As high performance green buildings increase in complexity, technicians need the skills to maintain buildings and achieve energy goals.
High performance, sustainable building design has become the industry standard for new construction buildings. These buildings typically contain sophisticated heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and HVAC system controls to reduce energy consumption. Unfortunately, many of these buildings are not performing as designed and consume significantly more energy than predicted. The shortage of qualified personnel to maintain these complex HVAC systems and controls are a large factor in poor energy performance. A study funded by the National Science Foundation found that “Of all of the systems within buildings (including mechanical, electrical, HVAC controls, lighting controls, wireless technologies, integrated systems and dashboards) controls were identified to have the largest skill gap when comparing current skill levels against skill levels required to operate high performance buildings.” (National Science Foundation and Laney College, 16) This proposal recommends reducing the knowledge gap and shortage of professionals by developing and implementing an HVAC controls educational program for vocational high schools.
HVAC controls, or Building Automation System (BAS) controls, reduce energy through equipment scheduling, temperature setback, demand controlled ventilation, occupancy sensors, economizer control, and other innovative strategies. These extensive systems are often underutilized and rarely maintained. Shortcomings are often attributed to poor installation and maintenance, rather than limited technology. In a literature review of over 450 controls related problems, 29% of controls problems were proved to be caused by human factors. (Ardehali, 2003) Finally, most BAS technicians and facility personnel are primarily concerned with maintaining occupant comfort and preventing equipment failure. To keep up with energy reduction requirements, BAS technicians need to become well versed in energy savings opportunities.
Category of the action
Building efficiency: Physical Action
What actions do you propose?
This project aims to provide the next generation of BAS technicians and building operators with a foundational understanding of BAS systems and a focus on whole building systems thinking and energy savings optimization. This educational opportunity will save energy in new construction buildings, promote energy savings in existing buildings, and fill the labor gap. First, in order for high-performance buildings to achieve their target energy reduction goals, we need qualified BAS technicians and building operators that understand the latest energy savings control strategies. The curriculum outlined in this proposal will educate students on the latest energy savings control strategies and provide a foundational understanding to apply to new strategies as they come on the market. Secondly, many existing buildings with older BAS systems would benefit from a skilled BAS technician focused on energy. Many older systems contain failed components that can be replaced or upgraded to newer energy efficient designs. Because many HVAC components are designed to be “fail-safe,” failed HVAC controls waste large amounts of energy. For example, when fail-safe hot water valves fail after 5-7 years, the valve will respond by opening and remaining at "100% open" to use as much heat as possible to heat a space, regardless of the temperature outside. This fail-safe method prevents unsafe conditions for equipment and occupants, but it wastes large amounts of energy when unmonitored for long periods of time. Existing buildings would also benefit from newer, more efficient control strategies. A skilled BAS technician managing a BAS system will be able to closely monitor equipment, diagnose all shortcomings of the system, and make informed purchases for controls upgrades as more efficient control strategies become available. Finally, an increase in skilled BAS technicians will fill the labor gap. The Centers of Excellence of the California Community Colleges (COECC) found that 79% of employers reported difficulty finding qualified HVAC controls technicians. (COECC, 2009) The educational program for vocational high schools outlined in this proposal will provide the skills to address BAS issues and energy efficiency opportunities in new buildings and existing buildings while improving the workforce.
This project proposal outlines the high-level steps necessary to 1) implement a successful BAS educational program, and 2) utilize the program to promote a longer term cultural shift towards improved building operations and maintenance. The goal of this cultural shift is to help drastically reduce the carbon impact of building in the US. and abroad. The framework for this project is outlined below.
1. Conduct Thorough Review of & Develop Relationships with Existing Educational Programs. Although technical high schools do not currently teach courses on BAS controls, there are a handful of colleges and universities that are taking the lead on implementing comprehensive BAS curriculums. Although the number of universities that teach BAS controls courses are limited, the first step in this project framework is to reach out to these key schools for support. The goal of this first step is to review the curriculum development process and curriculum implementation process for these BAS programs. This review will evaluate these programs and build upon established frameworks and lessons learned from these programs. A secondary goal is to recruit support from the professors and others closely involved in the development of the program. These individuals may be offered positions on the advisory board.
In 2012, the National Science Foundation provided Laney College and its partners in the Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow (BEST) program with a $3.5 million grant to address the limitations in the BAS workforce. The 4-year BEST initiative is developing and implementing BAS educational programs for community colleges, with Laney College as a pilot. Laney College understands that “Industry is seeing a growing demand for a workforce that combines some of the traditional skill sets of building technicians with advanced skills in controls programming, networking, and systems integration... Their skill sets will also be needed for increasing green workforce demands to implement energy management, efficiency and sustainability measures in buildings.“ The BEST program will be an important starting point for reviewing existing educational programs.
It is important to note that while reviewing these programs at the college, it is imperative we create similar programs at the technical high school level. Many BAS technicians begin their career after a vocational or technical high school and do not receive a college education. These technicians often learn job skills in the field. However, a rapidly changing industry towards complex BAS systems and energy efficiency requirements calls for comprehensive educational programs. A vocational high school program in BAS technologies and energy efficiency will ensure that all BAS technicians receive some level of skills training before entering the workforce. Additionally, if these high school graduates decide to attend community college and study BAS systems, they will have already begun their interest and knowledge basis in their critical high school years. The vocational program will provide students with information on and access to both job opportunities and further BAS education at various community colleges.
