April 9th 2024

Interview with Chris Anton, Perth & Kinross Council - Performance Modelling: Our Journey So Far

Interview with Chris Anton, Perth & Kinross Council - Performance Modelling: Our Journey So Far

Building performance modelling is playing an increasingly important role throughout the building lifecycle. Particularly as building owners, operators and tenants strive to deliver on ever more stringent energy and carbon reduction targets. 

Someone who understands this from an end-user client perspective is Chris Anton, Lead Energy Officer at Perth and Kinross Council. The council embarked on their building performance modelling journey with IES several years ago and have made significant progress in improving the performance of many of their buildings. Read on as Chris shares his knowledge and experience, along with some of the challenges and lessons learnt from their journey so far…

When did you/Perth and Kinross Council first embark on building performance modelling and why?

As part of my Building Services Degree at Glasgow Caledonian University, I started to use the IES Virtual Environment (IESVE) during my honours year. We looked at building environments, so not just size and pipework, but everything this encompassed, i.e. associated weather data files to get actual energy figures and inputting data to the model.

Just as I was finishing my degree, I was promoted to the energy team at Perth and Kinross Council. One of the main things I did at my interview was propose that we start using IESVE. At that time data was becoming more viable. Before I joined the team, analysis was carried out on monthly data, and a lot of it was estimated data - relying on people going out and reading meters and so forth. One of the other things the team implemented was having Automatic Meter Reads (AMRs) installed within all of our sites so we could get half hourly data coming through.

We had a comprehensive BMS system as well and around 40-50 sites that we connected to the front end. Because I'd come from a mechanical services background, that was something that really interested me, because you've got the opportunity to change profiles and heating schedules and you could make the amendments remotely. That was another huge data source that you could pull in, and we started to see all these things coming together: IES, BMS and metering data - and that's where it originally all started.

It was important for us to build our energy profiles as accurately as possible so that we could get  greater  control of our energy use and begin to look at where we could reduce our consumption and find cost savings.

Did you come up against any challenges when you started to implement new systems and processes?

Like everything when you initially start out, upskilling is the biggest challenge. You need to have people in position to take responsibility for the data and modelling, but they need to be upskilled in all the use of various technologies and processes. It’s very important to speak to suppliers and arrange appropriate training for everyone that will be involved. We've got a very good support system in regards to training, so we rolled out IESVE training, met our BMS contractor and had training associated to that so we had people that understood all of our systems.

We did a procurement exercise so we could get a new software system that could hold all of our data. We also spoke to our suppliers about how we could interact with this data, see what energy consumption we were using and where.

What kind of practices or processes have you put in place to ensure that building energy models are usable in the operation of your buildings?

Training has actually been a big part of this. We undertook bespoke IES training specific to our needs [and] had professional trainees and graduates coming in and working on IESVE and that's what their sole work was. They trained in-house and our idea was that we could then go back to IES and ask for more bespoke training on what we wanted to be using the VE for. In doing this we now have staff within the team that have grown and developed from professional trainees to engineer level, so they are now our in-house experts on IESVE.

That has then allowed us to write a specification, because everybody wants an IES model associated to their projects, but you need to understand what you want from that model and be able to detail it. And we learned the hard way. We would put things in a specification and then get to the end of the project and [discover] the IES model is not what we wanted. So, we then went back to the specification and put in more detail. If that didn't quite work, we went back and added more detail again, and so on.

We also try to engage with the contractors or the consultants we’re working with and really express the reasons why we wanted a specific level of information within the model and how we were going to use it going forward. But the key was the specification.

[In the context] of digital twins; it is important to have not just the specification about the IES model, but to share all the other data associated too [i.e. occupancy data, site information, building operation data, holiday schedules, BMS/AMR data, weather data, etc.] and know exactly where it's coming through, and how it's being monitored. Making sure there's somebody within your team that can extract and understand that data is key.

In terms of using these models to predict the operational performance of your buildings, how is that working for you?

