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Big data is helping to create sustainable schools

George Adams and Liam Rock of SPIE UK look at the data generated by educational facilities

Posted by Julian Owen | April 13, 2018 | Sustainability

In an age where schools are increasingly strapped for cash, it is important to constantly seek out ways to help tighten those purse strings. One way to reduce costs is lowering the amount of energy consumed by educational buildings. Fortunately, developments in technology over the past few years mean we have the ability to capture a broad scope of data about the buildings in which we live and work. The amount of data being generated every day means we can have more tangible performance information to drive improvement decisions. This has propelled the idea of 'big data' to the fore in the built environment space, and by using a variety of measurement and analytical tools to analyse data sets we can start to improve building performance.

Treating databases and data analysis as a starting point, big data has evolved into a new way of operating systems more efficiently. But it goes beyond this – it is about having the ability to see the wider picture of building performance. Furthermore, remotely monitoring system performance that can be produced by connecting several data sets together, can achieve a holistic representation. Educational facilities, for example, produce reams of data that can be harvested, but only when organised in a manageable way that allows useful insights into how the buildings are operating to be generated. It is crucial that experts are on hand to conduct technical reviews and audits, as well as measuring behavioural change and applying a collaborative method to reducing energy waste, in conjunction with maintaining comfort conditions for the users.

"It would be foolish to not take advantage of the data currently being generated by our educational facilities and utilise it in an intelligent manner."

The assessment of a building’s capability and its technical systems must be included in an effective building performance strategy. Doing so ensures that experts can be sure that the education facility has fully achieved the required sustainability key performance indicators (KPIs). This needs to be supported by the training and behaviour of the onsite team, ensuring the expert analysis of the data is adequately implemented and resulting in improved building performance.

Unfortunately, how control systems operate within education facilities is not always easy to comprehend; especially as it has to be done in combination with maximising the use of control parameters, all while maintaining a comfortable environment for the building’s users. In addition, control system maintenance is a task commonly sub-contracted under the maintenance contractor’s duty, which has the knock-on effect of a lack of ownership. This can result in control sensors not being calibrated correctly or even becoming obsolete, mainly because these basics can be unnoticed from the planned preventative maintenance (PPM) scheduling. Taking all of these issues into account, we can witness inefficient system operations, which wastes energy. However, the opportunity to identify potential system failures can present itself from the established trends.

From an operational point of view, educational facilities can be complex. Energy consumption has the potential to increase outside of the main school hours - during extra-curricular functions, evenings and weekends, for example. As a result, the sustainability targets for these buildings must be developed over time. A huge element of the big data picture in relation to energy use can be the behaviour of the occupants; for example, when considering occupancy levels, the usage of areas and the management of doors, windows and lights. Therefore, it is imperative to raise employee awareness about these aspects and to enforce a comprehensive plan for energy communications.

"Developments in technology over the past few years mean we have the ability to capture a broad scope of data about the buildings in which we live and work."

Incorporating engineering and controls expertise into energy and building management system (BMS) monitoring/management activities is vital for the management of energy in schools. By utilising a remote monitoring and management capability that operates on a number of facilities, it is relatively easy to improve their energy performance.

We now have the technology at our fingertips, which gives site teams at educational facilities the ability to make use of system performance data. Within each controller, a complete set of logs can be established, including boiler flow and return, calorifier and space temperatures. Components such as valve position and pump activity can also be recorded.

With the quantities of data being generated, all this information must be processed, analysed and acted upon, in order for it to be truly meaningful. Fortunately, data mining tools can process and turn this big data into valuable information and the advantages to the operational capability are abundant. Problems can be quickly pinpointed, and teams can be confident that the facilities in which they work are operating at a level of efficiency well inside the targets expected.

It would be foolish to not take advantage of the data currently being generated by our educational facilities and utilise it in an intelligent manner. In turn, we can significantly lower the level of carbon emissions associated with energy consumption. By integrating between systems, maintenance, energy use and expert diagnoses, schools can achieve higher performance levels.

To learn more about SPIE UK, please visit their website.

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