What is sustainable IT? As many companies deploy sustainability strategies aimed at improving energy efficiency, preserving natural resources and lowering operating costs, IT is becoming a major part of this initiative.

“Over the past few years, many companies have focused on LEED Certification and sustainable design methods to achieve these objectives,” says Rich Garrison, Senior Principal at Alfa Tech. “Now, IT organizations are continually pressed to deliver more by way of applications and content, while being asked to lower capital and expense costs. This is combined with the fact that for many organizations, IT is one of the largest consumers of energy and natural resources to operate data centers, labs and office environments.”

Smart Business spoke with Garrison about the impacts of sustainable IT in today’s business world.

How does sustainable IT work?

Information technology leaders are turning to sustainability-focused initiatives to reduce costs and align with corporate sustainability strategies. Sustainable IT is simply the process of planning, designing, and implementing technologies that improve efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

How is virtualization and cloud technology impacting sustainable IT?

Sustainable IT examples include the wide adoption of virtualization technologies intended to reduce the number of physical servers and increase the utilization of these hardware assets. The next level beyond virtualization is the adoption of private or public cloud service offerings, which allows companies to utilize computing hardware, often hosted by third-party service providers. The primary objective is to have ‘just in time’ capacity, improved reliability and more predictable costs. While cloud is not for everyone, the adoption rate is high and on the radar for most IT professionals.

What role can Wi-Fi play with sustainable IT?

Another technology having a significant impact is wireless or Wi-Fi technologies. In today’s workplace, employees have an average of three wireless devices each. With the adoption of smartphones, tablets and laptops, some analysts predict conventional desktop workstations will be obsolete within the next five years. This adoption of wireless devices in the workplace combined with the evolution of a more collaborative workspace means there’s a demand for more reliable wireless networks with adequate bandwidth.

With new or remodeled facilities, it’s important to weigh the impact of architectural considerations on the performance of wireless technologies. The selection of materials and the building’s physical layout can significantly affect the wireless network’s performance. Predictive tools can help design a wireless solution during the building project’s design phase and eliminate potential issues in advance. As companies adopt wireless solutions, it also creates an opportunity to reduce and, in some cases, eliminate traditional structured cabling systems. From a sustainability perspective, this has major advantages when eliminating the use of copper material.

How are building monitoring and automation systems influencing sustainable IT?

As facilities organizations focus on building monitoring systems (BMS) and automation systems (BAS) to optimize the use of lighting, HVAC and other energy consuming resources, these BMS and BAS solutions are becoming more advanced and sophisticated. The products are becoming more network-enabled and require more advanced and reliable network infrastructure to support them.

For many companies, building management and control systems have become critical applications requiring the same level and support as traditional business applications. As part of the IT sustainability strategy, IT organizations also are leveraging these systems to monitor and trend their consumption of power and energy efficiency. There’s a significant need to engage IT professionals earlier when designing buildings or data center facilities to provide input or solutions for a well-architected network capable of supporting these building systems and applications.

While other IT-related sustainability initiatives can be considered, virtualization, wireless and BMS are greatly impacting both IT organizations and facility planning.

Rich Garrison is Senior Principal at Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1209 or rich.garrison@atce.com.

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In a typical office building, utility costs make up about one-fifth of total operational costs. Energy costs in commercial buildings and industrial facilities are consistently rising due to increasing global energy demand, while federal, state and local agencies are mandating increased energy efficiency in new and existing buildings.

Smart Business spoke with Moh Heidari, director of the Energy Solutions Group with Alfa Tech, about how organizations can benefit from investing in energy efficiency in their facilities.

Why don’t companies invest more aggressively in energy efficiency?

It depends on multiple factors like project management methodologies, budget structures and decision-making practices. For example, value engineering is first cost-oriented versus life-cycle cost analysis. There is little incentive for an energy-efficiency feature to be embraced by a value engineering process if it results in a higher first cost. That is why we need to go beyond value engineering.

Another reason is that budgets for construction and operations often come from two different groups. Therefore, there is a tendency for construction to take a ‘not my problem’ perspective on an energy-savings measure if it would increase the construction cost. This also happens for existing facilities where the maintenance budget is separate from operating cost. So, when the maintenance team reduces utility costs by implementing energy-savings measures, they may not directly get credit for it since the savings will be captured under the operating budget.

Another reason might be that energy costs are lower than costs like employees’ salaries. However, cutting energy costs directly contributes to increasing net profit.

What are the indicators of a good investment in energy systems?

While a retro-commissioning action and energy audit identifies energy-saving measures with a simple payback period (SPP) of less than two years, SPP is not sufficient to decide whether a project should be implemented or not. An additional decision-making factor is return on investment (ROI). For example, a three-year simple payback period has about 33 percent ROI and a five-year payback has about 20 percent ROI, which are attractive ROIs. In addition, considering the investment security of energy-efficiency projects makes them even more attractive investments. Energy-efficiency engineers use cost-benefit analysis and life-cycle cost analysis to identify the profitability and to show other advantages like reduction of business vulnerability to energy price fluctuations and increasing productivity.

Who is an energy-efficiency engineer and why might an organization want one?

