Using Data Analytics to Improve Building Resources

Higher education institutions spend almost $14 billion annually on energy, and those costs are expected to climb. Coupled with constrained budgets and new regulations requiring schools to improve efficiency, energy management within the higher education market has proved to be a conundrum. Schools are constantly looking for ways to lower their energy expenditures and run their campuses more efficiently — an effort that is further complicated by aging buildings often with deferred maintenance.

However, according to a recent survey commissioned by Schneider Electric, energy-efficiency projects are increasingly getting attention with more than half (56 percent) of respondents projecting their investment in energy efficiency next year will be more than last year. This represents a 12 percent increase in energy-efficiency investments and a 13 percent increase in projected investments in the past 12 months.

At the same time, colleges and universities are expected to be on the forefront of energy sustainability — and leadership in this area can prove to be a competitive differentiator and invaluable for both student and staff recruitment. With more than 1,400 academic programs in sustainability at 475 campuses according to the National Association of Scholars, the campus sustainability movement has progressed from the fringes of campus activism to become a key initiative across colleges and universities both from an education and operations standpoint. Universities face a huge opportunity to implement energy management strategies that can reduce their energy bills by 30 percent or more. But many simply don’t know how to get started.

In order to better manage budgets and positively impact the bottom line, higher education facility managers need to be able to uncover hidden savings within their buildings to not only offset energy spending, but also to make smarter asset investments. This starts with an intelligent building infrastructure that integrates and enables communication between traditionally disparate systems, such as power, building management, security and IT. Building management systems (BMS) provide facility operators with valuable insight on building performance, status of critical infrastructure and the likelihood of impact on building occupants. But real savings occur when building data is analyzed and turned into actionable intelligence to improve higher education facility performance.

Enter Building Analytics

A building management system built on an open architecture lets facility managers use big data and analytics to identify and diagnose energy waste, potentially uncomfortable conditions for students and staff as well as maintenance issues. And with graphical user interfaces and mobile applications, facility managers and executives can view the data they need while sitting behind a desk or on the go.

Applications and systems attached to the BMS accumulate a significant amount of data, which can be analyzed and transformed into information, becoming an important decision-making support tool in managing higher education facilities. Building analytics-managed services provide a quick means to identify and diagnose maintenance, comfort and energy issues within a college or university, which can then be addressed to reap energy- and cost-saving benefits including using FTE resources in the most efficient manner.

So how exactly does this work? Building analytics systems send information from the BMS directly to cloud-based data storage, where powerful analytics tools are used to evaluate building performance, identify any equipment and system faults, and pinpoint specific improvement opportunities and recommended actions to reduce energy use and save costs. Customized reports present areas of improvement that are prioritized and ranked based on projected payback and required upfront costs to achieve the most impactful remedies and energy savings for the institution.

Putting Building Analytics to Use

Automated fault detection and diagnostics for forecasting energy and cost savings are key elements of a building-analytics approach. Instead of having to rely primarily on monthly checkups to track performance, comfort levels and energy and maintenance data, building analytics automatically analyze a campus’ data every five minutes. This information enables proactive building maintenance while ensuring persistent energy efficiency. It can even help a new or young facility manager learn the best maintenance practices for a facility.

Consider the following scenarios where building analytics services can be used to reduce energy costs in a college or university setting:

Room Occupancy Optimization: Energy is often wasted when temperature set points do not take building occupancy into consideration when determining heating and cooling needs. It may sound simple to give the HVAC a rest when students and staff aren’t in a room, but this becomes challenging in large campus settings with hundreds of rooms. Building analytics allow facility managers to pinpoint instances of waste so that temperatures can be adjusted accordingly to reduce energy consumption and ultimately save costs.

Prevent Simultaneous Heating and Cooling: Building analytics can be used to identify leaks within an air-handling unit. For instance, a leaking cooling valve can result in a loss of thousands of dollars per week during the heating season due to simultaneous heating and cooling of air supplied to the campus. Without building analytics, these inefficiencies go unnoticed and the institution wastes money that could be spent on alternate services to improve the learning environment.

Catch Up on Deferred Maintenance: While buildings continue to age, schools are known for deferring costly maintenance projects due to limited budgets. Building analytics help facility managers identify and prioritize projects that will yield the best return on their investment. And when energy savings are reinvested into additional cost-saving projects, schools can catch up on deferred maintenance projects even faster.

The Bottom Line

When building analytics maintenance recommendations are implemented, results include enhanced building performance, reduced operating costs, improved occupant comfort and optimized energy efficiency — all with measurable ROI. Higher education facilities can save anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent on major equipment energy costs through building analytics, not to mention significant decreases in maintenance and occupant comfort incidents.

Tara Canfield is segment director, education and commercial office buildings for Schneider Electric.