Ongoing commissioning ensures energy efficiency

Mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems must be engineered and commissioned so that the Dept. of Veterans Affairs has control over the system and so continuous measurement and verification are possible.


This article has been peer-reviewed. Learning Objectives

  • Understand the Energy Independence and Security Act, and how it affects federal buildings.
  • Learn ways to retro-commission a building to achieve additional energy efficiency.
  • Understand the steps to ongoing commissioning.

In 2010, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) Southeast Network (known as VISN 7) energy management office embarked on a program to comply with the retro-commissioning requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) law. The 2007 EISA law and the executive orders issued pursuant to this law mandated that all federal agencies reduce energy by 30% under the 2003 energy baseline usage (Executive Order 13514 and Executive Order 13423). Leveraging information from a 2009 Retro-commissioning Training Seminar conducted by the National Environmental Balancing Bureau for the VA Energy Managers group in Little Rock, Ark., VISN 7 constructed a retro-commissioning program to evaluate and improve the 8.6 million sq ft of hospital and medical support facilities within the network consisting of 10 hospital campuses.

The architecture of the CCRS in VISN 7 leverages the existing BAS networks to gather data into an on-site data management server. The server limits traffic on the BAS network (avoiding network slowdowns) and pushes the data to a cloud based exception repoBeginning in 2010, VISN 7, in collaboration with Sebesta, executed a retro-commissioning program for the 10 VISN 7 campuses that included:

  • Intensive evaluations of each of the 10 VA campuses in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina included in VISN 7
  • Implementation of low- and no-cost improvements in components, systems, and operating strategies
  • Training of the network operators responsible for operations of the 10 campuses
  • Implementation of strategies to improve compliance with VA standards and energy efficiencies in achieving compliance.

Over the subsequent 3-year period of execution, the retro-commissioning team identified and implemented energy and performance improvements that resulted in an average 13.6% energy savings across the 10 VISN campuses with a simple payback on all costs of 3.18 years. Table 1 summarizes the net impact of this program.

This table summarizes the economic performance of the retro-commissioning effort conducted under contract to Dept. of Veterans Affairs Southeast Network. The program included nearly $8 million of implemented corrective actions and showed an overall paybaSustaining the result

As the retro-commissioning effort proceeded to its conclusion, the VA Southeast Network Energy Manager recognized that the bigger challenge in complying with EISA was sustaining the results achieved in the retro-commissioning effort. Like any large real estate portfolio, the operation of large energy-consuming systems is most often compromised by a combination of factors, including:

  • Normal deterioration of mechanical equipment and systems
  • Inappropriate or incomplete maintenance response to system failures
  • Occupant complaints solved by expedient compromises of system operating strategies
  • A return to outdated operating methods based on "years of experience" operating familiar buildings.

This deterioration in system performance can be exacerbated if sufficient funds and/or contracting processes are not available to correct component failures that normally occur in a building. Finally, the cultural attitudes that make efficient resource allocation a value in each facility must be periodically reinforced so that the good practices established in the retro-commissioning process are not overwhelmed by comfort complaints and special circumstances that lead to compromising these good practices.

The architecture of the CCRS in VISN 7 leverages the existing BAS networks to gather data into an on-site data management server. The server limits traffic on the BAS network (avoiding network slowdowns) and pushes the data to a cloud based exception reporting database and user interface. Courtesy: TL ServicesFor example, when comfort or compliance complaints occur, it is often necessary for the operations team to override normal operating conditions temporarily while the appropriate corrective action is implemented (a schedule override or a setpoint adjustment outside normal conditions). The Constant Commissioning and Reporting System (CCRS) monitors these conditions to identify these temporary adjustments and encourage early implementation of the most cost-effective and energy-efficient corrective action necessary to return the system to its proper mode of operation.

In the recently published "Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Retro-commissioning Process Manual" (May 1, 2014), the retro-commissioning process as envisioned by the VA includes a "persistence phase." The system described in this article addresses the specific objectives outlined in this newly published manual.

In 2012, VISN 7 initiated a program in collaboration with TL Services and Sebesta to institute an "ongoing commissioning process" that would support the operations teams in the 10 VA campuses within the VISN. The process was to be supported by a monitoring-based ongoing commissioning system to provide oversight of the VISN's 8.6 million sq ft of medical facilities. The specification for this system was developed to provide both oversight and reporting to the operations team and an intelligent alarming system that could be used to provide the first level of failure analysis. The objective was to provide operators with specific recommendations for addressing and resolving operating alarms when they occurred.

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