Energy is complex. Everyone thinks they have solutions, but how do you know if a solution is the right one? Companies may benefit from an independent consultant who does not have a conflict of interest and who has the specialized training required to fully assess system interaction and integration issues and the overall energy benefit associated with a proposed energy-efficiency project. For example, a condensing boiler must operate at condensing temperatures to deliver the highest efficiency. If a condensing boiler is installed in a system that cannot operate at condensing temperatures or installed in a system that could but that does not have the right control sequence to achieve condensing temperatures, then the intended savings will not be realized.

Because of these complexities, energy solutions for different types of facilities need multiple specialties. Energy engineering is an interdisciplinary field with selected expertise in mechanical, electrical, control, chemical and environmental engineering, as well as economics and energy market.

What is retro-commissioning?

Existing building commissioning (EBCx), also known as retro-commissioning (RCx), is a detailed tune up using a systematic assessment process to evaluate buildings’ systems functionality, energy performance and energy cost-savings opportunities to match the building operations to the owners’ and occupants’ current needs, reducing energy waste and obtaining cost savings. Energy audits, RCx and monitoring based continual commissioning (MBCCx) are the best tools to capture actions that can result in up to 30 percent and even sometimes higher energy cost reduction through retrofits. In energy savings, persistence is key. Without it, a system becomes out of tune and you just keep saving the same energy every couple of years instead of steadily raising the bar. Monitoring-based continual commissioning ensures that energy savings persist and grow over time. In this method, we continuously monitor the critical points of systems, measure their efficiency and address the problems that cause decreases in efficiency.

How do building owners and facility personnel benefit from investing in energy-efficiency retrofits and upgrades?

First, they should realize the difference between saving energy and saving money. If you implement an energy savings measure but energy costs escalate, you save energy but may not save as much money. Uninformed owners or tenants may be disappointed in the results of a project unless they realize where the energy costs would be if they had not implemented the project. It also means that energy-savings projects that were not viable may become viable when energy becomes expensive enough.

In addition, as the relative value of energy shifts, the viability of some strategies may need to be re-evaluated. For instance, a strategy that recovered energy via heat pump may not look as good as it once did if electric prices go up while gas prices fall.

Finally, persistent energy savings can pave the way for making renewable energy projects viable. The viability of a solar photovoltaic project may hinge on making the load served as efficient as possible. Increasing efficiency of HVAC systems reduce the first cost of an expensive renewable energy technology.

Moh Heidari is director of the Energy Solutions Group with Alfa Tech. Reach him at (415) 403-3091 or moh.heidari@atce.com.

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Technology leads the way in developing more sustainable lighting sources that can produce more lumens, or total light emitted, using smaller sources and reducing the amount of material required to construct lamps. Lighting controls allow designs to increase energy efficiency through the use of sensors that can detect when the space requires light and when there is sufficient illumination through daylight.

Also, world governments are doing their part to ensure a reduction in hazardous waste at the end of lighting fixture lamp life.

Smart Business spoke with Bryan Burkhart, principal lighting designer at Alfa Tech, about sustainable lighting and how it can impact your business.

What are some of the latest developments in lighting?

Technological advances now allow daylight to penetrate far into a building’s interior, both across the space and through ceilings and floors to provide natural lighting to additional levels. Solar tracking systems on rooftops follow the sun throughout the day, which maximizes the sunlight used within a building. Solar concentrators also can boost the natural sunlight levels to generate more available light for the system.

State-of-the-art films that coat the delivery systems channel the light, reduce heat emission and lower the HVAC costs within a building. During overcast days or evening hours, supplemental lighting systems using efficient lighting sources can be activated.

In linear fluorescent lights, reduced mercury T5 lamps come standard with tri-phosphor coatings and produce better color rending qualities, a smaller diameter cross-section and a standard lamp life of 36,000 hours. Reduced mercury T8 lamps have an option for the tri-phosphor coating and a slightly larger cross-section, but offer extended lamp life with 36,000-, 40,000- and 46,000-hour options, which illustrates how far fluorescent lamp life has been extended.

Pulse start metal halide lamps offer a whiter light source than traditional metal halide lamps and a higher color rendering index. They provide up to 15 times the lamp life of incandescent systems and last up to seven times longer than parabolic aluminized reflector and reflector systems. Certain lamping options can provide up to a 50 percent increase in lamp life over traditional metal halide or a total of 30,000 hours when they run for 120 hour periods with a one hour break between cycles. Lighting levels can be reduced when spaces are unoccupied or sufficient daylight is present with skylights. Metal halide fixtures with dual capacitors offer the ability to switch 50 percent of the lights off without extinguishing the lamp entirely.

Light Emitting Diode (LED) sources have the ability for full-color rendering with Red Green Blue lamps. The average lamp life for LED sources is 50,000 hours. The very compact diodes can be dimmed and offer smaller lighting fixtures.

LED technology is evolving rapidly, and light output is continuously pushing more lumens per watts out of smaller packages. Flat panels are one of the most sustainable designs because virtually all of the surface area on one side of the panel emits light. The fixtures are incredibly thin and use only a minimal amount of material to support the panels.

What are some examples of sustainable designs using lighting control systems?

Traditional motion sensors help reduce energy use by turning lights off when no one is around. Daylight harvesting also can control lighting through dedicated sensors that dim lights down when sufficient daylight is present. Sensor control groups of lighting fixtures, defined as zones, turn lights on or off based on motion detected or dim based on daylight sensed. One drawback is all the lights will remain on if a sensor detects the presence of one individual. Additionally, the daylight sensor typically operates separately from the motion sensor so lights could remain on, albeit at a reduced level, even if the space is unoccupied.

