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6 Energy Management Solutions to Implement at Your Company

Whether you’re a property manager or business owner, the energy use and efficiency of the buildings in your portfolio has a major impact on your bottom line. The more energy your buildings use, the higher your utility bills will be. When it comes to effective energy management, there are many obstacles which can stand in your way, from manual reporting and its high administrative costs to perplexing differences in the utility bills of similar buildings in your portfolio. In this article, we’ll examine six common problems you can expect to encounter surrounding energy management and the corresponding energy management solutions you can execute to remedy them.

Problem #1: Muddling Through Manuel Reporting

Picture this: Your company is expanding, and you’ve recently added several new facilities to your portfolio. You employ someone to examine the utility bills for each building and make energy management decisions based on the numbers. Unfortunately, now that you’ve added additional buildings, there are numerous utility bills to keep track of, and your employee is overwhelmed, attempting to manually enter the data into spreadsheets, create graphs, and keep track of which buildings are underperforming, resulting in lost savings opportunities. You could hire more people to help manage the data, but that means you will have additional salaries to pay, and your employees may still have to contend with inconsistent units and differing efficiency regulations (if you have buildings in more than one city/state).

Energy Management Solution: Automated Invoice Data Consolidation

An effective energy management software will allow you to upload your utility bills (or better yet, directly integrate your bills to the software) and then analyze them for you, converting or standardizing units to those of your choosing. Additionally, energy management software can easily identify the emissions and efficiency laws in different regions, allowing you to ensure each of your buildings comply. This is particularly essential now, as many cities and states are initiating benchmarking laws and making sustainability reporting mandatory. Energy management software is able to track not only local laws, but the sustainability reporting guidelines of ENERGY STAR and GRESB, to name a few.

Problem #2: Budget Variances Make an Appearance

In this scenario, imagine you’ve created your utility budget for the year (following the do’s and dont’s of utility budgeting, of course). Everything is fine until you begin receiving utility bills that differ from what was expected. This incident, known as a variance, can occur for a variety of reasons, e.g. more or less electricity, steam, gas, or water was used than budgeted for or energy efficiency projects were implemented throughout the year. Your boss wants to know what caused the variances, meaning you now have to sort through the data and attempt to identify where your forecasting when awry.

Energy Management Solution: Energy Budgeting Algorithm

Having energy management software with a budgeting algorithm can help prevent the surprise headache of budget variances. The algorithm can create accurate budgets based on peak load time forecasts, energy supply market projections, proprietary consumption, and delivery tariff rates. It will also provide you with the ability to factor in building occupancy, predicted weather, and any efficiency projects you might be planning. Although it is almost impossible to be completely exact with your energy budgets, a comprehensive budgeting algorithm can help with accuracy, leading to more efficient business operations and allocated capital. When the inevitable budget variance strikes, energy management software makes identifying and explaining the cause possible.

Problem #3: The Mysterious Process of Measurement and Verification

Envision that you have invested in new equipment or just implemented a new energy efficiency operational strategy. You appealed to your company board for the funding, and now they want to see how their investment is paying off. If you do not have a plan in place for measurement and verification from implementation, it will be difficult to benchmark the results against your previous operating efficiency and costs. Measurement and Verification (M&V) is the process of planning, measuring, collecting, and analyzing data for the purpose of verifying and reporting your energy savings within your facility resulting from the implementation of energy conservation measures (ECMs). Without a clear analysis showing how well your new equipment/strategy is doing, your board is less likely to continue providing funding, or fund new projects in the future. This means that your company might miss out on opportunities to save money and reduce wasted energy. savings.  

Energy Management Solution: M&V Guidelines such as IPMVP and ASHRAE Guideline 14

Many efficiency projects are considered failures because they have ambiguous outcomes or do not directly lower an energy bill. In an effort to tackle this issue and spur investment in energy efficiency, the Department of Energy partnered with the Efficiency Valuation Organization (EVO) to develop the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP).  IPMVP provides a framework and standard for M&V and has become the most widely recognized protocol in the world.  Since savings are difficult to measure directly because they signify energy not being used, IPMVP determines savings by comparing measured consumption or demand before and after implementation of a program, making suitable adjustments for changes in conditions (e.g. occupancy, widget production, weather, etc.). 

To help standardize the calculation processes of energy and water efficiency projects, ASHRAE developed Guideline 14-2014, Measurement of Energy, Demand, and Water Savings.  Its primary purpose is to “provide guidelines for reliably measuring the energy, demand, and water savings achieved in conservation projects.” To determine your savings, measurements of post-retrofit water use are compared to pre-retrofit use and adjusted to show a representation of the conditions if the retrofit had not been implemented.  The ASHRAE Guidelines include demand and water savings from individual facilities or meters and encompass all types of facilities (commercial, industrial, and residential).