We've still struggled a bit being honest, on larger projects. We are still on the journey of learning, making mistakes and changing things, it’s a path of continuous improvement. Where we carry out the modelling internally it has been working really well, because we've got our own in-house trained people who can work on IESVE and continuously update the models as we go through the design process. The issue is, you can't do that in every project because obviously we've got not as many staff as a consultancy would.

Our last project that we did was a large primary school and we've kind of went down the route of Passive House. A lot of people have expressed that you only need to use one model, the PHPP software [but] you really don't - you need to use both the IESVE energy model and the PHPP in line to work with each other for different reasons. We kind of failed in one sense because the IES model took second place to the PHPP and that drove the design when they really should have been working together. But we went back to the specification and said no, we'll clearly state that this model has to be done with the IESVE model in parallel and we detailed out more set checkpoints. So that was one of the big things we've undertaken to try and improve the way we work with consultants.

We've actually then put in our RIBA stages and said this is when we want the concept model, this is when we want the detailed model, this is when we want the end use model and this is when we want the final model. Some may say it’s a bit overkill but I was always taught when you write specifications, you should write like nobody understands what you're talking about and put as much information in as you can.

But, importantly we want to engage and work in partnership with our consultants. You don't want to feel like you're giving them work and then just criticising. It’s much more helpful to have that two-way communication going so everyone understands what you want and you can get that level of detail.

We know there is a big issue around accessing existing design stage energy models, be that compliance or BIM. How have you tackled this issue and what advice would you give to other building owner/operators for them to ensure access to these?

We've always tried to have good dialogue with the consultants very early on. It’s important to explain that we're not going to criticise how models have been done, we just want access to them.

Putting it in to your programme and saying it’s part of your handover package is huge. So, at the end of every job that you're going to do, whether it's a refurbishment or new contract, make sure that as part of [the handover documentation] it says we want our energy model handed over within the first year. You can also hold retention back, so if you don't get what you asked for, they don't get the money, but mainly we've just put it in our handover pack and made it clear it’s in there. And if we don't get it, we'll just get in touch with the consultants to see if they can send it over.

One of the issues we have as a public body is the size of the files being sent over. So that is something people may need to discuss with their IT department to ensure there is storage available. Different people are using different mechanisms to hand over models, so it’s important you run that past your IT team. Some of the files are huge and in terms of digital learning and working smarter, you've got to think about where these are going to be stored going forward and how you manage that.

If there was one piece of key advice that you would give to a building owner/operator starting out on their building performance modelling journey, what would that be?

I would say be honest about where you are and where you want to go and try and speak to people that have been on that pathway. I think as public bodies and the industry as a whole, we probably don't share enough of the good work that we do. We’re always open to sharing and we have spoken to some councils about things that we've done and supported them because there’s other areas where they’ll be able to support us.

Don't be scared of it either, sometimes people are afraid because they don't have all this data and they're unsure about how to go there. There is a pathway there for you, it's just making sure that you can get all these things in a row and eventually you will get there. A lot of people might look at what we’re doing at Perth and Kinross and think we're nowhere near this, we're never ever going to get there. But, speak to people, speak to us. Genuinely, communication is key to getting started.

There are a lot of really good consultants out there, there's a lot of good contractors out there. Working with IES has been great for us as well. There’s a lot of good resources available online [and] IES provide great training sessions and case studies, which our professional trainees used a lot in the early stages. I’d advise go and watch the videos, join webinars and use all the resources available to see how other people are doing this. We’re also happy to share our knowledge and experience, the challenges we’ve come against and lessons learned.

IES have recently launched a new guide exploring the practicalities of creating performance digital twins to improve the performance of existing buildings. Providing insight from our consultants, alongside real-world examples, the guide takes you through the robust step-by-step process used by the IES team to develop performance digital twins, with particular focus on how this can be achieved without access to a pre-existing design model.

Download your free copy

You can also access free online training from IES via: https://www.iesve.com/training