Delivering a central plant that works
Barney York, PE, Project Manager, RMF Engineering Inc.
Commissioning is a process that has been around for many years but has been referred to by different names in different industries. The
pharmaceutical and manufacturing businesses have often referred to it as “
validation,” borrowing a term from the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration approval
process. In the military, “commissioning”
often refers to placing ships into service.
In the district energy industry, the term’s
meaning has varied from person to person
– perhaps because industry professionals
come from diverse backgrounds, many
trained in the military or manufacturing.
ASHRAE defines commissioning as
“a quality-focused process for enhancing
the delivery of a project. The process
focuses on verifying and documenting
that the facility and all of its systems
are planned, designed, installed, tested,
operated, and maintained to meet the
Owner’s Project Requirements.” Restated,
commissioning is a quality assurance
program for the architecture and engineering industry that helps ensure that
facilities are constructed and operated
as intended by the owner. Is the process
perfect? No, but it is a giant leap in the
Only within the past 10 years has
the concept of commissioning started to
Only within the past 10 years
has the concept of commission-
ing started to take hold in the
district energy industry with
a more defined focus and
take hold in the district energy industry
with a more defined focus and meaning;
this is largely due to the introduction of
federal and state energy policy legislation
that requires commissioning as part of
the energy reduction measures. It is a
process that can greatly aid plant owners
and operators in meeting the mounting
multiple demands of their complex plant
operations, ever-changing environmental
regulations, world energy market volatility,
record consumer energy consumption and
the need to reduce their facilities’ overall
energy usage and emission footprint.
How Does It Work?
The process is spearheaded by a
commissioning agent – typically an
independent third party to the plant
owner and the design and construction
team, although this isn’t always the case.
In some instances, such as for small simple
projects, the commissioning agent may
be either a member of the design firm
or the owner’s staff. Within the district
energy industry, however, the role of
commissioning agent is most often
assigned to an independent party, eliminating any potential conflicts of interest.
When selecting a commissioning
agent, a plant owner should answer the
following questions: Does this person
have experience designing, operating and
testing my type of facility? Can he or she
communicate effectively? Does the agent
understand the specific codes and standards that apply to my facility? If the
answer to these questions is yes, that
particular agent is probably a good fit.
Another point to consider is whether
the state where the project is being built
requires a commissioning agent to be
licensed as a professional engineer in
that state; although preferred, this is
not always the case.
Planning and Design Help
Although the commissioning process
is different for every project, it is ideally
introduced into the plant design phase
to be of greatest value. As district energy
professionals well know, a central energy
plant is often designed years in advance