More than just a control system

Described as the eighth wonder of the world, the Eden Project is an exciting and inspiring playground in which we can explore our relationship with nature. But what happens when the temperature in the famous rainforest Biome drops below 16°C? Quite simply the plants start to die.

But before you start to panic I can assure you that this isn’t about to become a reality because the Eden Project is in the safe hands of a Priva Building Management System which is not only ensuring that the maintenance staff sleep easily at night, it is also helping the Eden Project to realise some dramatic energy savings.

In the beginning

Work started on the Eden Project in 1998 to transform a 160 year old disused clay pit into what is now a world famous visitor attraction at Bodelva in Cornwall.

The project was established as one of the Landmark Millennium Projects to mark the year 2000 in the UK and on 17 March this year it celebrated its tenth birthday. The Eden Project has exceeded all expectations and over ten million people have visited since it first opened, but despite this unprecedented success it hasn’t been without its difficulties.

One of the main problems for the Eden Project was the fact that it was built to a very tight budget and although this meant that it opened on time and to budget, ten years down the line there has been a number of legacy issues which needed to be ironed out.

One of these issues was with the control system, and over the last two years a full review was carried out to evaluate the operational reliability and efficiency. The results proved to be quite an eye opener as David Moore, Maintenance Manager for the Eden Project explains: “In total we found that we had no less than 49 separate control system operating across the site which as you can imagine was proving difficult to manage and wasn’t giving us the operational efficiencies and cost savings that we needed to achieve.

“In addition to this, we were faced with the problem that Siemens would no longer be able to support the 15 main controllers which were operating the building management system across the site. This, on top of the fact that some of the sites earliest controllers have not been supported by the manufacturer for over four years, meant that we needed to seriously re-evaluate our building management system.”

While this in itself was going to prove to be a big task for everyone involved, other problems which were highlighted by the review included the fact that the lighting controls and alarm systems were either no longer manufactured or coming to the end of their natural working lives and some of the other systems (such as the lake) were only being manually controlled by local operation of switches.

But perhaps one of the most pressing issues came from the problems with the control system for the Biomes (the main stay of the Eden Project) which had software which had not been upgraded or reviewed fully for ten years, was operating on a ZX80 processor based hardware system which dated back to the 1970’s and which had not been upgraded in the last four years due to hardware constraints. Quite simply things had to change.

Moving forward

The subject of energy saving continues to be a very high profile one in the building services industry and many people have turned to building management systems to achieve savings which they would not have been able to achieve elsewhere. But it isn’t just commercial buildings which can benefit from this technology and as a result of the review David was keen to see what he could achieve with the introduction of a control system which addressed issues across the site.

David says: “The review identified issues which we were all aware of, and while it did give us some cause for concern it was also quite an exciting time, as the realisation that we needed a complete new control system meant that we could start to integrate a number of key areas which in the past had not been possible.

“It also gave us the opportunity to look at where savings could be achieved. We have to maintain a set temperature in the Biomes otherwise the plants will start to die and therefore our heating load is extremely high. The introduction of a new control system was therefore key; not only to maintaining this temperature, but also to ensuring that we could make cost savings on our energy bills going forward.”

I often hear people say that their building management system does not achieve the efficiencies which they originally expected. But in this situation the problem lies with lack of communication – not within the control system, but with lack of communication between the people involved in the original design.

This may sound quite harsh but sadly it happens quite a lot in the commercial environment because the person responsible for the lighting doesn’t communicate with the person responsible for the heating etc.

This was one thing which David was keen to avoid at the Eden Project because in order for the BMS to prove effective it essentially had to be all things to all men and therefore an Environmental Control Group was set up. David says: “A brand new, site-wide BMS was going to be a major expense for us and we had to make sure that it addressed all of the issues which we currently had. It therefore made sense to ensure that we communicated with all of the groups who had a vested interest in the project to ensure that it met their expectations.”


The Environmental Control Group consisted of four key groups of people who were responsible for different areas of the site. Firstly there was IT who were looking at upgrading the IT infrastructure to respond to the need for Internet access across the site. The second group consisted of the environmental team who were looking to make improvements to the operating efficiency of the Eden Project. The horticulture team also had an involvement in the project as they needed to better understand how it could improve the ecological set up in the Biomes, and finally there was David’s own team, maintenance, who would be responsible for looking after the site in the long term.

David says: “With such a big project, the key to making it a success was by working together. We are all experts in our own field but it was only through a mutual respect of knowledge and understanding of each of the different areas that we could move forward and benefit from the installation of a new system.”

Decision time

Although David spoke to a number of BMS manufacturers, none of them were able to meet the objectives and demands which had been set out by the project team and it wasn’t until David was introduced to Priva that the project began to take shape.

David says: “Although several BMS manufacturers were able to supply a system to us, we didn’t feel as though they could address the needs of the whole site. Priva however proved to be different and their understanding of the depth of our project together with their knowledge of both BMS and horticulture control meant that our project suddenly became a reality.

