What tune does your building play?

Buildings account for the largest proportion of greenhouse emissions in Hong Kong, currently that is sixty three percent (63%) of Hong Kong’s carbon footprint. Whilst initiatives for new buildings are indeed welcome, the influence of the measures are limited to 500-600 new buildings, a very small proportion of the total 40,000 buildings in Hong Kong.

Building Tuning

Improving the existing building stock is critical issue, and one solution is tuning your building. If you owned a vehicle – would you run it year after year without a regular tune-up? of course not, yet buildings are often run for fifty years or more, without tuning.

Behind the glass façade air-conditioning, lighting and other environmental systems of commercial buildings, hotels, shopping malls are burning electricity contributing to the Hong Kong carbon footprint, for efficient operation the engineering systems need to be tuned and optimised and I would argue that it should be conducted annually.

One interesting point I have noticed, often I find firms have an elaborate ISO 14000 EMS (Environmental Management Systems) protocols in place, seemingly unaware that the building energy consumption is causing a larger, and more significant environmental impact!

Building Tuning means optimising the operation of the energy systems, including the chiller plant, pumps, and other systems to identify opportunities to lower the building carbon footprint based on today’s operating environment.

Changing Times

It is one of those facts of life, things change. For a building it is no different except it doesn’t it complain so loudly. Electrical tariffs, usage, building codes, the neighbourhood is a little more crowded, social pressure, these and other influences occur over the operating life of a building and may impact the building energy consumption.

Other influences include new legislation also play a role. For example the relaxation on the use of water and cooling towers for air conditioning systems in 2000, offers opportunities to lower operating costs for hotels and other commercial buildings in Hong Kong.

One approach is the hindsight method – review all every engineering system as if it was a new project – what would you do differently today?

The electricity tariff for commercial buildings in Hong Kong island is significantly higher than Kowloon.  Is this fact taken into consideration when designing a building for Kowloon side or HK island?  In my experience unfortunately not.  The main reason often cited is the structural disconnect between building developers don’t pay the fuel and electricity bills. All the operating costs are paid by the tenant, including any core services such as air conditioning, which is charged in the form of a management fee, charged by square foot not actual usage.

Industrial Tunes

Building Tuning is not limited to just office buildings, factories and manufacturing facilities are not immune to the influence of change.

When you lead others follow

Presently, any tenant of a grade A building in Hong Kong looking to lower their carbon footprint presently has limited opportunities while the primary cost, the cost of air-conditioning, is charged on a square foot basis irrespective of actual consumption. Now that’s true for the majority. However, some innovative developers have seen the light, and have started to provide a metered service, therefore tenants will only pay for the actual usage.

Buildings don’t have any voice to complain, and let you know where the problems are located. A buildings Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is correlated with its annual energy consumption, over its entire life the OPEX (Operating Expense) is significantly higher than its CAPEX (Capital Expenditure), mortgage, cost of finance, etc.  For single owner buildings its a no brainer, the real challenge is multi-owner buildings.

I talked with a client last week regarding his facility, apparently it emerged that a competitor had already completed some work, and now they needed the same work stat. To remain competitive and distinctive in the market place, you either lead or follow.

John Herbert
Consultant
Kelcroft E&M Limited
helping lower the cost and impact of doing business in Asia

upgrading to LEED v3 or 2009?

The confusing launch of USGBC’s LEED v3 or it is LEED 2009?  has launched. As the graphic and schedule below shows that LEED v3 / LEED 2009 becomes compulsory for new green building projects after 27 JUNE 2009.

  • March 27: Reference guide e-copies available for order; hard copies available for pre-order.
  • April 27: LEED v3 launches.
  • June 27: New projects will be required to register for LEED 2009.
  • Dec. 31: Last day of free migration period, during which currently registered projects can transition to LEED 2009 and LEED Online v3 without paying a new registration fee.

International Perspective
USBGC’s LEED V3 (or LEED 2009) is still not an international Green building rating tool. Interestingly USGBC local chapters in US were involved to identify keystone criteria for specific regions. The separate regionalisation element, totally focused on USA, does not provide regionalisation credit for international projects. Essentially, the regional credit system is intended to recognise that a “water” credit should have a higher weighting and more importance in a desert location or a region with a combined storm water and sewerage system, for example Washington DC, USA.

