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Whose job is it to be efficient?

With such a great emphasis on energy efficiency in the industry today, change has become inevitable. Changes are being seen in the way products are being made, how they work, the results they produce and how they are managed. Does this mean that what we once all knew and felt comfortable with now can't work anymore as it isn't sustainable enough? And, if so, how are users going to keep up with all these rapid changes? Martin Lowe discusses
There is an abundance of new products, methods and solutions in the market that aim to help users reduce their carbon emissions whilst ticking numerous other boxes in this highly competitive world. A product needs to stand out against so many others for it to be considered good enough to be specified, but where in the specification does it review the skills of the people who use the products?

Who is ensuring that the knowledge, understanding and skill levels of those who design, install, commission and validate those systems are up to date? Could this mean that people are attempting to install and use products that they don't fully understand or are they just opting for the better known products they feel comfortable with?

It could be argued that the manufacturers themselves are the ones who should be ensuring that individuals are sufficiently trained on their products. But they have a question of their own - who do they need to educate?

During implementation, the installers have the best vision of what needs to be done. However, after completion it's the skills of those who maintain the building that become the vital factor and these are, unfortunately, often overlooked.

Facilities managers without proper training are at risk of trying to solve one problem whilst unknowingly creating another somewhere else in the system; and there are many known instances in the industry of this happening.

For example, it's very easy for someone to close a valve to help resolve one issue but be completely unaware of the importance of returning it to its original setting afterwards. With such a change, the system simply can't operate as originally commissioned anymore and immediately energy is wasted.

This would be complicated even further if the system wasn't commissioned correctly in the first place, which is often the case. This is not questioning the skills of the commissioning companies but instead the circumstances of how the system was commissioned. Firstly, limited time is often given to the process so it has to be rushed to meet deadlines. In addition, the process is often conducted before the property has been occupied and so only a simulated environment could be created, one that could be very different to the actual reality of how the building will be used.

All of these issues lead to massive wastages in terms of time, cost and energy efficiency. The benefits that change will bring are becoming increasingly apparent.

The introduction of the automatic balancing valve in constant volume systems and the development of using rotary pressure independent characterised control valves (PICCV) to achieve design flow through the BMS fan coil unit controller were vital steps forward in product development. Systems had to be easier to manage to help users control them better.

Now systems not only have to be easier to manage, but they have to be efficient as well. Concepts like remote commissioning and energy monitoring are there to help support businesses as they strive to meet government targets set out in the Energy Act and the Carbon Reduction Commitment, but whose job is it to manage them? Is it the Facilities Managers or the Commissioning Companies?

With seasonal and continuous commissioning becoming more popular processes in the bid to remain efficient, roles need to be made clearer.

But change can be hard. As new products and methods are entering the market at such a rapid pace, it's easy to see why anyone would want to stick to what they know best. In the instance of commissioning companies, for example, they may find there is more revenue in continuing to commission in the traditional way and they may believe it will be a less problematic task as they know the process so well.

The unfortunate problem, though, is that without change carbon reduction targets can't possibly be met and the existing issues in the commissioning process will never be eliminated.

The drive for greater energy efficiency in businesses will inevitably mean change will have to come about. Any product or task that can be modified to reduce carbon emissions will need to be considered, and the monitoring and measuring of energy will soon be vital for businesses all over the UK. This all leads to the fact that technology has to be continually developed to ensure it meets the market requirements. But is it moving a little bit too quickly for users to keep up?

The answer simply comes down to knowledge. If faster technological developments mean that we all increase our energy efficiency at a more rapid pace, then that has to be the best way forward. But technological developments must come armed with high quality training initiatives. Knowledge is king and everyone who touches the system should be provided with the right knowledge to ensure tasks can be completed properly.

The responsibility lies with both the manufacturers, to ensure that effective training initiatives are in place, and also the members of the supply chain, to ensure that whatever their role is they are able to use and understand the best products that can offer the best results for their customers.

We can't afford to waste energy anymore. Even if that wastage is an unintentional result of a person trying their best to resolve an issue, if they don't have the knowledge they can't possibly perform the tasks correctly. Change may be inevitable, but education should automatically be part of this. As new systems and products are brought to market, everyone should be given the opportunity to understand how they can be of benefit to them.

The author is business development director at Marflow Hydronics
3 January 2013

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