New occupancy sensor designs allow the integration of daylight, motion and temperature into a single sensor. The sensor is mounted adjacent to each lighting fixture and provides daylight and motion sensing control. Each fixture looks for daylight or movement in the immediate vicinity. If no movement is detected or sufficient daylight is present, the fixture turns off or dims down. There is also the added benefit of the temperature sensor that can allow variable air volume units to shut off air conditioning or heating when no individuals are present, which maximizes energy conservation.

When a lighting fixture uses a dimmer it can be controlled from 100 percent output down to zero. The importance of dimmable ballasts or LED drivers is that their high and low levels can be ‘tuned.’ In most lighting applications, fixtures can be dimmed to 75 percent of their maximum light output before most people in the space notice. Even when the dimmer is turned on 100 percent it only uses 75 percent of the energy. Some dimming systems require that they never be turned off so that a master controller can override the local dimmer. In these cases, the low end of the dimmer can be set so the light appears to be off, but there is still enough current passing through to allow the master controller to take over when required.

How is hazardous waste from new lighting technology being controlled by governments?

The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive restricts the use of six hazardous materials on the European Union market for any electrical or electronic equipment that includes lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl and polybrominated biphenyl ether flame retardants. The intent is to reduce certain hazardous substances from manufactured products. Many U.S. manufacturers are voluntarily making their products RoHS compliant.

The Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure is an EPA standard that determines whether waste is hazardous or nonhazardous. Lamps manufactured to meet this test use 80 percent less mercury than traditional fluorescent lamp designs.

Bryan Burkhart is the principal lighting designer at Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1317 or bryan.burkhart@atce.com.

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There are several methods of design and construction that can be used on a project. Each determines who produces the designs, who performs the construction and who is liable in the event of litigation.

The type of project, whether public or private, its level of technical sophistication and the time frame in which it needs to be finished determine the preferred method.

Smart Business spoke with T.G. Davallou, partner and head of Alfa Tech’s San Francisco office, about the different methods, what they entail and which is better for a given situation.

What are the differences among the methods of design and construction?

Traditional design-bid-build features a consultant who will design the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems for the building, the construction of which is put out to bid. The contractor with the winning bid then performs the construction.

Design-build means the MEP consultant writes the performance specifications, which provide the design criteria for the project, then hires a design-build contractor who finishes the design based on the specifications and performs the construction.

Design-assist entails a MEP consultant who realizes the design and draws it up to 50 percent completion before bringing the contractor on board. The contractor becomes the owner of the documents and completes the designs. The MEP consultant in this arrangement remains the engineer of record.

Are each of these practical in different situations, or should one always be chosen over the other?

The most sophisticated or innovative projects are either full design-bid-build or design-assist through integrated project delivery. Even though design-build contractors are getting smarter and have greater resources than before, they can’t compete on the engineering side with traditional consulting. If you look at simple tenant improvements that don’t have any design elements, design-build makes sense. But if it’s an innovative design or a complex project, like one with renewable energy or façade natural ventilation, these resources need a true consultant and not just a contractor, so design-assist makes better sense.

Business owners are getting smarter and are looking at overall life cycle costs of buildings instead of just the initial costs of the building’s design. They consider initial construction, utility, maintenance and replacement costs over the life of the building, which means design-bid-build or design-assist is more appropriate.

The schedule also has a big impact. There’s no way traditional design-bid-build would do a proper job with no issues on a high-rise building that needs tenant improvements in two months. Design-build would be better in this case. Scheduling has a large impact on which method should be used.

Who should a company appoint to serve as a liaison between the contractor and itself to stay on top of the process?

Typically an owner will recruit a project manager or construction manager first if he or she is not sophisticated enough to oversee the project. That person is the conduit between the business owner, the architects/engineers and the contractors. The construction manager is a third party who manages the whole process for the owner and has input on who is hired, such as the architect and engineers. Scheduling and costs also come into their recommendations to the owner.

Which method is used more often today?

Design-bid-build was the traditional method from the 1970s until the mid-1980s. Contractors weren’t very sophisticated or knowledgeable enough to handle entire projects from designing the specifications to completing the construction, so they relied on architects and consultants for design and to be liable for any issues. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the method shifted because numerous legal claims came out against contractors constructing public properties, such as state/county hospitals, institutional facilities, educational facilities and libraries, after the projects ended.

The problem is that public jobs are awarded to low bidders, as state law dictates. This often resulted in changes to the design or materials used during construction so the contractor could keep the project on budget. The owner of the building didn’t want to spend money on litigation, which is why the design-build concept arose because it reduced or eliminated change orders. The contractor in this method is the owner, designer and builder so legal discrepancies are reduced because there are fewer change orders.

Design-build contractors, it was later discovered, were not really giving top quality because the interest from public entities is low initial costs, so contractors were cutting corners, which led to systems not performing as they should. Thus, design-build declined as the preferred method of construction.

