Technology is Not Enough

Posted by Dale Lucas on August 23, 2012 in Energy Matters

How much can we rely on technological advances to solve our energy problems?  Some new technologies have the potential to be a powerful way to save energy.  For example, automating HVAC systems and enhancing their digital control capabilities has saved lots of energy and money in buildings. However, many technologies -- including these -- require some level of human intervention to fully benefit from them. If people don’t use the technology properly, the expected benefits will not be realized.

The most important people are those who directly manage the new technology:  building operators, facilities staff, etc. If they are given a new system, but not taught how to use it, the system will not work properly.  I have witnessed this first hand during a recent installation of an automated and digitized HVAC system at a local institution. The Operations & Maintenance Staff didn’t have the required knowledge and experience to operate and maintain the new technology, and the system underperformed.  Also, too many staff members had the ability to change system operating parameters without a full understanding of how these changes would impact the operation. There was also reluctance from a few staff members to actually experiment and optimize the new technology. Eventually this harmed the equipment energy performance.

It wasn’t until after a thorough staff skills capability assessment that it was determined in order to realize the predicted energy savings that more detailed training was needed along with confidence building and better controlling user access.

Looking at the larger picture, it was then realized that a few staff positions would need to be added with upgraded HVAC skill-sets to be able to drive ownership, properly operate, optimize, and maintain the technologies.

A lesson learned from this is when planning to install new technologies in the built environment, Operations and Maintenance Staffing capability levels needs to be considered as the O&M Staff are the key to operations and play a major role ensuring the return on Investment is realized. The technology alone is just the apparatus or vehicle that helps get to the destination.

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Dale Lucas is the Manager of Plant Operations at Lorain County Community College. He earned a Mechanical Engineering Degree from Cleveland State University and specializes in Facilities Administration, Energy Management, and Sustainability.

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Dale Lucas
Dale Lucas is the Manager of Plant Operations at Lorain County Community College
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