Green Buildng Qualification
If your project team is not stressed enough the LEED qualification system has also been “upgraded”, introducing CPD, new levels.

John Herbert
Consultant
Kelcroft E&M Limited
helping lower the cost and impact of doing business in Asia

A Systems Approach for Total Cooling Design

I have long advocated for the “Whole Building Design” approach, it has been an uphill struggle without a doubt. The renewed interest in green building has certainly increased awareness of this important skill. Now more help is at hand the Whole Building Design Guide (http://www.wbdg.org). It is published by the National Institute of Building Sciences (USA) so is naturally it is biased towards the USA market, however it will save us acolytes tremendous effort in the longer term.

The whole building design approach is really simple. If designers conceptualise buildings without considering energy costs from day one, that building will surely become an energy hog. The WBD (Whole Building Design) approach means thinking about the whole building impacts simultaneously.  A simple example, if a west facing glazing is shaded, reduce or eliminated, both the initial capital cost, and operating cost for the cooling plant will be reduced.  Since 63% of Hong Kong’s carbon footprint, and 90% of all the electricity generated is attributed to buildings, the opportunities for improvement are obvious.

The hidden beauty is that the principle is equally applicable to other sectors, including process, industry, and even cooling systems. And the latter is one area where the WBDG has overlooked an opportunity to apply whole system design approach for cooling systems.

Too often, building codes and energy codes only specify COP (coefficient of performance) for chiller plant, yet it is one part of the cooling system cycle. In the diagram below, each circle represents a heat exchange process.

kelcroft designConsider all the electrical power consumed for every heat exchange process, and divide by the total cooling capacity gives us a common metric kilowatts per ton (Kw/Ton) defining the whole cooling system efficiency.

The whole system includes all the electrical power used by:

  1. motors driving fans in the AHU (Air Handling Units) and other air moving equipment
  2. motors driving the chilled water pumps
  3. motors powering the chiller compressor
  4. motors driving the condenser water pumps
  5. motors driving fans in the cooling tower

With the focus elsewhere many cooling systems operate inefficiency in a range between 1.0-1.2 Kw/TR, whereas an efficient system would operate nearer 0.6-0.70 Kw/TR.

energyLAB limited Hong Kong

The question is where is your system operating?  If your cooling system is operating in the red, the good news is you have opportunities for improvement.

John A. Herbert
Consultant
Kelcroft E&M Limited

helping lower the cost of doing business in Asia

Whole System Thinking

Changing the world is difficult, to change custom and practice is one tiny step on the journey.  One of the primary reasons for poor building performance happens early in the design process and often before the engineers are consulted.

The Old Way
At the earliest stages of the process, at the critical juncture whilst conceptual ideas are still being formulated, a proposed scheme is presented sold to the owner or developer, before the engineers have any say. Unfortunately, once that scheme has received the official blessing, the fate of the of the buildings operating costs is virtually sealed.

Change is good but not in building development,  the designer and team had already lived with the plan for a few weeks, they are invested in it success.  Any subsequent “change” that could potentially undo that work, and perhaps might require the designer to modify the the layout or the facade is typically rejected. The designer moves on, there is a firm scheme, then other consultants are summoned to join his project team. It does not happen in every case, but that is a fairly typical MO.

Another Way
There is another way, a more productive way WST (Whole System Thinking) is an integrated approach to engineering design that challenges past assumptions made everyday. If evidence is needed here is a link to a cost Summary Sheet (1 page PDF format) incidentally is protected document, the password is kelcroft.

Evidence
Using the WST principal this heat rejection solution provides the same capacity with less CAPex investment, and provides a lower OPex for the lifetime of the equipment. Yes, it did require more engineering effort than the typical methodology, because the system needed to be properly designed. The WST approach exceeds incremental 2-3% savings, delivering more than 30% reduction in first cost compared to the typical design.

If concepts designs are locked down early, the opportunity for WST is lost along with the chance of lower operating costs and reduced carbon consumption.

Putting this in to a future context, it has been estimated that urbanisaton will continue to expand in China increasing the number of city dwellers upto 0.9 billion in 2025, building sustainably is the only solution.

John Herbert, Consultant, Kelcroft