Here is my big idea for 2005: Outtask your energy management for one year to the Energy Technician-In-Training (ETIT) program. How does it work, and why would you want to do this? Well, first let me give you a little background into the concept of ETIT.

Building automation and building management software systems can represent about 3.5% of a construction project. For a $50 million job, the mechanical and electrical automation control systems can equate to $1.75 million. This may seem like an excessive amount, and this is where the problem starts. Building automation is spread over a wide range of building systems both mechanical and electrical, and building owners don't necessarily recognize the money they have invested into automation. The second mistake is to think these systems, once installed, will function on their own without continuous fine-tuning based on computer data feedback.

After control systems are installed and up and running, whether it has been commissioned or not, the system will most likely sit on a desk operating on cruise control. Think about it, a $1.75 million investment functioning on its own, with little supervision from a warm body. Heck, an airplane's automatic pilot control still needs a pilot monitoring the process.

Mistake #3: Many will abdicate building automation to a service contract provider, which takes the owner one step further away from true building management, control, and understanding of how much energy these systems consume hourly. Meanwhile, the BAS computer is probably still sitting on that desk on cruise control, going 60 mph in a 40 mph zone.

If you don't believe me, write down who is responsible for monitoring your building's computer operation each day. Is there a job description, as well as a menu of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and semi-annual tasks itemized to go along with this position? What is the daily routine when scrolling through the computer each day? Is this person looking at trends and benchmarking performance or just checking out alarms that have come in since yesterday? Has anyone in building management jotted down the top 10 energy and facility management tasks a person should be responsible for each month? Can't think of who was the last person to sit in front of the BAS computer? Is it just a very, very expensive time clock that really isn't contributing to reducing the annual operating budget? So what is the answer? Enter the ETIT.

How does It Work?

My idea to launch this ETIT program is to find a local company, college, or hospital looking to reduce their energy operating costs by outtasking the energy management to a technical vocation high school student and myself. Why a student vs. a college graduate engineer? I believe a college grad will be challenged, but probably not for as long a period as would a less technically trained high school student. This approach has the added benefit of being a potential career path that should encourage this student to continue his education. The starting salary should also be a little more attractive for a building owner to hire this ETIT.

My role in the program will be to train, mentor, and contribute to reducing the energy consumption at the site through the ETIT.

Together, we will get out and walk the facility at various times of the day and night to see hourly occupancy firsthand. We'll keep energy off whenever possible. We'll check metering, calibration, and the control loop, and we'll perform energy measuring and benchmarking. Finally, we'll "say it with pictures" and graphs in monthly reporting, and we'll document what we did for you.

For the first year, the ETIT remains employed by RDK, dedicated to managing the automation while maintaining space comfort, forecasting tomorrow's system performance, collecting historical data, and handling course correction.

Why Would You Want To Do This?

Jump ahead to high school graduation, and now we have an ETIT, on-site and paying attention to energy management and taking direction only from me, so it is easy for this person to stay focused. So often, the Achilles' heel of energy management is that the individual who is most familiar with the building automation computer is usually being assigned day-to-day emergency requests (a.k.a. firefighting). Our ETIT answers to me for the first year, so I control the distractions and facilitate game plan success.

At the end of year one, the ETIT employment can be transferred from my ETIT program employment to the facility where this person will be a seasoned professional, trained, mentored, and proficient in energy management for this particular site. I project that the ROI for an ETIT, based on energy cost avoidance and/or reduction in existing operating cost, should be less than three years. Just as importantly, the $1.75-million initial investment will be contributing to this sustainable management process' success, with the building automation and building management software systems computer working as a business tool and not operating on cruise control. ES