Sustainable design depends on ground level staff and users part 2

Facilities managers can do a lot more to save energy.

After a decade of being involved in many construction projects of varying sizes (small fit-outs to mega rail infrastructural projects), as well as managing facilities in between, I have come to realize convenience usually result in energy wastage and this leads to unsustainable situations economically and ecologically. I have divided convenience into two broad categories

1) Convenience in Design and

2) Convenience in facilities management.  

Convenience in design in my opinion is the use of rule of thumb (using standard values to do ball park calculation or based on experience) to design instead of doing detailed calculation and adding many layers of safety margin. It often results in over-sized equipment, especially for air-conditioning system. Rule of thumb usually also come from larger countries with established code of practice which might not be applicable to the rest of the world due to different ambient conditions. New materials of construction will also result in wrong ballpark figures. Over-sized equipment usually also cost more to procure which leads to increased cost during project phase. These over-sized units also consume more energy during day to day operations which will result in higher operating cost.

Convenience in facilities management in my opinion is running any equipment optimized, over-sized or undersized in a manner which makes running operations convenient and as simple as possible. This convenience can lead to large energy wastage as settings are not optimized for equipment. This wastage is compounded when users are not aware of the impact on energy use due to habits and personal preference.

An example is that of an office which has air-conditioning set at 25 degree Celsius. Some users might find the temperature a bit too warm due to personal choice in clothing and when this particular user complains to the facilities management team, a good facilities team should explain to the user the impact of changing the temperature to make the space cooler. We need to take close note that most of the air-conditioning system nowadays for offices are centralized and dropping 1 degree of temperature within the space also results in cooling down the entire space by 1 degree. That will result in surge in electricity usage just to suit one user. This is unsustainable both economically as the company will be spending additional on utilities as well as ecologically as the energy consumed comes mostly from burning fossil fuel in South East Asia. This results in additional carbon emission and eventually contributes to increase in greenhouse gases and global warming.

During the design phase of the building or even during the retrofitting phase for existing building, a good engineer will propose an energy efficient design taking into consideration cost. If the proposal is extreme in terms of efficiency but also extreme in capital expenditure, the chances of approval for the project to proceed might be slim. However, if the proposal strikes a balance between efficiency and capital cost and leads to long term savings for the company, the chances of approval becomes higher. When the project is completed, the facilities team must ensure that what was designed for is implemented as a lapse in correct energy management will lead to a company spending more for energy efficient equipment (during project phase) and still end up wasting a large portion of the energy savings due to poor usage of equipment and settings. This will make payback period much longer and unattractive to management for future implementation. So a skilled and equipped facilities management team is integral to all green projects.

More awareness through engagement of end users is integral to the success of green and sustainable design and facilities management team must be equipped to optimize equipment so as to optimize energy consumption. This small part each office, each company contribute will result in nationwide reduction in energy wastage.

Syed M. Subukutheen

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