This interview was conducted in Toronto in mid-December 2020, by Olivier Cappon, Senior Manager with the Canadian Institute for Energy Training (CIET). Stephen Dixon is the principal architect of the Energy Efficiency for Building Operator (EEBO) Training in Canada and has successfully delivered this course, as well as having run hundreds of Energy Hunts for a vast array of organisations and participants over the past several decades.
Olivier Cappon: What is the Energy Efficiency for Building Operators (EEBO) training all about, and who does it target?
Stephen Dixon: The Energy Efficiency for Building Operators training is a collaborative, critical questioning of a building’s energy use, and a search for the opportunities that exist for reducing energy, Greenhouse gas emissions, and costs. In many ways, it’s a training-based intervention aimed at building operations staff, in which they are encouraged to do away with the status quo, present their ideas, and become engaged in coming up and enacting solutions.
OC: What sectors is the training applicable to?
SD: Any sector can benefit from this training. We’ve run them for organisations in the commercial property sector (Class A buildings and such), in the industrial sector (heavy equipment manufacturing), and in the institutional sector (schools, hospitals, municipal buildings). This training is applicable in any context where there is operational staff who can have influence over energy use, and in any context in which energy use is present – which is everywhere!
OC: What makes this training particularly unique and effective?
SD: The Energy Efficiency for Building Operators training recognizes and respects the knowledge of building operations staff, and leverages it.
Sometimes, it is the building operations staff that comes up with the energy savings opportunities, and our role as instructors is then to facilitate the brainstorming, and to quantify their ideas. Other times, we develop the list of energy savings, and the operators deconstruct it, based on their thorough knowledge of their own facilities.
The other thing that makes this training special is the way that it’s set up, as it’s one part traditional training event, and one part hands-on application of energy training via the Energy Hunt. It really follows this model of: Theory – Application – Review. And, the best part is that the Energy Hunt concludes with the creation of a Treasure Chest of opportunities and savings that organisations come away with.
OC: How do you “find” energy opportunities? And if they already exist, how come they haven’t already been found?
SD: The reason for which energy saving opportunities haven’t already been found is that often building operators are so busy with other things – like keeping the building running smoothly and keeping the occupants happy – that they don’t have time for investigating opportunities. That, coupled with the fact that Energy Efficiency is usually way down their daily list of priorities.
Going back to the first part of your question, you find energy savings opportunities by examining things like energy data and the Building Automation Systems (BAS), and you look for anomalies and inconsistencies. For example, you look for high base loads in a demand profile, which could indicate that equipment is being left on or not shut down properly. Or, you look for spikes in electricity or natural gas consumption, which could signal that inappropriate start up sequences, or a lack of control is in play.
OC: Who are the key players in setting up the Energy Hunt portion of an EEBO session?
SD: In order to conduct a good energy hunt, you need someone in a coordinating role that can facilitate access to building data – including energy consumption, interval data, access, and the BAS. This person is often a senior building operator or manager. Access to photographs of a building are also a big plus if the training is virtual. In person, we often get a building operator to facilitate a tour and walkthrough for participants.
OC: If a building is automated or centrally controlled, how can savings found via the EEBO course be enacted?
SD: You may be surprised to hear this, but sometimes the more controls there are, and the more complex the building is – the bigger the opportunities, and the more room there is to enact changes.
In some buildings, the training has revealed that getting to savings is simply a matter of resetting set points, removing an override, calibrating a sensor, or utilizing a set point that’s more optimal from an energy efficiency standpoint. One example of this would be resetting the chilled water temperature or supply air temperature in a building. Another example would be the opportunity in finding leaking valves, which is often just a matter of fixing it, or running back-up pumps unnecessarily – also a common and a very easy fix. We’ve actually used performance analytics like RETScreen® Expert in some cases to directly target this as well.
On the industrial side, you tend to find things like equipment left on during shifts, compressed air leaks, incorrect sequencing, warehouse lighting in need of better controls during occupancy. All of these things can be acted upon, regardless of how the building is set up or controlled – as long as there is the will to make changes.
