Ken Rackowski, Executive Vice President of Fairbanks Energy’s Control Division, is a veteran of the building automation industry. With over 30 years of engineering and management experience related to controls systems and HVAC design, Ken has worked with and modified every type of BMS on the market. We recently sat down with Ken and dove into some questions surrounding his experience and thoughts on trends and best practices for the controls industry.
1. Why should a facility manager consider implementing controls in his/her next efficiency upgrade? Why should the finance team care and/or provide funding for a controls initiative?
Normally it’s not “why” should a facility manager consider controls at first, but rather it becomes part of a bigger project, providing additional savings and a better understanding of the building’s energy usage. A huge benefit to adding controls to a facility is the access to analytics. Instead of just throwing in some equipment, looking at it, and hoping for savings, the customer can now measure how their building is performing through measurement verification. When it comes to financials, a two year payback is realistic. By providing funding for a controls project, finance teams will eventually recoup their investment while simultaneously (and immediately) improving efficiency and gaining energy savings.
2. How would you define the necessary factors of a successful controls implementation for the average commercial or industrial facility?
There are several. I define the factors to be: good specification, a clear understanding of what you’re looking for and a realistic estimate of project savings. The biggest thing to consider is how to verify the savings. I recommend to any facility manager considering a controls project to make sure you have a solid measure and verification strategy in place. Every single project will have unique applications, so it’s hard to generalize exactly what this looks like for everyone.
Another principal factor for a new controls project is the ability to be flexible with your vendors. My company, Fairbanks Energy, is “vendor agnostic,” meaning we won’t try to sell you a specific controls system but instead will install the type of system best suited for your environment. Additionally, if you have something already in place, we can work with it or look for a new system, or some combination of the two. The important thing is to look for the best solution, which is different depending on each situation.
3. Why have controls increased in popularity and effectiveness for energy efficiency projects over the last 5-10 years?
The user experience and accessibility of controls solutions has had a huge effect on the impact of controls installed over the past couple of years. The actual equipment: controls, air handling units, boilers, and chillers, function about the same as 30 or 40 years ago, but it is the accessibility of data gathered from these systems in operation that brings much more insight and the opportunity to become more efficient. How to understand this data is what’s new.
Historically, BMS and BAS came out after the original migration of electronics controls, or DDC (direct digital controls), which had very little user interface and offered much less data. Using cloud based computing today, I can access data right from a cell phone. I can work on projects for customers’ sites remotely – even from an airplane! The user interface experience is usually great, offering the ability to set up processes like email alarms or regular updates. Having multiple sites networked together in one interface makes it easier to manage multiple locations too.
4. Can you give us an example of a particularly successful project in which you installed a controls system? What did you do and what made it a success?
All of my projects are successful! However, some of Fairbanks Energy’s most successful projects are when we start it as planned, but along the way discover something new that needed to be fixed and are able to correct this at minimal expense. The customer is always really happy when we put in the extra work to solve any unknown problems that come up, fix them, and deliver higher efficiency or financial savings thresholds than originally discussed.
In the retrofit market, there’s always something that is worth looking over to improve. Any third-party efficiency solutions provider walks into a facility with a fresh set of eyes and is often able to see things that may be dysfunctional or set up incorrectly that someone on site everyday wouldn’t able to pick up on.
5. In what direction do you see controls trends moving? What additional technologies may play a role in new controls projects?
The controls trend has been, and is moving, towards more remote or cloud management of data. We used to run trend logs on systems locally, with samples of data that might run for a week or month, then rolls over and is gone, replaced by fresh data to review. Now people really want to see the long-term trending data which allows for better and more effective facility planning on a larger scale that’s been based on historical data.
What we’ve also seen changing in the industry is how people try to get the data into another system. For example, there’s an organization called Project Haystack that’s an API that allows BMS data to be exported to other systems. If you plug this into a controls system, other people can access it programmatically from outside and can pull the data. A real estate company, for instance, might want to pull occupancy data out of lighting system to understand usage patterns. Fixtures know when someone is underneath it and this kind of information can be used for space planning to see when people are a specific location. This whole new idea is around enabling controls to gain a tighter integration into other systems, thus giving and receiving data which enables overall improvement in operations in the day-to-day, as well as long term.