Reducing energy costs – use less of it or buy it cheaper?

Too many organisations focus on the unit cost of energy rather than their consumption. It is considered a cost, rather than a service. But careful energy control will show a significant impact on an organisations bottom line; its carbon footprint; by becoming more appealing and greener; by being perceived as fore runners; and as a major contributor to its Corporate Social Responsibility.

If energy is viewed as a service in the same way as IT or facilities management, for example, the sooner the advantages of maximising the use of that service will be appreciated, rather than simply buying it cheaper.

A ridiculous amount of energy is wasted every year – heating empty rooms!

Using energy only when it is required, monitoring its use and effective procurement simply adds up to good business sense.

The student accommodation sector could be saving millions of pounds simply by using more efficient methods of energy control.

Using smarter technology cuts waste and enables the monitoring and management of living environments more than ever before. But, while developers and builders aim to yield maximum profits by installing the minimum requirement of control, it is up to Energy Managers to demand that buildings use the minimum amount of energy necessary.

Student accommodation is a good example of this. There are 2.3 million students in higher education throughout the UK with over 650,000 living in purpose-built rooms. Providers of accommodation have to carefully balance efficiencies with comfort.

The student lifestyle does not generally comply with routine norms. Not wishing to perpetuate stereotypes, but nocturnal comings and goings, sleeping in until lectures beckon and extended periods away from campus for home-cooking and free washing – all contribute to the need for flexible monitoring and managing of energy supply to their living spaces.

Heating control that switches on at 7am for 2 hours and then again at 6pm for four hours takes no notice of whether the energy input is used effectively. Likewise, a continuous flow of hot-water, ever-ready for student-demand will prove expensive.

Lee Williams is the Halls Operation Manager at Bangor University and since 2009 has been responsible for ensuring the smooth running of all-things accommodation across the 2500 rooms at the Ffriddoedd Village site – including complaints from students about their heating provision. He explains “The temperature was limited by sensors in the stairwells to 21°C and if the external temperature was any warmer than 19 degrees then the heaters wouldn’t operate”. He continues, “We had a lot of issues because the sensors were in the stairwells and corridors which are less frequently used areas with large windows and are inherently colder. In the springtime, when the sun was shining, the foyers would become hot, but not necessarily because of the outside temperature. Conversely, in the winter when the outside temperature was cold, the foyers were probably a bit warmer than outside, subsequently the heaters wouldn’t come on!”

He was finding that the balance between using energy efficiently and maintaining student comfort was not possible with the system that had been in place for 20+ years.

Prefect Irus is designed specifically for the unique conditions of student accommodation. Irus can ‘see’ when a room is occupied (PIR) and keep it at a comfortable level (Setback) – Students can raise the temperature to suit their comfort (Boost), but predetermined temperatures cannot be exceeded and won’t prevail if not required.

The PIR sensor is most efficient when set to Absence detection, this way, on entering a room the student needs to press the button to activate the Boost mode, which will run at a higher temperature for a pre-set time (usually 45 mins) if the occupant leaves the room, after 10 minutes the thermostat will switch to Setback mode.

Irus also reduces heat input when windows are opened or the room is empty for longer periods (typically 12 hours), this is when Frost mode will engage. Irus observes Triad warnings and works with DUoS timings so it reduces energy input when electricity tariffs are at their highest.

In short – unnecessary use of energy is eliminated.

Using the buildings existing electrical wiring (Mains Borne Signalling) negates the need for trunking and laying of data cables and all the inherent disruption, interference to a building’s infrastructure and mess, making it quick and cost effective to install. Sophisticated error-correction technology ensures data is reliably and accurately transferred from point-to-point.

Lee concludes “In terms of the system it’s amazing to have a view of everything that’s going on in a room, not just in terms of the temperature, but the lighting, humidity and the decibel levels as well. Now, if we have a complaint, we’re able to see a live representation of what’s going on in that room on the system – we have data to hand without ever setting foot in the room!”

Being able to accurately monitor energy use, take action to control levels and collate proof in the form of reports goes a long way to ensure every kWh counts and budgets are maximised. Using less energy and more effectively, must be the answer to reducing energy costs. www.prefectcontrols.com

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