The expression “the devil is in the details” would make an apt motto for the often-overlooked profession of building managers. As buildings become increasingly complex and the mandate to reduce energy use permeates into every corner of the built environment, the need for advanced building management systems is accelerating. Designing buildings in an energy efficient manner is no longer the ultimate goal, but a starting point. Now is the time to perfect the art and science of operating buildings in an energy efficient manner over the course of their entire lifespan. There are big dividends to be had, both for the environment and the bottom line.
Delta Controls, one of the largest independently owned manufacturers of building automation equipment, has been a trusted ally of building managers around the world for more than 30 years. Several years ago, Delta received a call from the facilities manager of the Coquitlam, British Columbia School District, who was looking for help troubleshooting some of the mechanical systems for a multi-use facility housing an elementary school, daycare center, offices, and gymnasium. The newly completed LEED Gold facility was not living up to its design. Occupants were complaining of some rooms being too hot, while others were too cold. Even though the building was designed to meet stringent energy standards, gas and electricity consumption per square foot had been above the national average since day one.
“Our vision is of occupants going into buildings and buildings serving their needs, whether it’s access or lighting or comfort or security,” says Chris Kwong, Delta’s director of engineering—and it should do that with the least amount of waste possible. The trouble is that buildings change as they are used, unless the building team carefully monitors the building settings, and because they can be complex systems this isn’t always easy to do.”
At the Coquitlam School District’s new facility, the facilities manager was getting frustrated. Heat pumps and boilers were cycling on when they weren’t supposed to, the main air-handling unit was running almost non-stop, and the heat recovery unit wasn’t doing its job. Everything had been installed correctly, but the system program wasn’t performing. Technicians from Delta’s sister company, ESC Automation, revised the operational sequence of the HVAC equipment, fine-tuned the settings for occupancy-based system responses, and installed their enteliWEB monitoring system and EarthrightDashboard to make it easier for the building manager to keep track of the energy performance moving forward. The results were immediate and dramatic: energy consumption dropped 20%, and natural gas consumption dropped 28% within the first month.
“ESC Automation’s energy review enabled us to lower all aspects of utility consumption almost immediately,” says Matt Foley, facilities manager for the Coquitlam School District. “Even more importantly, we reduced our greenhouse gas emissions and provided superior comfort control in the classroom environment.”
COPPERTREE AND THE COPPER CUBE
Delta Controls emerged onto the market at the confluence of the oil crisis of the late ‘70s and the advent of the first cost-effective microprocessors to come out of the hi-tech field. Building owners were looking to improve energy efficiency, and technology was providing the answers. In a way, not much has changed in 2015, except the imperative to reduce energy consumption is even greater, as is the technological capacity to meet the challenge. In 2012, Delta launched CopperTree Analytics to take the efficiency game to the next level.
CopperTree’s flagship product is Kaizen, cloud-based software that monitors building performance over time and empowers building managers with the information they need to improve and maintain efficiency. CopperTree technicians can get building data in a variety of ways, but they’ve also designed a device—the CopperCube—that integrates the data “and pulls it up to the cloud,” says Kevin Binnie, CopperTree’s director of product management. “And when it’s in the cloud we do deep analytics on it.” In other words, Kaizen and the CopperCube are a way to use big data to save big on energy consumption—with an interface that’s as easy for building managers to operate as an iPhone.
Binnie says that “architects may not directly utilize our products, but it should be of some comfort for them to know that the vision and the design that they have for a building and the ‘greenness’ of that building, if you will, will be sustained through the life of the building.”
NO GREENWASHING HERE
“One thing I hate,” says John Nicholls, the executive vice president of Delta, “is those brochures that use words like green or sustainability or leadership or innovation or any other of those clichés. You could put any company at the top of the brochure and it would read exactly the same.” In Nicholls’ view, the question is not how you sell clients on energy efficiency and Earth stewardship—there is ample demand for that—but on “how you differentiate yourself from what everybody else is doing.”
For Delta, sustainability is not a bandwagon, but a natural extension of the corporate culture they’ve promulgated since their founding. In a broad sense, Nicholls says Delta culture is based on a foundation of philanthropy. “Culturally, as an organization for 30 years, Delta has been the Ben & Jerry’s of the controls industry,” he says. “Yes, we’ve worked to reduce our footprint as an organization and we’ve removed harmful chemicals from our plastics. But it’s also about working in the community here in Vancouver; it’s about the two-story gym to make sure employees are healthy. All those things come from a philanthropic cultural aspect at Delta which extends all the way to the algorithms we put in the controllers.”