2. Draft a Business Plan. After completing a thorough review of similar existing programs, I will create a formal business plan for this project. Although this project proposal outlines the key steps in the program development, the business plan will include more details on the program and act as a tool for applying for grants, recruiting for the technical advisory committees, and reaching out to others for further support. The business plan will include an executive summary and project description; a market analysis; an organizational strategy; a management strategy; a detailed curriculum, a marketing strategy, and a financing strategy.
3. Establish an Advisory Board. The advisory board will serve as the guiding body for program development and implementation. The first task for the advisory board will be to review the business plan, provide input, and finalize the document. The advisory board will continue to oversee the project and provide guidance where needed. The advisory board will consist of 4 to 5 people and represent both the controls industry and technical high school institutions.
4. Establish Technical Advisory Committees. This program will develop three technical advisory committees: an Energy Engineering Advisory Committee, a Controls Technician Advisory Committee, and a Technical High School Advisory Committee. Because energy engineers troubleshoot BAS systems and find opportunities for energy savings through BAS systems, this technical committee will be key in identifying knowledge gaps in the industry. The Controls Technician Advisory Committee will be an important player for supporting the program with key resources, including financial support. Additionally, these companies may be able to provide BAS software and equipment for the course. Finally, the Technical High School Advisory Committee will provide support for developing the curriculum and seamlessly integrating it into existing programs.
5. Develop course curriculum. The program will include instructor training, curriculum development, simulation rooms, living laboratories, public relations opportunities, and job placement. The Technical High School Advisory Committee will provide support on developing the course curriculum. The Energy Engineering Advisory Committee will also provide feedback on the curriculum. BAS improvements are often the "low hanging fruit" of energy auditing, as most BAS systems can be improved with simple schedule optimization techniques and troubleshooting issues. Engineers also are skilled at taking “trends” of data and analyzing the data for energy savings opportunities. Simulation rooms will provide hands-on learning all of the major BAS software programs. Because many BAS technologies require coding knowledge, hands-on learning will be an important component of the program. Similarly, living laboratories will allow the students to work directly on several BAS systems. After the pilot phase, these schools will need to develop their public relations strategies and help other schools develop similar programs. Finally, students in these programs will be provided job placement opportunities and information on community colleges that employ the BEST program and other BAS educational programs. This program will work directly with employers for job placement and will stress the importance of hiring BAS technicians with a fundamental understanding of energy systems and whole building analysis.
The course will include the following subjects:
- Thermodynamics in Buildings
- HVAC system designs
- Motors and Drives
- Pneumatics and Direct Digital Controls (DDC)
- Construction Drawings
- Energy Efficient Control Strategies
- Energy Issues & Policies
- Data Analysis & Performance Monitoring
6. Develop metrics and performance evaluation criteria. The advisory board will be responsible for developing metrics and performance evaluation criteria for the program. The review of existing programs will provide significant input for methods for tracking performance. This criteria will include, but not be limited to surveys for staff, surveys for students, exams, and third-party reviews.
7. Launch Fundraising Campaign. Similar to the BEST program, this program for vocational high schools will require a federal, state or local grant. Additionally, this program will seek funding from companies that develop BAS systems including Johnson Controls, Trane, or Automated Logic Controls. These companies will all benefit from skilled graduates entering the BAS workforce.
8. Publish a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Interested Schools. The Advisory Committee will be responsible for setting up an RFP for interested schools. Any technical high school from across the US is eligible to apply. Five schools will be selected for the pilot phase based on the evaluation criteria developed by the Advisory Committee. A key piece of criteria will be a demonstrated ability to implement the program and act as a mentor for other schools to follow suit after the pilot phase.
9. Select 5 schools and Tailor Curriculum for Each School. This program will continue to work with each of the 5 schools to develop the curriculum further and tailor it for the specific academic environment. The schools will play a leading role in this step. In the pilot phase of 5 schools, we will first need to train instructors and receive their feedback on the curriculum. Their feedback and input will be critical in identifying curriculum methodologies that fit their academic environment.
10. Facilitate communication between schools. Once the program is implemented, the schools be required to work together and learn from each other strengths and weaknesses. This will most likely consist of a monthly virtual meeting and additional virtual communication tools.
11. Track progress and modify curriculum as necessary. The established metrics and performance criteria will be tracked throughout the first year of the program. This information will be used for modifying and enhancing the curriculum for the following years. The same information will be continually tracked each year, and new metrics may be defined or modified.
12. Expand Program to New Schools. After successful implementation of the program, the goal is to expand the program to additional schools. The goal is to bring 1-5 new schools into the program each year.
Who will take these actions?
The Advisory Committee will play a major role in designing and implementing the program. In addition to this committee, there will be three technical advisory committees, as outlined below.