Now ‘big campus’ designers have found other ways to get a better design. With so much interest in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, projects are getting more sophisticated, so property owners are looking at how to get the most efficient systems without claims or lawsuits against the contractor at the end. This led to the establishment of the design-assist method, where a consultant can introduce the most innovative design and then become a partner with the contractor. The consultant brings the design up to 50 percent, meaning all the design elements are there, and it’s just a matter of coordination to make sure ductwork fits, etc. The contractor can’t change the specifications by, say, undersizing the ductwork, because he’s the engineer of record and the designer stays involved though the project’s completion.

When does litigation become a greater concern?

During a construction project, all parties are legally liable. Litigation issues happen mostly with public contracts. For commercial jobs the construction manager has pre-qualified and negotiated with a selected contractor. However, with public projects, the low bidder gets the job, which usually results in a lot of  change orders that can lead to litigation.

T.G. Davallou is partner and head of Alfa Tech’s San Francisco office. Reach him at (415) 403-3092 or tg.davallou@atce.com.

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When building in a foreign country, it’s important to realize that in each country, projects are guided by unique circumstances. The issues you run into in India are different than in Singapore, for example.

“One thing that is constant, however, is relationship is king,” says Alex Ertis, senior project manager at Alfa Tech. “You have to be comfortable with your local representative. You can’t be cavalier about contracts. If you think they carry the same weight as they do in the U.S., you’re wrong.”

Using an in-country director to deliver projects aids with the contract and helps shed risk through the project director to the in-country team, he says.

Smart Business spoke with Ertis about what any U.S. business undertaking a construction project in another country needs to know.

What are some critical steps to take before breaking ground?

As with any other project, the first critical step is to understand and define the scope. Then work with the project manager to build the project team. The availability of known players familiar with the foreign country may well dictate the project delivery method — design-build versus design-bid-build for example.

The critical steps, however, are wildly different depending on the scope of the project. Simple tenant improvements require detailed due diligence on the building to ensure it has the proper infrastructure. For ground-up construction, due diligence is more focused on government regulation and entitlement.

Any project has risks that can be broken down into budget, schedule, team and scope. Some construction specialists place country risk on this list, but country risk changes the risk dynamic for all the aspects of the job. Establishing strong communication and reporting protocols during early planning and putting in place a strong in-country advocate that is trusted by the foreign team is critical to translate and mitigate these risks.

What is the difference between building in the U.S. and another country?

Depending on the country, building codes can sometimes be surprisingly similar and other times vastly different. The standard by which the quality of construction is determined also can be quite different.

The speed with which projects get completed in fast-growing economies is alarming. You either need to be comfortable allowing minor changes without formal design review and approval, or you need an extremely clean set of plans and a very strong and continual presence reinforcing that, on the job, the design team is the genesis and end-all for any design changes. Both approaches have their risks, but you should make a conscious decision or it will default to changes in an ad-hoc manner on site with little or no formal documentation.

What are some considerations a U.S. company needs to understand when building abroad?

Many U.S. clients come into a foreign market and try to execute just like they would in the United States. For legal, insurance and other issues, this can cause quite a bit of delay. Many foreign markets are not as developed from a legal framework standpoint and are frankly far less litigious than the U.S. This changes the insurance and legal aspect of a contract quite a bit.

Quality and substitutions also need to be closely watched. Again, having an in-country advocate to maintain quality is key. Many teams struggle with the submittal process and treat construction specifications as suggestions. For high-spec builds, the contractor must submit what it will be installing and physically inspect the material coming in to ensure it is the right fit.

Should local or U.S. builders actually construct the building?

U.S. builders that say they can build overseas without a local partner are kidding themselves and their clients. The immigration implications alone are overwhelming. You absolutely have to have a local team.

The key from an economic standpoint is to try to get transparency on actual costs. You shouldn’t be paying U.S. union rates for a day laborer, but many multinational contractors will bill this way unless you push them.

Another concern is ‘right-sizing’ your contractor. There may be comfort in using an international name, but be prepared to pay European or U.S. prices for it. If there are similar projects completed in the marketplace, there will be small- to medium-sized contractors that can deliver at a fraction of the cost. If you engage a big international firm, it will just hire those same people as subs to do the work.

How do you ensure you’re abiding by the laws and regulations of the construction process?

Getting a qualified local person to map out the entire process is useful. However, because the local team is familiar with the process and the vernacular of permitting, there may be a lot of assumptions about different roles and responsibilities played by the owner, contractor and architect. There needs to be a pre-construction effort to clearly and explicitly define these roles and responsibilities. Without this exercise, something will be missed, and time, budget and quality likely will be affected.

What issues might arise when paying foreign contractors?

Dealing with foreign taxes is a great example of why maintaining good relationships with foreign team members cannot be overemphasized. Additionally, with respect to the exchange rate, project managers may try to make it easier for U.S. clients to deal with construction abroad by absorbing some of the exchange rate risk. For instance, in some cases, current exchange rates are included in contract documentation and some level of negative change in those rates will be accepted. That provides a level of comfort, if not certainty, to some clients. Other clients are quite comfortable dealing with the ups and downs of foreign currencies and gladly strike deals in U.S. dollars.

Alex Ertis is a senior project manager at Alfa Tech. Reach him at (925) 786-1511 or alex.ertis@atce.com.