“Quite simply they understood our need for a single system which would control every part of the site. But that wasn’t our only reason for deciding to move forward with Priva because their company ethos of sustainability also fell in line with what the Eden Project was trying to achieve and proved to be another key factor in our decision.”

Future proof

With an increasingly high risk that any of the current controllers may fail and thus have to be sent away for a minimum of 4-6 weeks for repair, time was of the essence, but at the same time David was keen that the new BMS would be one which would have a longer shelf life than the current system and which could in effect be future proofed.

One of the main issues with the current system was the fact that the manufacturers of the individual controllers could no longer support it, and that was something which the Eden Project was keen to avoid going forward.

David says: “One of the main challenges for us was with obsolete technology. I wanted to ensure that the Eden Project would still operate efficiently in 50 years time, but in reality, with most systems they are designed with a shelf life of 8-9 years, after which time they would need to be upgraded.

“One of the main selling points for Priva therefore was the fact that we retain ownership of the software and can be trained to use and upgrade it ourselves without any major work taking place. So if, in five years time, Priva no longer support the system, we are still able to use, update and progress it. The fundamental difference for us therefore is that with a Priva BMS we are able to future proof the installation and reduce the risk of it becoming obsolete.”


With such a huge site and numerous different areas to take into account, a phased approach was called for which would take place over a three year period starting with the installation of the primary base BMS that would be used throughout the site in 2010.

David says: “The implementation of phase one of the project by Priva Partner CambridgeHOK proved to be a huge success and laid the foundation for the following two years of the project.”

Phase two, which will include the removal of the current Hortimax system which controls the temperature in the Biomes, is currently underway with phase three planned for 2012 which will integrate all of the other areas on site which haven’t been addressed, including the 60 pumps which currently operate to prevent flooding in the pit and keep the site dry.

As with any project, time was of the essence and while everyone is happy when a project is completed on time and to schedule it isn’t always such a major issue if the schedule runs over. In this case however time was a major factor as David explains: “The fact that CambridgeHOK could complete the project to our schedule was a major factor in our decision as we had to ensure that all work in 2010 was completed by October to ensure that we could iron out any problems before the winter season arrived. Running over the schedule was never an issue – simply because it could not be allowed to happen.”

Making savings

It’s always good to hear about a new installation but they always say that the proof lies in the results so I was eager to see how the system stacked up in the form of energy savings after the first year of operation.

Matt Hastings, Energy Manager for the Eden Project says: “We have implemented a Technical Energy Efficiency Strategy at the Eden Project which incorporates all of our energy saving measures across the site and in order to calculate the savings which we are making we enlisted the help of C3 Resources as a metering/monitoring partner.

“This work has been ongoing since July 2010 for the Visitor Centre and Energy Centre and I am delighted to see that the first results are very promising in that we have achieved savings of 19% in the Visitor Centre (103,930 kWh, £2754, 18.7 tCO2) and 10% in the Energy Centre (519,294 kWh, £13,761, 92 t/CO2) which is based on daily models using OAT and Solar Irradiance.”

Part of the ongoing work to improve energy efficiency at the site has involved the introduction of four small Hamworthy condensing boilers which will allow the Eden Project to meet their heating needs in a more efficient manner by lowering the temperature of the ring main on warmer days. The main benefit here is that because the heat demand is different to a normal commercial building, the introduction of the Priva BMS will allow greater savings because it responds quicker to other systems allowing proper control and weather compensation.

Matt says: “The savings figures which are referred to here relate to effects from installation of the new boilers and the weather compensation controllers combined for each area. This being said we have only recently optimised the new Hamworthy boilers so the bulk of the 519,294 kWh savings here is down to the weather compensation of the Priva system.

“This is a fantastic result but the really good news is that we have further scope for optimisation which should see us hit the target CO2 reduction from phase one of the BMS and the new boilers/hot water system of 292 tonnes of CO2 for the year.”


And finally

Unlike many BMS manufacturers, Priva offer a system which allows full adaptation and ownership of the hardware, software and firmware by the end-user which was one of the main reasons for the decision by the Eden Project to install this Building Management System.

In the years to come they will be able to develop and adapt the controls system on site to suit the ever changing needs of the environment and new developments across the site.

This isn’t just another installation of a BMS because this installation has changed the way in which the Eden Project operates, allowing communication between the different areas of the site to achieve the necessary savings which they wished to achieve.

I personally think that there is a lesson for us all in this case study – not just in choosing the right system for the job, but also in the art of communication because one of the main things which comes from this is the fact that by communicating with everyone who has a vested interest in the project, the end result will meet the needs of everyone.

This installation has brought the Eden Project to the forefront of the world of control systems and has allowed them to be one of the first people to fully integrate both horticultural and building control systems to guarantee maximum efficiencies across the site. In short this system means that they will continue to represent the very best in both engineering and horticulture ensuring that the Eden Project will continue to be one of the UK’s leading visitor attractions for many years to come.

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