Bee – which stands for building energy efficiency – is a facility energy engineering company based in Austin, Texas. The business offers clients a full menu of energy engineering services, from audits to technical services with a specialty in retro-commissioning.
Two young entrepreneurial engineers from Texas A&M University established the business in 2009. W. Dan Turner, Ph.D., P.E., president of Bee, established and directed the Energy Systems Laboratory at TAMU for over 20 years.
Today Bee employs a team of carefully selected engineers in a technical staff of 23; four of which hold Ph.D./doctorates; while 11 achieved master of science degrees and 12 are certified P.E.’s. The talented Bee team is passionate about optimizing client’s HVAC system’s performance.
Turner works closely with a staff of 25 employees, 23 of whom are engineers. “One thing that sets us apart from our competitors is the high standard of qualification we have on our staff,” Turner notes. As an engineering firm specializing in building energy efficiency, we help our clients achieve lower energy use, a smaller carbon footprint, and improved comfort and system reliability by optimizing the performance of complex building energy systems.”
While the company’s headquarters is in Austin, Texas, the business works throughout the United States and abroad. 90 percent of revenue comes through contracts with the federal government, with the remainder coming in through Universities and the Austin City municipality. Turner and his team have also provided services for customers overseas, in locations such as Japan Germany, Italy and South Korea.
A growing portfolio
Much of the Bee team’s work includes retro-commissioning, helping clients make improvements to existing buildings. “The goal for all of our projects is to save the end user money,” Turner notes. “But it really varies; sometimes a customer is interested in reducing their carbon foot print, while others focus more on how much energy they can conserve or how much money they can save by making operational improvements. We strive to find the most economical balance between efficiency, comfort and reliability.”
The company’s recent work includes a 310,000-square-foot hospital in Alaska, where the team achieved $530,000 in energy savings over the course of two years. The project presented unique challenges for Bee. “This was in Alaska -I was up there myself and it is bitterly cold there,” says Tom Hagge, vice president of business development for Bee. “In fact, when people pull cars into the parking lot, they either keep the engine running or use provided electrical outlets to plug the car or truck into to keep the engine block warm.”
Hagge goes on to explain that an issue Bee encountered was that the designers were probably not from Alaska. “They were probably unfamiliar with the practice of keeping diesel engines, in particular, running” he continues. “The building had outside air intakes low to ground, right by the parking lot. When you have bitterly cold weather, an atmospheric inversion and people leave their trucks running, these vents pulled diesel fumes right into the building. We worked with our client to work around these design issues, improve ventilation and reduce energy reliance.”
Other portfolio pieces include more consultation-related roles, such as the work Bee performed on a 670,000-square-foot medical center in Texas. The company had previously helped the client realize energy savings of $1.1 million. Later, when the center underwent a major expansion, the Bee team was retained to peer review the contractor’s CxA to provide reassurance to the owner.
Hagge and his colleagues recognize and embrace the important role that technology plays in the industry. A particular focus in recent years has been the so-called Internet of things, which ties into the important building systems that Bee deals with on a daily basis. More and more advances have come out each year, providing new systems for remotely measuring, monitoring and managing these systems. Dozens of firms sell their clients the software and server platforms that take data off their buildings. These automated systems analyze building performance and tell users when a component needs to be looked at or fixed.
“We observe that unwary clients tend to be enamored with the simplicity of the software only solution,” details Hagge. “They think they can just plug in some computer stuff and be home free. They were sold impressive dashboards, savings reports, diagnoses. They believe one investment will buy them permanent ‘wow-looking’ summaries and savings; and it will be wonderful. Our view on that is that just as you wouldn’t trust your health to a ‘smart watch’ and an Internet diagnosis; you’d feel better going to a physician. So we believe that there is a place in energy management for these remote monitoring systems, but clients should always have an engineering firm validate onsite the rules, formulas and/or algorithms that the software is using. There is no one-size fits all in energy management software. We advise our clients to be sure their software is customized or tailored for their site. Software supplemented by on-site engineering is the only way to be sure all energy economies are being addressed.”
“We could find ourselves advocating for remote monitoring of building performance,” he continues. “But we would never have a client buy a system without having an engineer make sure it is tailored to the facility. On the Internet of things, we see the industry going that way, but we caution that our clients could be missing out on potential energy savings by investing exclusively in an automated system.”
Leave it to the experts
Another concern in the industry is clients who try to do too much on their own. Many of Bee’s customers have internal energy management teams and try to perform retro-commissioning with in-house resources.
“The idea is well intentioned and the goal is typically to keep costs down, but in the real world it doesn’t go very smoothly,” Hagge notes. “These employees come to work each morning with a retro-commissioning plan for the day. But before they can get started, the phone rings and the emails fly with comfort emergencies. A hot or cold call here and a board meeting there; all issues demanding instant response. Before you know it, 4:00 p.m. rolls around and no retro-commissioning got done. Days and weeks go by with much the same result. The retro-commissioning effort is repeatedly pushed to a lower priority. RCx progress is slow. The cumulative effect is that those organizations lag way behind their peers in achieving energy savings. It turns out the ‘self-help’ approach to RCx savings is a false economy.”
“We advise prospective clients that even if you have an in-house energy management program, let us or somebody else sample one or two buildings, to see if you’re identifying every energy conservation measure,” he continues. “Second, what kind of pace are you on? Sometimes it is better to outsource your RCx project to engineers who are immune from day to day emergencies. Do-it-yourself energy management is okay for reporting purposes and collecting data, but it can be misguided when it comes to RCx. Typically the skill levels are not the same as the engineers who do this every day. A technician might observe performance data and decide on a short term fix; an engineer looking at the same information will wonder more about the underlying cause. Additionally, engineers will analyze the interactions between systems to identify the tradeoffs for optimum performance. The value of an engineering review of your system is the independence and detached technical insight. With no bias or preconceived notion of how a system should perform, a sound engineering analysis can reveal unexpected saving opportunities. Even when none are found, the client is in a better place knowing s/he has done all they can to tease out the last Btu or kWh of savings.”
Bee has the resources and expertise to help clients build high-efficiency building systems. The company provides remarkable value to customers, saving money and improving building performance across the board. Turner and Hagge are looking forward to continued growth and in the coming years, the business plans to expand further into the private sector. As the market improves, Bee is taking on new opportunities to provide leading mechanical engineering services to a range of government and private institutions throughout the world.
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