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Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a method to take a project from design through construction. The key element of this, as opposed to some other types of project delivery, is you bring together all of your team in the beginning — your engineer, all of your general, mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors, and your operations and maintenance staff who will take care of the property after construction is complete.

“You have them all at the table during the design process. It’s a new procedure to complete your project from the conceptual phase through construction and into occupancy,” says Alfa Tech President Tim Chadwick.

Smart Business spoke with Chadwick about IPD and how having owners, engineers and contractors synchronized through the design and construction process can lead to greater efficiency and a better end result.

How does IPD differ from other project delivery approaches?

In a typical design-bid-build approach, the owner hires the architect in the beginning and generally an engineer isn’t involved until after the programming and conceptual design are complete. Then the contractor is hired and the operations staff is brought in once construction is complete.

There is also design-assist, where a consulting engineer writes a basis of design, which is a rough outline of the system types and level of quality the owner is looking for, and hands it over to the contractors for more detailed design and construction. The engineer then takes a step back and oversees the project but generally from a distance.

Comparatively, IPD has a consulting engineer working all the way through the project, meaning you get a much better and more coordinated design without missing out on the contractor’s input. All of these team members can provide valuable input on the conceptual building design rather than having to react to decisions made without their input.

In design-assist, the engineer hands off the designs to the mechanical contractor to take care of his or her portion, then to the electrical contractor for his or her portion and so on. Contractors, however, don’t typically coordinate as well with the other contractors during this design. Engineers, on the other hand, often have all those engineering disciplines within one company, so you get much better coordination before installation starts.

Further, contractors can be forced to resolve issues that arise during construction out in the field, and compromises in quality, performance or serviceability can result. With IPD, having all the engineers within one entity and involved throughout the design results in a design that’s well conceived and an installation that has an organization that looks better, is easier to maintain and performs better.

What benefits does IPD offer over other forms of project delivery?

The real benefits can be seen when you compare it with design-build method. Many companies have been leaning toward design-build because the contractor is on board early; the assumption is the project moves at a faster pace because construction can get started early and their construction experience adds value. However, conventional design-build projects can be challenged by a lack of installation quality and flexibility as well as a lack of coordination that leads to a poorly performing system. With IPD you can get the speed of design-build coupled with the quality assurance brought on by having an engineer involved, making it the best of both worlds. The consulting engineer protects your interests and quality while contractors help you accelerate the construction aspect of the project.

What are the tangible benefits of using IPD?

In addition to resolving field conflicts before construction, having the contractor at the table during the design phase can help you avoid additional conflicts and delays, which means the final installation is more cost effective without sacrifices in quality. In design-build, circumstances can arise where you have to compromise such as when you have two systems routed through the same space — often a result of poor coordination at the front end. This leads to a compromise that could, for example, require that an exposed pipe is routed through an aesthetic part of your building or you have to move something else that needs regular maintenance to a place where it becomes hard to access.

The lack of coordination at the front end also could lead to more tangible losses, such as reduced energy efficiency when ductwork isn’t arranged in the best possible way, requiring more power to run the system. The IPD process can help you avoid some of the compromises you might otherwise have to make in quality, looks, performance or maintainability.

What cost savings are involved in IPD and how does this compare to design-build?

More cost certainty can be realized up front with the IPD system since you have all the players on board from the start, which gives you the all-in price very early. By obtaining buy-in from all parties on the design, a significant reduction in construction change-orders can be achieved.

You mentioned facility operation and maintenance staff being part of the IPD team. What does this mean?

One of the most common complaints after a construction project is complete is maintenance and operation staff expressing concern over how to maintain the systems. If they’re not represented at the table during the design phase, their concerns are often compromised. Having them involved helps appreciate their concerns while gaining an understanding of their knowledge of the existing systems. An engineer can design an elaborate control scheme, but if the staff’s capability to operate it isn’t there it might be wise to simplify. You might lose out on some efficiency, but it’s better to keep it relatively simple so your operations staff can run it.

Tim Chadwick is president of Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1278 or tim.chadwick@atce.com.

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Technology convergence is reducing the physical infrastructure required to maintain separate network or platforms, such as voice, data, AV, security and building management systems (BMS), while at the same time consolidating the efforts between departments.

“Typically in the past you’ve had separate networks for voice, data, security and building management systems. The trends we’re seeing is all these different networks are being combined onto the same network or platform,” says Jason Woods, RCDD, director of technology for Alfa Tech.

This convergence might have some bumps along the way as it requires departments unaccustomed to working together, such as facilities and IT, to partner. But Woods says stick with it.

“Be patient. Be prepared. There will be some growing pains with facilities and IT departments working collaboratively. And CEOs should be prepared to have those departments work together to make sure the different projects they have going on turn out successfully and save the company money in the long run,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Woods about technology convergence and what it could mean as companies implement it.

What are some of the physical changes companies might see when converging technologies?

Prior to convergence, for example, the physical layer infrastructure of voice and data typically consisted of two cables for voice and two for data. This required a large quantity of copper cable to be installed and larger MDF/IDF rooms in order to accommodate more equipment and the cabling associated with this equipment. Now with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) you really only need two cables to each user location, which decreases the quantity of copper cable to each location and throughout the building, reducing the overall physical infrastructure required. With many systems such as voice, data, security and BMS becoming IP enabled, the need for a separate or isolated network for these platforms is no longer required.

