Everything you need to know about retro-commissioning

Earlier this year, the Hong Kong Government released a new climate action report. They called it the Hong Kong Climate Action Plan 2030+

The Government’s new target is to reduce Hong Kong's carbon intensity by 65%-70% by 2030 from the 2005 levels.  

That amounts to an absolute reduction of 26%-36% or 3.3 to 3.8 tonnes in per capita emissions by 2030

Since 63% of those emissions come from electricity use in buildings [1], meeting this target requires an ambitious plan to enhance the performance of existing buildings.

That plan is retro-commissioning (RCx)

But what exactly is retro-commissioning? The practice revolves around three key points. 

  1. Over time, operational practices and equipment in a building will deteriorate. Extra costs will result.
  2. There are methods to improve the efficiency building operation practices and equipment. 
  3. These methods result in energy savings, and help lower utility bills.

Retro-commissioning is a cost-effective systematic process to check a building performance. But one essential component is missing here: good information

Whether you are the owner or the occupant of the building, you must be able to assess building performance anytime, anywhere.  

Only then can you decide among various options for improvement.  

Good information is the keystone of the entire retro-commissioning process.

We'll see below the four major steps of retro-commissioning and why having the right information is key for each step [2]

Step 1: Planning

You need to develop a plan for two reasons.

Retro-commissioning, for one, is a long process which involves many steps and people. Having a plan clarifies the whole process.

The second reason is to communicate the expected deliverable with the building owner.

For example, it the building already has some sort of energy profile breakdown it will help. You can have it by HVAC, electrical system and lighting, lift and escalators. 

Hong Kong Escalators

When your RCx team has this type of information, they can go faster to identify energy saving opportunities. 

EMSD (the Electrical and Mechanical Services Departments) has one tip to share with you. Start with an effective preliminary analysis. Check out the electrical bills and key metering data of the past 3 years to begin with.

Step 2: Investigation

Before you can take any action, you need to understand the situation. This comprehensive investigation of building operations includes both data collection and physical checking. 

Yet an often overlooked approach is that of using data to guide physical checking.

The investigation phase is thorough. You or together with the consultant need to check every last piece of equipment and every process. At this stage, you're looking for enhancement opportunities. 

Data checking

But if you have reliable and accessible data, you can use that data to identify areas of high priority first. You can then focus your investigation efforts on areas that have quantifiable problems.

Focusing your efforts is essential for success. Especially when we are talking about internal projects with constrained resources.

Step 3: Implementation

After the investigation, it's time put in place the solutions.

It may be a simple return to standard settings or practices. Or it may be a completely new approach. Either way, you need to test your solutions.

Energy Savings Implementation

Testing solutions is like identifying problems. If the data showed energy waste before, and shows the same energy waste after, then your solution didn't work!

You need to ensure the desired impact has been made, and you need data to do that.

Step 4: Persistence

We often treat retro-commissioning jobs as one-off events. You fix the problems and then move on to something else. But this mindset is exactly why retro-commissioning became necessary in the first place.

To ensure your energy savings will continue into the future, you need to control your new policies and settings. They must persist and pass the test of time. 

This is not always easy. The best way is to establish ongoing monitoring systems that let you spot problems as soon as they occur.

In an ideal world, different departments would use the system. This allows the creation of an environment of shared responsibility.

After all, not everything that happens in a building is the responsibility of facilities management!

This ongoing tracking of key metrics is also known as "Monitoring Based Commissioning". It is notable for its quick identification and resolution of problems.

Lok Fu Plaza retro-commissioning project

A successful example: The Link REIT

The Link REIT is currently Asia’s largest real estate investment trust. And one of the world’s largest retail focused REI considering the market capitalization.

In Hong Kong only, they have 10 million sq. ft. of retail space, around 69,000 car park spaces, and a project under development.

Yet they needed to reduce their carbon footprint. The retro-commissioning model helped the team led by Dr Calvin Lee Kwan to reach an ambitious target. 

Their initial goal was to reduce by 2020 their energy consumption by 30%. As of today, they are already reaching 28% according to a recent article published on SCMP

The Link REIT was among the first in Hong Kong to focus on retro-commissioning. And it is working!


About En-trak

En-trak is an award-winning cleantech IoT company. We design and sell cloud-based solutions to help enterprises manage and optimize their energy consumption. Our flagship solution En-trak™ Energy enables users to know where, when and how they are using energy in real-time.

With continuous monitoring and advanced analytics, we’ve helped over 250+ world-class clients including Hong Kong Stock Exchange, National Environmental Agency, and Fuji Xerox achieve their sustainability goals. We’ve also recently launched our brand-new, patented En-trak™ Smart Lighting solution designed to help companies and building owners to automate and optimize their office lights.

[1] HKSAR Government Climate Action Plan 2030+

[2] We have excluded phases related to contracts, and handover as these depend on whether the retro-commissioning is done internally or by an external contractor/consultant.