Commtech Asia’s Regional Business Development Director, Kevin Hughes, explains why engaging independent commissioning management when developing a major hotel or integrated resort development is vital for operators to achieve their long-term sustainability goals.
Inside Asian Gaming: What advantages does commissioning management provide compared to the traditional method of simply getting a building ready for opening?
Kevin Hughes: A lot of the time, commissioning is avoided, and from design through to handing over to operations there has been no independent appreciation of how a system is performing.
Sometimes a mechanical contractor or a general contractor will be given a design brief and off they will go and fit it. But it is often the case that the project never truly performs to design specifications and if the general contractor is doing it themselves then of course there is a conflict of interest. They are going to sign it off and say, “Yes that works fine,” because ultimately it comes back onto them.
So from an independent commissioning agent such as Commtech Asia, we go in with a view of being non-biased; we’re working on behalf of the owner or the hotel developer, and the idea is that we go through a step by step process of looking at the whole system in relation to performance. Because of our expertise we can suggest tweaking or optimizing certain aspects of the project. In essence it’s making sure that the facility – whether it be electrical, mechanical, plumbing or fire – is performing to design. If not it is unfortunately going to consume more water or more power, which means it is using more energy. The carbon footprint is therefore larger than it should be.
IAG: Why do such developments often fail to perform to their design specifications?
KH: It could be simple things like a chilled water loop which is designed on a pressure drop, and if that pressure drop is increased you’re not getting the flow rates you should do and the pumps have got to work harder to push the water around the system. That’s one simple example of the many small things that can happen. It’s the same with fans and ducted systems – if they have too many bends or have had to overcome obstacles like plumbing pipes, which is common, the pressure drop can increase and the air flow to the rooms isn’t what it should be. Not only is the system then consuming more energy but the customer isn’t getting the benefit.
That’s all because it has not been commissioned properly.
IAG: Can you explain some of the environmental benefits of ensuring such systems are working efficiently?
KH: We mentioned water usage and electrical usage, so quite simply if they are not performing to spec there will be more water or energy usage which is impacting the environment. It’s quite a simple equation. I know when we talk to the industry we try not to talk about how much energy is being used, but at the end of the day it is hand in glove with that carbon footprint. It has a negative impact on your road to sustainability.
IAG: Commtech Asia has outlined its ambition to help clients embark on a road to net zero. How does the company do that?
KH: The industry is hurting at the moment. It has probably been the most affected industry in the world alongside the airline industry, so there is a lot we can do to help. Ideally we like to get involved early on, so if there is a new hotel build, we can do peer reviews on the designs and we can provide expertise on new technologies that they might not be aware of.
Secondly, we can do an energy audit, so if it is an existing hotel, we can come in and do a simple audit in relation to making recommended changes. We wouldn’t do the changes per se, but we would do the energy audit.
We can also do retro commissioning which is re-commissioning an older building. It might be several years since a building was put into operation and although you’ve got a maintenance team on site, they have been so busy that unfortunately things have been overlooked. It’s quite a simple process that we go through. We can engage at certain levels within the life cycle of the hotel, from design reviews to energy audits and retro commissioning and even just simple advice to the owners or developers.
Because we work with all the industry bodies, we like to keep a close eye on all the new technologies coming through. Hotel owners and developers are so focused on what they are doing that they don’t always have the opportunity to stay abreast of these new technologies. That’s something we can bring to the table.
IAG: What are some of the specific environmental challenges facing major integrated resort developments across Asia?
KH: Economy of scale is key here. If you’ve got a large resort then our discussion about small, simple things suddenly grows in scale. The operational cost of water and energy is about 30% of a hotel’s operational cost, so if it’s a huge resort, well, 30% of a large number is significant. So it really is about economy of scale: the larger the resort the more savings or losses they are going to see.
IAG: To what extent do you believe IR operators have progressed in terms of recognizing the need to consider environmental concerns in their developments?
KH: There has been a lot of lip service over the years around this topic, but I think owners and contractors are more aware of the environment these days. A lot of the big chains, because they are non-stop operations consuming large amounts of energy and water, have set themselves quite aggressive goals. A lot have said they want to be net zero by 2030. As wonderful as it is to hear that, is it achievable? Well at the moment they are way off it, but at last they are starting to think green.
There is also the health and safety aspect these days. We have been talking about the environment but due to COVID-19 there is now a fear factor too. We’ve all heard the stories about “COVID hotels” where it has spread, so now it’s more important than ever for hotel owners to ensure their filtration system and the amount of air flow is all up to scratch.
IAG: How and why does commissioning during the early stages of a development provide the best means of energy and cost savings once a property is operational?
KH: Not only for the hospitality industry but for every sector we cover, the earlier the better because again, doing peer reviews on design, you often pick up single points of failure or design flaws. Once the design is approved and the contractors are going through their processes of implementation it is far more difficult to change and the cost impact on the construction side is two-fold, sometimes three-fold. If you pick it up early in the design you can mitigate that cost.
And aside from adding to the construction cost by having to go back and fix something, there is also further environmental impact in terms of the materials being used, the use of power tools, so that journey of construction is an area where we can mitigate energy usage.
IAG: We understand that Commissioning management is often seen by owners or developers as an additional cost, is that correct?
KH: The cost of the commissioning process is 0.5% of the overall construction cost, but there was a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the United States which said it can save around 14% of the energy consumed by the project itself. So if you amortize that, the payback is 1.7 years. The cost of the commission is offset by the savings. As much as the general contractors are always looking to trim costs – and commissioning management is often one of the first to be struck off – it’s ultimately a false economy when things don’t get implemented correctly.