What might this mean for departments handling responsibilities that are now converged?

As an example, typically an IT department handles the network equipment and the facilities department is in charge of BMS, monitoring the cooling, heating and power in a facility. With IT equipment becoming smaller and denser, more equipment can be installed in the same footprint as older, bigger equipment leading to greater heat loads. IT and facilities departments need to work together more to ensure MDF/IDF rooms and data centers are cooled properly and adequate funding is in place to cool and monitor the facilities.

Also, if BMS is running on one of the networks, facilities will have to work closely with IT to ensure budgets are met and systems run properly. They might not necessarily be used to working together, so it’s a new challenge for companies since those departments typically work under different department heads.

Why should a company consider converging technologies?

With more and more companies thinking green and trying to get LEED credits for new buildings, convergence is an integral part of constructing a more functional facility that can reduce power and heating costs. IT and facilities working together plays a big part in that. Your payoff will be reductions in cost and energy use.

With the changes brought upon by converging technologies there will be opportunities for staffs to acquire new skill sets. For example, in the past, with voice and data there used to be two separate and distinct departments managing each of the two technologies. With VoIP, many of the engineers in the voice department are now given the opportunity to develop or learn new skill sets, such as routing and switching. Now, voice falls under the IT department, so there’s no separation. With security, this is a technology typically managed and maintained by the facilities department. Currently, many security systems are now IP enabling their system to ride on top of the data network. With security riding on the same network as data, bridging the gap between IT and facilities is more than critical than ever. Similar to what happened with voice and data, security and BMS technologies also could potentially fall under the IT department, which is why bridging the gap between IT and facilities is so important.

The time and money investment, as well as the savings realized through convergence, really depends on the size of the company and the situation.

What could trigger the decision to converge?

As an example with VoIP, currently there are still a lot of companies with legacy telephone systems that are either without warranty and not supported or so antiquated that parts are not readily available so they become cost-prohibitive to replace.

Companies could decide they’d like to clean up their existing physical infrastructure. After reviewing its department budgets, a company also could find that it’s financially prudent. Another time to consider convergence is when you’re ready to buy new equipment. Typically the lifespan of a server or switch is three to five years, so you wouldn’t want to migrate to a VoIP platform, for example, until you were ready to refresh your gear. In addition, you’ll have to determine if your existing infrastructure is capable of handling a network convergence. If it’s not, that has to be taken into consideration as well as how to upgrade with minimal disruption to your staff.

Who can help with a convergence project?

Engineering firms can assist companies when they’re building a facility or remodeling. They will assess your needs and give you the best design based on your requirements. They can help ensure the new structure serves everybody’s purpose — IT and facilities are getting what they want and the CIO is getting what he or she wants, which is reduced costs.

Jason Woods, RCDD, is director of technology for Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1267 or jason.woods@atce.com.

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Published in Northern California

Innovations in lighting technology are set to reshape the way offices and factories are lit in just a few years. While one innovation promises to deliver exciting possibilities that previously couldn’t be realized in video projection and custom fixtures, another will provide greater efficiency in lighting that can lower a company’s carbon footprint.

“This will be the future,” says Bryan Burkhart, principal lighting designer for Alfa Tech. “It will be everywhere — homes, businesses, institutions — and it will replace what we’re currently using in fluorescent and incandescent.”

He says LEDs are here to stay. They’ve been accepted in half the time it took for the general industry to accept compact fluorescent lights and they’ll only get more efficient.

Smart Business spoke with Burkhart about emerging lighting technologies and how they might affect business operations in the near future.

What new lighting technologies are you seeing?

Optical Waveguide Technology (OWT) uses new Light-Emitting Diode (LED) technology and channels the light through extrusions — formed polymers — to distribute a defined light stream. The materials used can be very thin and clear, much like a sheet of glass. They can direct the light anywhere you want and there’s very little light wasted in areas that you don’t want it. The fixtures will eventually be economical to produce because they’ll use less material and will be thinner and more elegant, providing uniform light without revealing the source.

Also available are Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED), in which the OLED is created by placing thin films of carbon-based materials between two conductors and applying a current, making the entire material luminous. The material becomes the light fixture, and it can be folded, twisted and formed any way you want. Theoretically, you could coat a ceiling or wall with it and have a continuous path that would serve as a video screen or light source. It’s also thin enough that it could be incorporated in clothing.

What are the applications of these technologies?

For Optical Waveguide Technology, you can have a range of fixtures mounted on the ceiling, wall, or used at the desk level as task lights. They’re so thin and low profile that they can be incorporated into all types of office furniture providing uniform light while reducing surface brightness, such as on a desk. Businesses can reduce their energy footprint because they can produce more light using fewer watts and direct it to where it is needed.

In manufacturing, current LEDs are blindingly bright light sources used in high-bay applications that are blasting a tremendous amount of light down in order to equal the traditional high-intensity discharge lamps that produce white light. With Optical Waveguide Technology, you can provide precise illumination on machine rows for someone to do very fine work.

OLEDs have greater application potential across numerous industries because of the huge push for monitors to be thinner. In one to two years, there could be a switchover in televisions and monitors because OLEDs provide richer colors, truer black displays and are incredibly thin.