It’s not that Delta isn’t concerned with advancing the technology of energy efficiency—that’s the premise on which they were founded—but they are even more concerned with the level of service that they can offer to clients who seek those technologies. There is a big difference between gloating about saving the world in broad-based PR campaigns and putting your head down to the do the work of reducing greenhouse gas emissions within your specific industry niche. Every architect, building owner and citizen has a small role to play in that and Delta Controls, as a building management company, is not interested in blowing their role out of proportion to reality. Delta Controls make building automation systems that reduce energy use, plain and simple. Their only goal is do it better and better all the time, which is why they launched CopperTree—building automation technology is getting so complex as more systems are integrated that there is a pressing need for advanced analytics to inform the decision-making process.
BIG, BUT NIMBLE
If lack of pretense is what defines Delta’s culture, a small business approach to customer service is what defines their relationship with clients. They have a unique niche as the largest privately held company in the building management industry. Nicholls says there are a handful of “big boys” above them in terms of scale, but they all follow a corporate model for customer service: “they just put the tools out there and then let everyone sort out what they’re going to do with them. We build the tools, but everything is customizable so we can plug in the specifics whether it’s for an indoor pool in Moscow or an office block in California.”
Small companies certainly offer that level of customer service, but they don’t offer the global reach of a company the size of Delta who has 300 distributors in 86 countries on six continents. Delta walks the fine line of being “global, yet approachable,” says Nicholls, a strategy that is deliberately crafted by company leadership. “The other day one of our clients said to me: ‘can you imagine me going to Siemens and asking, will you change the way our alarm systems work or will you set up this new algorithm for me?’ I like that because it’s not just buzzwords, it’s something tangible that differentiates our approach.”
THE POWER OF PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS
As a start-up within the larger company, CopperTree epitomizes the big-but-nimble balancing act at Delta. The applications for Kaizen are as diverse as the problems encountered by building managers. It can track more than 300 scenarios, but because it’s not just software, but a service, CopperTree technicians can create custom monitoring protocols for any building that uses Kaizen. “You pay in part for real people that sit on the other end of the phone and help you develop the analytics,” Binnie says.
Besides the “fault detection and diagnostic tools” that CopperTree is known for, their Kaizen product also has predictive modelling capabilities built in with the Logic Builder platform. As an example of the precision that Kaizen is capable of, Binnie tells the story of the The Offices, a 10-story class-A tower that is part of the Four Seasons Hotel complex in Miami. The building automation provider,South Florida Controls, was undertaking a retrofit and wanted to change the pumps on the air chiller from full speed pumps to variable speed pumps, but first needed to convince the building owner on the ROI—one of those on-going decisions that building owners and operators make every year that determines the long term performance of a building.
Using Logic Builder, CopperTree helped South Florida Controls create an energy consumption model using the performance characteristics of the variable speed pumps. The program forecast $5,000 in utility savings every month by changing the pumps—a number that would quickly pay off the capital investment. Importantly, Kaizen doesn’t just spit out information like that in an unintelligible spread sheet, it does it with a crystal clear graphic image. “If you see a graphic that says here’s how much energy you’re consuming today, but if you change out that equipment here’s how much energy you’re going to be consuming tomorrow—and those are a green line and a red line on a graph—it’s easy to follow, you get it right away,” says Binnie.
BY THE NUMBERS
The percentage of reduction in electrical consumption per month at The Offices
The monthly savings in energy costs at The Offices as a result of CopperTree analytics
The realized electrical savings The Offices is on track to hit in 2015
The savings predicted by CopperTree solutions were within 1% of the actual savings realized for The Offices
FINDING THOSE HIDDEN ENERGY DRAINS
CopperTree’s Kaizen can plug into any building, whether it’s using Delta Controls or another system, and start collecting data. It adapts to office towers, academic campuses, hospitals, multi-family housing, and any other environment where building automation systems are in use. The list of success stories is long and diverse, but the commonality in each is a hidden energy drain that was going undetected until Kaizen pinpointed it: a recreation center that was running its swimming pool and hot tub heaters 24/7, even though the facility closed at 8 p.m. each day; a hospital where the snow melting system for their helipad was on manual mode, leaving it running through the summer and racking up an $18,000 energy bill; a school district that cut winter energy consumption by 50% after CopperTree fine-tuned the scheduling of their air source heat pumps to avoid using them during periods peak demand charges from the utility provider.
These are some of the simpler scenarios where Delta and CopperTree solutions have come into play, but the beauty of Kaizen is its ability to synthesize huge quantities of data and suggest a few actionable responses that will give the most bang for the buck.
Kwong says that the current emphasis on flexible work spaces that encourage employee mobility at work has made energy efficient building automation much more complex. Rather than set a program and let it run, he says Delta Controls is “getting more and more into occupant detection. There are a lot of efficiencies that can be improved by monitoring how people move throughout a building. The goal is make buildings smarter.”
Binnie sees it as a win-win. “We like the fact that it helps building owners save money, but we love the fact that it’s doing a better job for the world.”