Monitor It to Manage It: HEFMA Pulse Net-Zero Interview

Date Published

17th Mar 2021

Mark Gifford
LEED AP, CEng, LCC
Technical Services Manager

IES Technical Services Manager, Mark Gifford, recently spoke with the Health Estates & Facilities Management Association’s (HEFMA) Pulse Magazine for Part Two of their Net-Zero Carbon Series. Read on to see what advice he had to offer NHS Estates Managers on how they can implement accurate monitoring across their estates to effectively reduce energy consumption in the pursuit of net-zero.

The estate portfolio of a typical NHS Trust consists of a range of buildings varying in age, function and condition. Most large hospital campuses have evolved since their initial construction in the Victorian era. They are changing constantly, with standard building upgrades and construction of new facilities often running in parallel on the same site. This creates unique challenges and opportunities for NHS energy managers when it comes to introducing technology to help measure and monitor energy usage. 

Older buildings are often in a poorer condition but are still functional from an operational healthcare perspective. Here, it is common to see ward refurbishment and central plant upgrade works being commissioned - boiler house upgrades being a good example. These projects could be targeted from an energy perspective, but often existing metering infrastructure doesn’t exist. Upgrade works offer a great opportunity to install modern metering, but will only provide information on energy performance moving forward unless historical performance has also been documented. 

I advise installing some form of temporary data logging before upgrade works commence. Then, once improvements are made and new permanent metering goes in, Measurement & Verification (M&V) methods can be deployed with an understanding of building performance prior to upgrade, to guarantee energy improvements have been delivered. 

In modern facilities the challenges are very different. Often adequate metering infrastructure has been installed but is poorly commissioned. In this scenario I would recommend procedural intervention. Energy managers should get involved as early as possible in the scheme design stage of a new build project and ask the right questions of the design team to ensure suitable commissioning methods are written into the specification. This should focus on both hardware elements, such as the metering selection and other aspects of the scheme, which might include M&V as well commissioning. 

Interpreting Data 

From the perspective of energy management, two main sources of data are available - Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) and Building Management System (BMS). AMR data is more commonly used by NHS facilities. Good quality AMR systems will provide utility level data - electricity, gas and water - on a building-bybuilding basis. This can consist of semi-regular billing information on a monthly, weekly or daily frequency, with detailed half-hourly data more commonly becoming available. AMR data can offer a wealth of information on overall building energy performance to support energy benchmarking and profiling. 

BMS data is massively under-utilised within NHS estates. For example, BMS data history - 15-minute interval data from sensors - is seldom recorded and, when it is, records are normally only stored for 10 days. Data is often buried deep within the BMS network and for NHS energy managers on large estates there can be a myriad of networks each with different login details. Managing systems like this becomes very challenging. 

Modern advancements in BMS controls have made it simpler to gain access to BMS data records. I advise exploring what is possible in accessing BMS data and getting medium-long term archiving and data storage set up on systems. The key then is to transfer the data to a cloud-based data analytics environment where more detailed analytics can be carried out to support monitoring-based commissioning and seasonal system tuning. IES has a solution called iSCAN where multiple time series data from different sources can be collected, gathered and analysed together in one place. 

The Role of AI 

Artificial Intelligence definitely has a role to play, but again the mix of old and modern buildings presents barriers. Old buildings often have asbestos related problems, restricting access to certain areas and making it difficult to run the required cables. AI needs a fully connected, web-enabled building, transmitting live performance data to the cloud to allow fault detection and diagnostic routines to be deployed in real-time, track system anomalies and identify performance drift. 

In more modern facilities, BMS data is readily available since connectivity requirements are often included within the construction process. Enabling these systems to communicate with cloud-based analytics software is a smaller hurdle to jump to leverage AI benefits, such as data healing, fault detection and alarms/alerts. The AI and Machine Learning (ML) space is constantly evolving and as more high-quality performance data is provided from BMS systems, ML routines and algorithms can be fed with better quality learning datasets, making them increasingly accurate. 

Going Smart 

There is little doubt that the built environment is moving towards more automated management, with monitoring systems that are empowered to adjust controls over lighting and heating according to human occupation levels and more. As already referenced, though, NHS estates are complex. I recommend implementing the steps already mentioned: get the basics right, move towards connectivity in older facilities and get newer facilities connected. By getting involved in connectivity projects, NHS energy managers will learn more along the way, putting themselves in a better position to influence design and build specifications on new projects. This will improve new facilities coming online whilst older sites play catch-up. It’s a top-down and bottom-up approach, which increases data analytics capabilities across the estate.

A truly ‘smart’ NHS building must involve both operational and clinical requirements. This is often overlooked and it’s common to see estates teams working with little or no cross-over with clinical colleagues. Human occupation requires consideration of space usage data, bed management and capacity planning. In theory, predictive controls can be put in place, for example, putting individual wards into a setback condition when unoccupied. As we move through the stages of COVID recovery, capacity planning is becoming increasingly important and it would be great to see NHS estates and clinical teams involved in more round-table discussions on how building systems can support clinical requirements; enhancing occupancy health and wellbeing and being energy efficient in the process. This would be an operational healthcare facility we could truly call ‘smart’.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of HEFMA Pulse Magazine available at: http://flk.bz/1IML

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