OC: Is there an outcome from an EEBO session that sticks out in your mind?
SD: You know Olivier, there are many. One in particular was in the industrial sector, from a training session conducted for a plastics manufacturer. In a conversation with plant staff, we learned that that giving the plant cleaning staff permission to turn off plant equipment when cleaning at night would result in over 50K in savings per year! All the cleaning staff needed was the know-how and permission to turn the equipment off at night to get to these savings. Before this training, no one thought about his, or what empowering the cleaning staff to take a simple measure could be worth.
Another memorable one that sticks out was in the in the institutional sector (municipal building), where through the training, building operators ended up comparing their hourly electricity profiles, side by side. Through this exercise, one of the operators discovered his building has much higher electricity base loads then this colleague. We ended up discovering that the higher base loads were due to schedule overrides in the building automation system. The operator was able to remove the overrides, and just that simple change represented 20K of savings per year.
OC: What are the most significant savings you have found to date in an Energy Hunt?
SD: I’ m not shy to say that through the EEBO training, we regularly find annual energy savings of $50,000 to $100,000k, depending on the size of the building we are dealing with. It’s not unusual for the savings to represent 10-15% of the organization’s total energy costs.
OC: Say an employee or team member is put through EEBO training. What outcomes can an organisation expect from their participation?
SD: One thing I can say for sure is that the employee will be more engaged. EEBOs are really an exercise in people engagement. Often times, we find that operators want to be more involved in the process, and training is a way to make that happen.
One strong example of this that I recall is when, during a training session, a group of operators following the training were sharing an elevator ride with the president of the company. One of the operators remarked about the training that: “it’s is a great exercise. I feel more valued and more a part of his organisation than I ever have before”. And this is not just limited to operators, but also building supervisors and other staff.
And then of course, there’s the energy savings that the training generates. The training itself can also be a pre-cursor to a recommissioning (RCx) project – where staff can bring back some quick wins for their organisation before embarking on a full-fledged RCx project to possibly identify even more savings.
OC: Thanks for sitting down for this interview, Stephen, and for providing some great insights. Is there anything else people should know about the program?
SD: Overall, I believe that energy management comprised of three aspects: technical, organisational and people. The EEBO is a perfect program that considers all three of these aspects, and really gets to the crux o what energy management is all about.
Let me also say that all the things we talked about in this interview wouldn’t necessarily happen in the same sessions, but my goal as a trainer is always to bring as much of this out as possible!
The Energy Efficiency for Building Operators course is a hands-on and highly interactive course designed to engage, motivate and empower building operators. Over two days, our instructors facilitate participant understanding of how energy behaves, how energy is used in their facility and how it can be controlled through operational action across a variety of building systems. A unique aspect of this training course is the Energy Hunt – which brings participants out of the classroom and into the practical day-to-day operations of a building, thus allowing participants to take part in a detailed examination of a building.
Stephen Dixon is a freelance energy consultant. As Principal of TdS Dixon Inc., of St. Jacobs, Ontario, he brings a practical, hands-on approach to the challenge of developing the energy management capacities of a broad range of institutional, commercial and industrial organizations. Stephen has accumulated more than 35 years of energy management experience, including more than 800 energy assessments and the facilitation of over 1,700 energy management workshops. Stephen holds an M.A.Sc. in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo and a B.Sc. in Physics from UPEI.
Stephen’s extensive experience with RETScreen® Expert began with his significant contributions to the design and development of RETScreen®’s energy efficiency models in RETScreen® v4. Subsequently, Stephen’s popular Monitoring Targeting & Reporting Tool featuring simple regression and CUUSM functions inspired and informed the development of the RETScreen® Plus Performance Analysis tools. Finally, Stephen provided technical support to the development of RETScreen®’s newest version RETScreen® Expert. Stephen has successfully delivered over 25 RETScreen® training sessions and incorporated RETScreen® training into more than 100 energy management training workshops.
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