As Darren Cooper sees it, buildings are a lot like human bodies, with levels of health that ebb and flow with time and improvements, and lately he’s found a lot of structures applying bandages when what they really need is surgery. The president of Ontario-based Renteknik Group Inc. (renteknik means “clean technologies” in Swedish) is daily concerned with making businesses more energy-efficient, and often this can be achieved by fixing what they already have in place.
“The niche for us was that rising utility costs had started to make people aware of their energy usage,” says Cooper, whose clients include hospitals, ice arenas, recreation complexes, retail establishments, long-term-care facilities, multiresidential units, office buildings, and more. “There are projects where large amounts of capital are being deployed to put a solar energy system on a roof, for example, that do have a reasonably good return on investment, but when you look at what’s going on in the facility below, there’s a massive amount of opportunity for energy efficiency within that space.”
Cooper has a degree in civil engineering and more than two decades of experience in the construction industry. He was drawn to the energy and environmental side of the field during encounters with “sick-building syndrome.” In a 1998–1999 project in specialty-remediation work, prior to Renteknik’s 2011 founding, he was part of a team that uncovered a severe toxic-mould infestation in a commercial structure, and rather than being content to simply rectify the situation, Cooper wanted to know why such problems happened. “We examined the whole building envelope, which tied into energy efficiency and air quality,” he says. “The air quality [in old buildings] can be really bad or the products used in them are bad.”
The Word On Green
Energy-efficiency facilitator Darren Cooper has found that cost-effective sustainable measures start from the ground up, with pragmatic steps being the first order of business. Here’s what he says about the components of change:
“An extremely interesting idea. Europe already leads with their biomass boilers, recycling waste and generating heat through incinerators. Along with ethanols and plant-based fuels, these will have a growing place.”
“That’s huge. We tell our clients there’s at least a 10 percent energy savings in any facility by changing their culture.”
“It’s not what I focus on. There are a lot of people who try to sell all kinds of things based on the fear factor about the need to do certain things. It’s not always properly justified.”
Through his Swedish partner, Lars-Eric Sjoberg, Cooper learned about ClimaCheck Performance Analyzer, manufactured in Sweden and widely used in Europe, which optimizes existing HVAC systems by recording and reporting on operations in real time. Prior to this instantaneous technology, which Cooper calls “game-changing,” the recomissioning of a mechanical system entailed data acquisition from a number of pieces of equipment picking up temperatures, levels of power, and other needed parameters.
“Historically, you would take the data back and put it into something like Excel to try and make sense of it,” Cooper says, noting that if there was a bad data point, such as a sensor that had fallen off, he’d have to go back and collect data again for accuracy. “It was a tedious process that could take months. You could have started in early June, and now it’s mid-August, when temperatures are different and systems are running differently.”
According to Cooper, many building systems are maintained perfunctorily, the way one might be “questioned, poked, and prodded” and pronounced healthy by a doctor during an annual physical despite an underlying cancer or a heart condition. “ClimaCheck is the X-ray and the CT scan and the MRI and the bloodwork that allows you to see much deeper into what’s going on,” Cooper explains, adding that more comprehensive investigation can mean better prevention of major system failures.
Renteknik recently used ClimaCheck to look at 11 locations for the same client, conducting a physical analysis of each structure’s HVAC system. “We looked at 68 rooftop units to determine compressor efficiency, evaporator and condenser performance, and energy usage by each unit,” Cooper says, explaining that without in-depth analysis, most businesses just methodically replace their oldest unit, then their next oldest, etc. “Some of the units that were 15-plus years old were still in fairly good condition, with others half that age operating horrendously due to lack of maintenance or poor maintenance.”
A system failure could have followed, and/or the client could have spent many thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars installing recommended energy-saving products without the proper equipment in place to support it. “Clients talk about asset management, but we say something like this is more about liability management,” Cooper says. With preventive maintenance, there are tax credits, grants, or rebates that can be applied for that aren’t necessarily available for the emergency replacement of a mechanical system.
Darren Cooper also does what he calls “missionary work,” exploring the new frontiers of renewable energy. But he’ll continue to tackle building efficiencies at Renteknik because small-scale optimization is what will continue to make large-scale energy usage—from all sources—as effective and responsible as possible.