Energy management is a service that every facilities management company likes to promote nowadays. FM Magazine asks Sougata Nandi, ServeU’s Energy & Resources Reduction Manager, what differentiates his company’s offering.
Reducing energy consumption is a concern that echoes from the halls of the UN Security Council to the dining tables of Mr and Mrs Joe Average. Somewhere in between lie energy management consultants dedicated to maximising both their own and their clients’ triple bottom line – that is, their environmental and social performance in addition to their financial results.
In Dubai and the GCC in general, however, the driving incentive for clients to engage energy management services is primarily for the traditional bottom line – profit.
Five years ago, there were very few companies in Dubai offering energy management services. Three years ago, with the onset of the current construction boom, that all changed. A flurry of organisations either set up in energy management or diversified into it, drawing international expertise to the region. While facilities management firms ensured that energy management was on their menu back then, today it’s dish of the day.
In ServeU’s case, the company offers to pay for all installed energysaving equipment up front, its profit being a percentage share of the savings made to the client. As with all FM and energy management consultants, ServeU likes to be involved in a project from its inception, when its input can be much more effective. This gives it a better chance of taking on the overall FM in the long-term. However, a huge amount of business also lies in the retrofitting of existing buildings. With savings far more demonstrable, profits are also higher. It’s just a case of convincing clients to engage.
Sougata Nandi, ServeU’s Energy & Resources Reduction Manager, has been involved in energy management for a number of years in Dubai. Nandi says he has seen a huge change in the level of awareness of the concept. From not having an understanding or care in the world for it, to demanding it as an integral part of the maintenance services they receive, clients are increasingly informed about reducing energy consumption.
When you talk of energy management, the first thing many people think of is lots of gadgets coming into the building which will work magic and save energy – it doesn’t work like that.
However, understanding what energy management actually entails is still a grey area even for those in the construction and property industries. “When you talk of energy management, the first thing many people think of is lots of gadgets coming into the building which will work magic and save energy –it doesn’t work like that,” explains Nandi. “Sometimes a lot of controllers are required because most of the buildings in Dubai are not designed to make the building run in an energy efficient manner.
What people don’t realise is that the same comfort conditions in a building can be achieved by running equipment in a more energy-efficient manner.
“The majority of buildings here are beautifully designed, they have the right equipment, and in most cases they have the right amount of equipment. But unfortunately, because nobody thinks of energy at the design stage, you have huge airconditioning equipment running 24 hours a day. Now the building owner is happy, because there are no complaints from the tenants saying the building is not cooling, or the building is dark – those kinds of complaints are not there, so everything is fine. What people don’t realise is that the same comfort conditions in a building can be achieved by running equipment in a more energy-efficient manner.”
Nandi points out that the added benefit of engaging a facilities management company for an energy management programme is that, beyond the controllers and equipment sometimes needed, a good preventive maintenance plan (PMP) in itself can significantly reduce energy consumption. When motors and chilled water pipes are maintained properly, and air-conditioning filters and ducts are kept clean, energy efficiency is improved.
ServeU’s biggest energy management project to date is the Zomorrodah Complex, on the Bur Dubai side of Al Maktoum Bridge, where the company undertakes the full spectrum of FM services – including security, cleaning and maintenance. With a permanent presence at the Complex, ServeU’s energy management programme was initiated in January 2004.
“We have saved about 35 per cent on energy bills on that building alone,” says Nandi proudly. “And that is without putting in much equipment. We did put a few variable speed drives on some motors, but it was primarily optimising the operations of the building. They had 10 chillers running before; they now use just two with a third stand by.”
These energy savings relate to what the landlord pays for the common areas of the building and the air-conditioning for the whole building. As is well known in the Gulf, the biggest consumer of electricity is the air conditioning. While Nandi’s original savings estimate to the client was far more conservative, at 19 per cent, the company has saved almost twice as much. Meanwhile, the occupancy of the building has increased by 130,000 square feet, much to the bewilderment of DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority).
“DEWA started rating the facility from December 2003,” narrates an amused Nandi. “They used to come and check the meters once a month, making sure that the meters were not showing faulty readings. In September 2004, they finally went and replaced some of the meters, because they couldn’t find anything faulty with them!”
So what does this say about the AC design engineers that originally over-specified 10 chillers for the building? Nandi is both critical and understanding of their methods. “At the end of the day, the AC engineers go in, they calculate the volume of the place and the tonnage required for the entire volume of the premises. They haven’t been so concerned with energy conservation.”
Nandi explains that while Gulf temperatures can get up to 500C in summer, AC equipment is generally only rated to 30-350C for optimum efficiency. So engineers here tend to over-specify in order to compensate for this and guarantee cool interiors to the client. However, by pre-cooling the intake temperature of the air entering the chillers, the chillers operate much more efficiently, consume less electricity, and last longer because they are not running at optimal load. Less becomes more.
“In all fairness to the consultants, they do design good buildings in Dubai,” continues Nandi. “You’d rarely walk into a building in Dubai and say that the air conditioning is not designed properly because it is hot everywhere – that is taken care of. Now what has happened with Zomorrodah is that it is a mixed complex. You have a large part of the building which is residential, you have another part, around 20 per cent, which is an office complex. Then you have shops on the ground floor and you have restaurants as well.
“So within the same complex, you have four different kinds of users. When you design the air-conditioning of a building, you have to take into consideration the peak load conditions. Peak load occurs when the office is full, so the consultant has to take into consideration the approximate number of people per square feet of the offices; the same with residents, the same with shops, and the same with restaurants. The overall design is based on that.”
The tricky part, Nandi says, is that because Zomorrodah is a mixed complex, the building is at no point 100 per cent occupied. While offices are full during the day, for example, most residences are empty. Hence Nandi estimates that at any given time the building is about 40 per cent occupied, representing a huge potential to save energy just by running the right equipment at the right time.
By being on-site 24/7, the FM team has an intimate understanding of the ’behaviour’ of the different zones of the building - the amalgamation of its tenants and their respective needs with the building’s orientation and traversing sun
through the day. From chiller performance to water tank levels, these zones are monitored and controlled by a building management system (BMS).
Nandi says that the way forward is to introduce remote monitoring to the complex, whereby the building’s BMS is replicated and can be controlled from ServeU’s own control room. The company is already doing this for the Mazaya Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road, where it is contracted for energy management services alone.
Nandi sees an ever-brighter future for his trade in the UAE and wider region. “I think it will be market driven,” he says about demand for energy management services. “The more buildings that come up, the more competition there is bound to be. This competition will cause bottom line profits to get tighter. Over the next few years, people are going to start looking for ways and means to reduce costs.
“We talk to some clients who say, ’Yes we see the potential, we agree, we would like to have you as a consultant, but right now we are very busy with the next project, so once that busy period gets over, then we’ll look at it’. But with every passing day, you are actually wasting energy, and this wastage can not be recovered later on. If I don’t save in January, I cannot recover that wastage in February – it is gone.”