Energy Engineering Advisory Committee. The Energy Engineering Advisory Committee will support the curriculum development process. Energy engineers analyze BAS systems for energy savings opportunities. Energy engineers see firsthand what issues exist on a given BAS and which energy savings control strategies fall through the cracks due to lack of on-site BAS management. As an energy efficiency engineer, I will draw upon my network of energy engineer professionals to assemble this committee. Several senior engineers from my company provided support for this proposal and offered to provide further support, resources, and networking opportunities for this project proposal. I hope to draw upon these resources for selecting an Energy Engineering Technical Advisory Committee.
Controls Technician Advisory Committee. This advisory committee will provide support on curriculum development, access to hands-on technology, mentorship opportunities, and financial resources. The committee will draw upon working professionals from several large BAS vendors, such as Johnson Controls, Trane, Siemens or Automated Logic Controls.
Technical High School Advisory Committee. This committee will include teachers and staff from technical high schools. This committee will support the program development and improve the curriculum implementation process into technical high schools. This committee will provide an understanding of successful and unsuccessful curriculum development programs.
This program will engage these committees at various points in the project development process for working sessions. The working sessions will range in commitment level throughout the project development process.
Where will these actions be taken?
The first 5 buildings in the pilot phase will be US schools to help define the program. These school(s) will be carefully selected based on existing programs and the interest and availability of staff to support the curriculum development. The second phase of the project will be open to international schools. The program will be open to all technical and vocational international schools.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
Eliminating human error in operating these systems in buildings could save approx. 111 million metric tons of CO2 in the US each year (approx. 5% of CO2 emissions from US buildings). Although it is difficult to quantify the direct carbon savings associated with implementing a training program, if all building technicians were well-trained and there was no human error in maintaining these systems, we could see these carbon savings.
• The building sector represented 40 quadrillion BTU of energy in 2013 (EIA)
• The US produced 5,433,057 kilotons of CO2 in 2010 (World Bank, 2010)
• Buildings account for 38% of US CO2 emissions (DOE, 2008)
• 21% of controls issues are due to human factors; 58% are due to hardware & software issues (Ardehali, 2003)
• Approx. 20% of a typical building's energy can be saved by improving the Energy Management System and an estimated 10% of hardware & software issues would be eliminated through proper identification & replacement of failed components
What are other key benefits?
This program will have several additional key benefits. First, this program will provide training and green jobs to those enrolled. Second, improving BAS systems will optimize occupant comfort. In addition to saving energy, a well-maintained BAS system can optimize heating and cooling when occupants are in the space, improved ventilation, and even control light levels. Many BAS systems that are not operating properly also reduce occupant comfort with poor ventilation and temperature settings. Finally, improved BAS controls will provide energy cost savings to facility managers, and in some cases, provide capital for further energy efficiency opportunities.
What are the proposal’s costs?
This program will request $550,000 in grants for the first 5 years. Below is a breakdown of the costs. The program will seek donations for the BAS equipment and technology from BAS vendors. Several BAS vendors have provided financial support to the BEST program, as well as other BAS educational development programs. The project will seek the remaining funds from state, local, and federal grants. The program will seek grants focused on both energy performance and educational programs. The US Department of Education provides grants for "Programs for Career and Technical Education/Community Colleges."
- Advisory committee: 4 part-time jobs, totaling $60,000/year for 5 years
- BAS equipment and technology: $30,000/school for 5 schools
- Funding for selected schools to tailor curriculum: funding for selected schools to tailor curriculum: $10,000/school for 5 schools
- Training program for teachers: $10,000/school for 5 schools
After the development of the program, there should not be an added cost to improving the BAS workforce. Many large facilities already higher BAS technicians, so there will now be more technicians with more skills. For facilities that do not currently have BAS technicians, these facilities will realize numerous energy cost savings by understanding and troubleshooting their BAS systems. Most facilities that do not hire BAS technicians tend to understand very little of their BAS systems, and the systems rarely get touched. It is very expensive to hire the large BAS vendors to troubleshoot these systems, so they are often left untouched. This program will aim to educate facilities management divisions on the benefits of hiring BAS technicians with the knowledge provided in the course.
The short term will include a pilot phase of 5 technical schools. After the pilot phase, the program will expand to an additional 1-5 schools starting 3 years after the pilot school(s). While the pilot phase will be schools in the US, the second phase of the project will be open to international schools. While the pilot phase will be a pilot for the project as a whole, the second additional set of schools will serve as a pilot for expanding the program to international schools.
In the medium-term, the program will be expanded to 40-60 international schools. The benefit of expanding to international schools is that these schools can support nearby technical and vocational high schools with the tools they need to provide similar programs. Additionally, the program will serve as a support network, both to provide jobs and further education for graduates, and to develop the industry as a whole. The medium-term will include programs to help facilities managers identify the benefits of hiring BAS technicians with an energy efficiency understanding. In the long-term, this program hopes to shift the industry by developing the job skills needed to continually keep up with the change in BAS technologies.
In the long-term, this program hopes to fully eliminate missed energy savings opportunities due to human factors. This program also aims to provide technicians with a voice to request energy efficiency upgrades and an informed understanding of what is available.
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