In vehicle manufacturing, this technology can be utilized in heads-up displays or mounted in door panels. Light fixtures can also be blended into the manufacturing equipment, so no matter how complicated or tiny that space is you could have a light fixture that can illuminate that area. It also gives you the ability to create custom fixtures using any color that can be built in any space. Companies could do anything from a simple luminous panel to hooking into a sequencer that can transform a lighting fixture into a video screen. OLED applications will predominantly be in the video market, but will have a place in custom lighting fixtures as well.

What is the return on investment?

In a typical fluorescent fixture environment that replaces its T8 lamps with LED fixtures with a control system, the return on investment is anywhere between five and 10 years. With Optical Waveguide Technology, you’re probably going to be looking at returns on investment of three to four years.

For OLEDs, there’s going to be no return on investment in the beginning. It’s going to be the ‘wow’ factor of being the first person to own a television that blends right into the wall. They’re not very efficient when it comes to thermal conductivity — 100 percent of the energy isn’t being generated into light. However, its benefit is that it can be used in very flexible materials.

How does the cost of replacement and repair play out against the energy savings over time?

Right now, if an LED burns out in a fixture, you’re pretty much buying a whole new one. With Optical Waveguide Technology, you will swap out a modular LED source that snaps into place. It will be very economical. Currently, it takes an electrician to change an LED board or array because if one burns out, they’re likely disconnecting a part or all of the board. But eventually, with the new technology, anyone could do it.

What other benefits might a company gain by using this new technology?

OWT fixtures are more efficient, generate less heat and increase the amount of light cast, which translates into a smaller carbon footprint. You’re seeing more projects in more cities that have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design requirements, and this technology could translate to gaining additional LEED points.

Are these technologies available now?

OLEDs are being implemented in lighting fixtures right now, and I believe they could be used for television products in the second half of this year, but the latter will be prohibitively expensive. OWT is about nine months away. If you have a project that’s nine to 12 months out, you could utilize this technology.

Bryan Burkhart is principal lighting designer for Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1317 or bryan.burkhart@atce.com.

Insights Technology & Engineering is brought to you by Alfa Tech

Published in Northern California

Cash-strapped California schools are facing a perfect storm. The student population is soaring, there is a demand for improved student performance and thousands of school buildings are in need of repair.

In order to right the ship, school districts will be investing heavily in upcoming years to build or renovate existing schools to enhance learning environments. How schools are designed will not only affect the overall quality of the buildings and operational expenses but also the health and productivity of future generations of students and teachers.

And school districts that incorporate the best in today’s design strategies can provide improved learning environments for students while also paring down electrical costs.

“Today’s educational facilities are providing better built environments for students, teachers and communities by using strategies for design of buildings that meet the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria,” says Reza Zare, a partner with Alfa Tech.

Smart Business spoke with Zare about educational facilities and how they can be enhanced to facilitate learning while being more efficient from an operations perspective.

What is required for a building to meet CHPS or LEED criteria?

CHPS is a self-certified benchmarking system that defines the attributes of a high-performance school. Among other things, the criteria consist of site and materials selection, energy and water efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. CHPS is used by districts to provide high-performance strategies in the design of new buildings, campuses and major modernizations.

LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building was designed and built using strategies designed to achieve high performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, sustainable site development, water savings and materials selection. Certification occurs through the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED points are awarded on a point scale and credits are weighted to reflect their potential environmental impacts. The point list is as indicated by the U.S. Green Building Council.

What types of financial benefits can be realized from meeting such standards?

The two biggest uses of energy in any building are lighting and HVAC. If you can reduce the lighting, you save a lot of energy. If you can use the natural ventilation system and use free cooling rather than mechanical cooling, you save a lot of energy.

Another financial benefit is standardization of items. Let’s take filtration. Perhaps there are 20 schools in a district and they have an average of 30-40 units per school. If you can standardize filters for all of these schools, you don’t need seven to 10 different types of filters; you can use just one to three types. The same is true with lighting, carpet and others.

What can be done to improve indoor air quality in schools?

It is important to have a good ventilation and filtration system, monitoring devices to monitor air quality and an economizer on the HVAC unit, which can save energy in buildings by using cool outside air as a means of cooling the indoor space. An economizer is particularly well suited for California schools because of the climate. With economizers, it is possible to flush the building, which means you can put the unit 100 percent on outside air and get rid of stagnant air, which can be odorous and contain harmful bacteria. This is typically done overnight, once a month or so, when temperatures are cooler.

Why is daylighting important?

Education case studies have shown that introducing daylighting into a classroom environment can increase a student’s ability to learn and retain new materials.  Students perform better with the introduction of natural light into a space, since they feel as if they are outside, and are more relaxed and focused on the materials being taught.

Daylighting supplements the artificial lighting in the space providing a reduction in the amount of energy required to light the space.  With the use of daylighting controls, consistent lighting levels can be achieved across a classroom or space by dimming lighting fixtures that are closer to the windows and increasing the lighting levels at points further from the windows.

Why are mechanical, electrical and plumbing commissioning important for school construction?

In California, a completed project is checked and approved by the Division of the State Architect (DSA). However, the DSA doesn’t check the operation of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems as a whole to make sure the systems are installed correctly, according to approved documents, controls are correctly programmed, and balancing has been verified, etc.

