Controls are powerful allies in the fight against high carbon emissions and inefficient energy usage. M&E contractors can have a significant influence over how controls are specified so it is incumbent upon them to gain an understanding of this critical technology, says Ian Ellis
Some of the most energy-hungry items in a building are heating, ventilating and air conditioning: all elements that are overseen and installed by contractors. The drive to more energy efficient and low-carbon buildings means that manufacturers are increasingly concerned with developing 'smart' kit - HVAC equipment and components with controls built-in.
While this trend does not necessarily affect how the equipment is installed, it does mean that HVAC contractors are now part of the selection and installation of building controls and are therefore an important factor in the long-term energy efficiency of a building.
Anyone involved in the selection of building services equipment will be aware of the growing emphasis placed by manufacturers on maximising the energy efficiency of their products. Legislation such as the Energy Related Products Directive (ErP) from Europe has also ensured that manufacturers have invested in meeting ever-tighter standards of efficiency. Part of this development has included offering the option of built-in controls.
John Durbin, engineering manager of Daikin UK, now a corporate member of the BCIA, says: 'Users are looking to make energy savings, and controls are a major factor in achieving that. With built-in controls, you can see an increase of 30 per cent to 35 per cent in energy savings.'
And Robert Harness, business development manager at fan specialist ebm-papst, also a BCIA member, adds: 'Controls can bring significant energy savings to the operation of fans. If you can reduce the speed of a fan by half, you are looking at around one eighth of the power requirements.'
There can be no doubt that 'smart kit' is an important trend for specifiers and contractors to bear in mind. It is still the case that the controls element of a product may be an option, rather than standard and it is vital to consider the benefits of what controls will bring to the end-user.
'It is important for users to understand the benefits of well-controlled equipment,' says Scott McGavin, engineering specialist for technical product solutions at Daikin. 'It is important to offer product for specific applications. Our equipment can be linked to the wider building energy management system (BEMS), but not all clients require this. So we offer smaller Modbus-based solutions for the retail market place or single offices. These customers can see the benefits of being able to efficiently control our products, at a scale that suits their needs.'
In the area of fans, control is an evolution that has come from the development of highly efficient EC fans.
Mr Harness explains: 'EC fans have microprocessors on board. These have to be incorporated into the product to ensure that they operate correctly. The fans therefore had this potential for greater capability, so the control side was a development of what was already there.'
As with air conditioning products, the controls offering on fans is scalable. 'Our larger fans include a range of control options, including networking capability but we also offer a 0 to 10 volt input to control the speed of our smaller products. It is a simple but effective control option that has a big impact on energy efficiency,' adds Mr Harness.
Manufacturers are therefore not only looking to link their products into a wider BEMS, but also offering scalable solutions to bring the benefits of better control into smaller commercial environments where a BEMS is not necessarily available.
Contractors in turn can now think beyond simply 'on' or 'off' for the products they are installing. Temperature, carbon dioxide or occupancy sensors are relatively low-cost and offer an excellent way to provide a demand-controlled environment on the smallest of projects.
This is an important factor for contractors who may think that the some projects are too 'small' to warrant consideration for an element of control. In fact, it is particularly in this area that contractors can have a strong influence on the selection of products that offer controls options.
The wider goal of achieving energy efficient buildings, that perform as they were designed, is something that all parts of the construction team must now consider very closely. Integrated thinking is key to ensuring that the building services systems in a building operate effectively. Open protocols, such as BACnet, KNX or LonWorks, are more prevalent than ever and many manufacturers are now ensuring that their equipment will operate with them.
The protocols not only help to ensure interoperability between different elements of the hvac, they also give clients the reassurance that they can add to their system more easily later, and that they can have a wider choice of both controls and hvac kit.
// The author is president of the Building Controls Industry Association
Contractors and their influence on control
Does the project have a building energy management system (BEMS)? If it does, it is always most energy efficient to link as much of the HVAC equipment to it as possible - this means that building operators can monitor, measure and control their energy use far more effectively.
No BEMS? Consider how much control the end-user might require. The ultimate goal is to ensure that equipment operates as effectively as possible. Think about:
Use of temperature, CO2 or occupancy sensors to offer demand control
User interfaces on controls that are straightforward to understand - this reduces problems in operation and also enables faster handover
Controls that include an easy-setup time clock schedule.
Controls that return to set points: users often hit 'manual override' and forget, leaving equipment operating unnecessarily. Anything that can automatically re-set to the most efficient operating status will have a significant effect on energy-saving.
By thinking more about the control of the equipment they install, contractors take an important role in the energy efficiency of buildings. This is something that the BCIA takes very seriously, and this year its Annual Conference is being supported by the B&ES because it feels that integration in the team as well as in buildings creates better long-term building performance.
BCIA sees growth in 2012
Association membership grew during 2012, with members representing a range of businesses from the controls industry and the wider manufacturer industry. The BCIA now represents over 60 per cent of the controls market by value, and figures from its exclusive Market Information Service show that controls are experiencing strong performance in spite of a difficult market.
The controls market last peaked in 2009 with a value of around £630 million. However, figures for 2012 indicate that following a dip in 2010, the market has been regaining lost ground and now stands at £600 million.
The BCIA has also seen growing interest from smaller controls companies as well as OEMs such as Daikin and ebm-papst who have developed the controls-based elements of their own products.
The BCIA is focused on developing its training offering and raising standards in the industry. It is particularly keen on working with other organisations such as the ECA and B&ES to reach out to the wider construction industry and help to raise awareness of the importance of building controls and BEMS.
BCIA National Conference and Exhibition
This year's BCIA National Conference and Exhibition will examine the challenge of ensuring that buildings perform as intended. The issue of the gap between design and performance is a long-standing one. It is a challenge that all parts of the construction team need to consider. The Conference is run in association with the B&ES, and this reflects the importance of taking an integrated approach to the design, construction and operation of buildings for greater energy efficiency.
Integration is particularly important where low-carbon technologies are concerned. Poor planning and installation result in poor long-term performance, and clients do not benefit from the theoretical carbon efficiencies. It is not uncommon to find that low-carbon technologies are not correctly integrated into the building energy management system (BEMS). This also leads to long-term inefficiencies. By understanding these issues, designers, installers and controls experts can ensure clients achieve the performance they expect from this equipment.
What's more, a growing number of Government incentive schemes focus on measuring the effectiveness of 'green' technologies and understanding in detail their contribution to energy efficiency and carbon reduction.
Speakers at this year's Conference include B&ES president Sue Sharp; Jacqueline Balian of Ofgem; Debbie Hobbs, sustainability manager at Legal & General and Colin Braidwood of Dixons Retail.
Places are £55 and you can book online at www.bcia-conference.co.uk