Case Study – Energy Management Operations Improvement

By Jenny Conte

CLIENT: Major Medical Institution with Combined Heat & Power Facilities

CHALLENGE: Identify Causes of and Recommend Remedies for Chronic Failures of Key Systems within the Central Utility Plant (“CUP”) Operations

SOLUTION: Assess competency and effectiveness of each team member responsible for maintenance and operations, including supervision and management, to identify deficiencies that cause or contribute to system outages and to recommend corrective actions.

BACKGROUND: A natural disaster that included major flooding from a storm severely impacted the institution, forcing it to close for 90 days losing more than one million dollars in revenue each day. All utilities were lost, and over 1 million sq. ft. of buildings were damaged or destroyed at an estimated cost near $1 billion.

The facilities department operates two CUPs that provide electricity, chilled water, and steam to campus buildings. Using FEMA funds, the original CUP was refitted with new thermal equipment, including chillers and boilers, and had a new flood wall built to protect the entire plant against future flooding. Also using FEMA funds, a new elevated CUP was constructed to provide redundancy to further assist operation during and following future adverse weather events. The new CUP houses two chillers (expandable to a total of four) as well as a gas-fired combined heat and power train and heat-recovery steam generator (“CHP”). The building’s exterior was primarily brick and precast concrete, selected for durability and compatibility with other buildings on the Client’s campus, and all personnel and production were elevated to a safe level.

THE CHALLENGE: In addition to rebuilding the CUPs following the disaster, the facilities department reorganized into four departments:

  • Central Utilities Plant Operations
  • Administrative Services
  • ervice, Maintenance and Reliability
  • Engineering Services

Shortly after the CUPs were rebuilt, the steam and chilled water systems became increasingly unreliable due to multiple major outages. Among other disruptions, each outage caused suspension of surgeries and other complex procedures for hours at a time, leading to loss of significant revenues. Client’s difficulty in understanding these problems and their remedies was compounded due to recent vacancies in senior management positions responsible for CUP operations.

Client performed a root-cause analysis (“RCA”) on each outage and the associated failed equipment. Because most equipment was relatively new, Client believed that errors and omissions in maintenance and service procedures caused the failures in most cases. Because of the senior management vacancies, Client had a major concern on how to internally assess the operations teams and their management to correct the problems and restore reliability of the provided services. Client’s executive leadership decided to engage an unbiased third-party to perform an operational assessment and make recommendations to restore performance.

ACCLAIM’S EXPERTISE AT WORK: In 2018 Acclaim Energy was retained by Client to assess the organization and operations of its CUP operations. Acclaim’s scope of work focused on operations, supervision and management related to the generation and delivery of utility commodities to the buildings on the campus. Areas that Acclaim evaluated included the following.

  • Personnel and general practices; observations, discussions, and documentation
  • Operational safety practices, primarily lock-out/tag-out
  • Operating guidelines, procedures, and support documentation
  • Maintenance plans, job guidance, and support documentation
  • Efficiency and economy of operations
  • Risks to operations
  • Procurement processes
  • Expenses
Acclaim conducted approximately forty one-on-one structured interviews with the Client’s staff. The interviews included a survey, which was used to quantitatively evaluate the perceptions held by staff regarding the performance of the departments within CUP operations. The interviews contained questions based upon Acclaim’s assessment of the following information.

  • Acclaim reviewed utility failure RCA reports
  • Safety policies and procedures documentation
  • Equipment sequences of operation
  • Computerized maintenance management system (“CMMS”) task list
  • Building Automation System (“BAS”) real-time displays
  • Sensor calibration practices and procedures

Among observations and findings, Acclaim encountered a wide spectrum of competencies, performance, practices, perspectives, and opinions among staff. Acclaim observed that numerous staff members diligently worked to fulfill their assignments, but also discovered numerous issues in need of correction. Acclaim reported on the following observations, also.

  • The RCA reports pointed to equipment failures of practically new equipment
  • Electric lock-out-tag-out (LOTO) procedures were not being followed. Individual technicians did not have access to LOTO locks or tags which was a life safety risk
  • Equipment was operated with a seat-of-the-pants process with no single person understanding the proper operation of all the equipment
  • Equipment systems were not maintained as defined by manufacturers’ recommendations or industry standards
  • Most BAS settings were placed in MANUAL and none of the sensors had been calibrated in five years
  • The surveys revealed a collective perception of:
    • Average to above average performance of Administrative Services, Engineering Services, and of Services, Maintenance and Reliability
    • Below average to average performance of CUP Operations

RESULTS: Acclaim delivered a comprehensive report, which carefully defined the problems and their implications to the type and frequency of system failures, provided examples, and developed recommendations to correct. Recommendations included certain organizational changes, revised job descriptions, incentives, operating and maintenance procedures, safety procedures and reporting procedures, and training.

Since Acclaim completed its report and presented its findings, Client has implemented or is in the process of adopting many of these recommendations. Recommendations included development of
measurable KPIs, preparation and delivery of training, enablement of intended functions of the CMMS, and validation that complete operating policies and procedures are maintained and followed.