During the past 12 years, I have had the opportunity to work on many controls projects. Many of these were large systems integrations projects, but others were more typical projects, consisting of new controls as well as other retrofits to provide improved energy efficiency, comfort, and operations. Each project is unique with its own team and dynamic, yet there is a common cycle that all projects seem to go through. The focus this month is on that cycle and some of the challenges related to the design and delivery of controls systems.
Controls projects come together through various paths. Some projects are “traditional” and come through a conventional new construction process where a controls design is needed as part of a new building or major remodeling.
Most of our projects though come through what might be considered as “non-traditional” paths. Typically, these projects are developed directly for owners focusing on improved efficiency and operations. Such projects generally begin with a planning process conducted for the owner, bringing together stakeholders (facilities, operations, leasing, IT, construction, energy, HR, etc.), and carefully examining what is currently in place and what should be in place in a future and more “connected” system.
Other projects are very heavily driven by energy efficiency, generally beginning with an investment-grade energy study that includes a detailed analysis of what is in place today, recommendations for new optimized systems, and support of an energy model to help estimate energy savings.
While a more traditional project may already have funding budgeted, the non-traditional projects require a detailed process to build a business case and work with the owners’ team to justify and approve a budget. This added step requires both work on the technical side and detailed financial analysis. On many of these projects, owners may need assistance obtaining incentives, grants, and other funding mechanisms.
DESIGN AND CONTRACTOR SELECTION
I have written many columns about the process needed for a good controls design. In summary, though, it includes a detailed specification, points list, and sequences, as well as details about any desired integrations. In obtaining bids, we typically try to pre-qualify contractors so that by the time we are reviewing proposals, we know that our contractors are capable of doing the project. Of course, there is also the reality part of all projects, working to get scope and budget to fit, and making the necessary adjustments to bring in a project as close to budget as possible.
DELIVERY AND COMMISSIONING
From the engineer’s perspective, this is both the easiest and most difficult part of any project. By this phase, most of the effort falls onto the contractor. Still, our role is to represent the owner and to make sure that the system works the way it was intended. Unfortunately, this is also in many ways the longest and toughest phase of any project. Getting a project 80% done always seems to be fairly easy, but the last 20% can be a real challenge for the entire project team.
The final phase of any project is hand off, training, and use by the owner. Our role during this phase is often more focused around dealing with any problems that arise. In an ideal process though, there would be a process for continued engineering support and analysis for the owner’s operations team.
I want to finish this month’s column on a personal note. I have been working as a controls and integration consultant for 12 years and writing this column for the last nine. Starting this fall, I am transitioning into a new phase of my career and will be taking a position with the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) in Richland, WA. PNNL is one of the Department of Energy’s national labs, and my efforts will be focused on their programs and on the development of solutions to better integrate buildings with the electrical grid. I am going to miss being actively involved in projects and the chance to write for this fine publication. My final two columns for 2016 will offer a glimpse on what is involved in achieving building to grid — so watch this space for more details. ES