A third party, or commissioning agent, will verify what the contractors have installed and the overall performance of the systems. We have noticed that contractors have a different approach when a commissioning agent is involved. They know that the third party will monitor and enforce plans and specifications, and verify contractor adherence to design and specifications. I’ve seen projects that were not commissioned, and a year later the HVAC systems aren’t working correctly because no one checked the operation and performance of the system.

Another benefit to having a commissioning agent is that they will review the testing and balancing report, as-built/record drawings, and operations and maintenance manual, including training of the school facility’s personnel. If the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems are commissioned, the District will see a benefit in saving operational and maintenance costs.

Reza Zare is a partner with Alfa Tech. Reach him at Reza.Zare@atce.com or (408) 487-1221.

Insights Technology & Engineering is brought to you by Alfa Tech

Published in Northern California

In a typical office building, utility costs make up about one-fifth of total operational costs. Energy costs in commercial buildings and industrial facilities are consistently rising due to increasing global energy demand, while federal, state and local agencies are mandating increased energy efficiency in new and existing buildings.

Smart Business spoke with Moh Heidari, director of the Energy Solutions Group with Alfa Tech, about how organizations can benefit from investing in energy efficiency in their facilities.

Why don’t companies invest more aggressively in energy efficiency?

It depends on multiple factors like project management methodologies, budget structures and decision-making practices. For example, value engineering is first cost-oriented versus life cycle cost analysis. There is little incentive for an energy efficiency feature to be embraced by a value engineering process if it results in a higher first cost. That is why we need to go beyond value engineering. Another reason is that budgets for construction and operations often come from two different groups. Therefore, there is a tendency for construction to take a ‘not my problem’ perspective on an energy savings measure if it would increase the construction cost. This also happens for existing facilities where the maintenance budget is separate from operating cost. So, when the maintenance team reduces utility costs by implementing energy savings measures, they may not directly get credit for it since the savings will be captured under the operating budget.

Another reason might be that energy costs are lower than costs like employees’ salaries. However, cutting energy costs directly contributes to increasing net profit.

What are the indicators of a good investment in energy systems?

While a retro-commissioning action and energy audit identifies energy saving measures with a simple payback period (SPP) of less than two years, SPP is not sufficient to decide whether a project should be implemented or not. An additional decision-making factor is return on investment (ROI). For example, a three-year simple payback period has around 33 percent ROI and a five-year payback has around 20 percent ROI, which are attractive ROI. In addition, considering the investment security of energy efficiency projects makes them even more attractive investments. Energy efficiency engineers use cost-benefit analysis and life-cycle cost analysis to identify the profitability and to show other advantages like reduction of business vulnerability to energy price fluctuations and increasing productivity.

Who is an energy efficiency engineer and why might an organization want one?

Energy is complex. Everyone thinks they have solutions, but how do you know if a solution is the right one? Companies may benefit from an independent consultant who does not have a conflict of interest and has the specialized training required to fully assess system interaction and integration issues and the overall energy benefit associated with a proposed energy efficiency project. For example, a condensing boiler must operate at condensing temperatures to deliver the highest efficiency. If a condensing boiler is installed in a system that cannot operate at condensing temperatures or installed in a system that could but it does not have the right control sequence to achieve condensing temperatures, then the intended savings will not be realized.

Because of these complexities, energy solutions for different types of facilities need multiple specialties. Energy engineering is an interdisciplinary field with selected expertise in mechanical, electrical, control, chemical and environmental engineering as well as economics and energy market.

What is retro-commissioning?

Existing building commissioning (EBCx), also known as retro-commissioning (RCx), is a detailed tune up using a systematic assessment process to evaluate buildings’ systems functionality, energy performance and energy cost savings opportunities to match the building operations to the owners’ and occupants’ current needs, reducing energy waste and obtaining cost savings. Energy audits, RCx and monitoring based continual commissioning (MBCCx) are the best tools to capture actions that can result in up to 30 percent and even sometimes higher energy cost reduction through retrofits. In energy savings, persistence is key. Without it, a system becomes out of tune and you just keep saving the same energy every couple of years instead of steadily raising the bar. Monitoring-based continual commissioning ensures that energy savings persist and grow over time. In this method, we continuously monitor the critical points of systems, measure their efficiency and address the problems that cause decreases in efficiency.

How do building owners and facility personnel benefit from investing in energy efficiency retrofits and upgrades?

First, they should realize the difference between saving energy and saving money. If you implement an energy savings measure but energy costs escalate, you save energy but may not save as much money. An uninformed owner or a tenant may be disappointed in the results of a project unless they realize where the energy costs would be if they had not implemented the project. It also means that energy savings projects that were not viable may become viable when energy becomes expensive enough.

In addition, as the relative value of energy shifts, the viability of some strategies may need to be reevaluated. For instance, a strategy that recovered energy via heat pump may not look as good as it once did if electric prices go up while gas prices fall.

Finally, persistent energy savings can pave the way for making renewable energy projects viable. The viability of a solar photovoltaic project may hinge on making the load served as efficient as possible. Increasing efficiency of HVAC systems reduce the first cost of an expensive renewable energy technology.

Moh Heidari is director of the Energy Solutions Group with Alfa Tech. Reach him at moh.heidari@atce.com or (415) 403-3091.

Insights Technology & Engineering is brought to you by Alfa Tech

Published in Northern California
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