an advanced BEMS provides will offer an opportunity to maintain buildings at their operational best, as shown in the diagram below.
Recommissioning versus Continuous Commissioning
(Source: Pike Research)
Such systems have been anticipated for years, and many BEMS developers already offer software platforms with continuous commissioning capabilities. From a practical standpoint, however, continuous commissioning faces a number of hurdles that will slow its adoption in the near term. For one thing, intelligent controls and sensors are hardly ubiquitous in buildings today. Direct digital controls (DDC) represent the foundation of any continuous commissioning system, but adoption of DDC is patchy at best across the building stock, so many building owners or enterprises interested in continuous commissioning may be constrained by a lack of smart buildings under their control.
What’s more, given the relatively low priority of energy among many top-level corporate decision-makers as well as their lack of familiarity with BEMS, many potential BEMS customers today are opting for light (and, hence, less capital-intensive) solutions that exclude many of the deeper capabilities that market leading BEMS platforms offer today. Continuous commissioning could be described as a premium feature rather than a must-have energy visualization and analytics capability, and it’s often passed over in enterprise energy management installations.
Over time, however, these barriers will be addressed, and continuous commissioning will become more commonplace. As it does, it will influence the growing market for building commissioning services: It will fundamentally transform the recommissioning process, a once-every-few-years approach to commissioning, into a continuous, software-enabled process. It will also create a virtuous cycle for basic commissioning and maintenance services, as continuous commissioning will generate leads for equipment repair and service that would otherwise have gone undetected until a major equipment malfunction.