Your energy management software should use guidelines outlined in the different IPMVP options to act as a neutral third party and help you measure and verify efficiency projects. Even with the installation of sensors, advanced meters, and building control systems, the data provided is often in different (or unusable) formats and multivariate regression models are beyond the scope of most internal energy teams.  Ideally, your energy management platform should fully integrate meter, weather, occupancy, and invoice information and make it accessible via the cloud to all interested parties.  

Problem #4: Catching Complications Too Late

Imagine you have just received your monthly utility bill – it’s much higher than you were expecting. You send your chief engineer to investigate the cause and find that your Building Management Systems (BMS) did not provide the expected control to systems (for example, BMS systems may indicate they are switched off, but still run at night, or show incorrect supply and return temperatures and quantities of recirculation). Now you know what caused your utility bill to jump, but what if you could have caught the issue sooner, thus preventing the high bill and the questions from your administrators?

Energy Management Solution: Real-Time Data Monitoring

Real-time data monitoring involves having an energy management system that collects data from meter companies like eGauge and Accuenergy. The daily (or hourly, or in 15-minute intervals) data from your meters are then sent to the energy management system, which can:

  • Provide an overview of your meter’s interval data in the respective intervals, which can be viewed by current day, week, year, or any selected timeframe, such as “Billing Period”
  • Graph the average usage per day for the past 12 months – broken down by summer, winter, or shoulder months

These functions ensure daily usages are meeting expectations (e.g. lower usage on weekends and holidays vs. business days), and if they are not, any anomalies are easy to spot. Now, if an issue arises, you will be able to fix it immediately – no more unpleasant surprises on your utility bills.

Problem #5:  Some Buildings are More Efficient than Others

In his novel Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” When it comes to energy management, all your buildings might be efficient, but what should you do if some buildings are more efficient than others? First, you need to determine what is causing similar properties in the same region to perform differently (this is particularly important if you live in a city/state that requires your buildings to meet specific efficiency standards). Next, you need to address the problem so that all your buildings are operating at maximum efficiency. Doing these tasks manually can be complicated, since you are forced to examine individual data sets, building systems, and local regulations.

Energy Management Solution: Energy Benchmarking

Energy benchmarking involves measuring the efficiency of your buildings against each other, against similar “model” buildings, or against national efficiency guidelines like those of ENERGY STAR and GRESB.  Your energy management software should contain a benchmarking module which shows you graphs comparing your buildings’ efficiency to that of others. It should also be able to identify problem areas, such as inefficient appliances or heating/cooling systems. The more efficiently the buildings run, the more money you will save. It’s also worth noting that, in light of the global climate crisis, investors and consumers value energy efficiency more than ever, and are more likely to do business with an efficient company. Using benchmarking to ensure your buildings are equally efficient is a win-win for everyone.

Problem #6: Planning for Peak Load Times

Imagine it’s the hottest day of the summer, and all over your city, commuters are heading into their offices. Air conditioning systems are firing up and monitors are switched on. Today will be a peak load time, when the most energy is demanded from the grid. Your peak load contribution (PLC) is determined by your company’s contribution to the grid at the peak load hour.  It is calculated depending on how much electricity your building(s) demand when the grid is peaking.  Your PLC is used by utility companies to indicate how much generation they will need to keep up with demand and prevent shortages in the future.  Since you are billed for both the energy you consume and the energy that must to be available to meet your account’s demand, it is vital to manage your PLC and plan for peak load times. If you are not anticipating when peak hours will occur, you’re running the risk of:

  • Not having enough power allocated
  • Being charged for your extra usage
  • Receiving a PLC tag that will increase your utility bills for the consequential year
  • Having unresolved inefficiencies in your building that could waste valuable energy during the peak time

All these risks lead to higher electricity bills and – you guessed it – affect your bottom line.

Energy Management Solution: Peak Load Notifications

Staying abreast of peak load hours and your PLC is infinitely easier with energy management software. Your platform should provide you with predictive analytics to alert you when peak load hours are likely to occur, e.g. during working hours on the warmest or coldest days of the year. Now that the country is in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, peak load hours have shifted from the morning to the early and late afternoon, and peak loads are concentrated around residential buildings (since many office buildings are now largely vacant). Energy management software can help you track, measure, and verify the performance of your peak load management efforts, as well as identify areas of inefficiency in your buildings that might waste energy during peak times.

What You Can Do Now

It is interesting to note that many of the problems discussed above are interconnected. Real-time data monitoring can help you catch issues which effect energy use during peak load times or keep one of your buildings from operating as efficiently as other buildings you benchmark against. Measurement and verification can be essential for implementing efficiency projects that you identified as necessary through benchmarking. Finally, all of the energy management solutions are centered around utilizing a strong energy management platform. EnergyWatch’s watchwire software provides you with all the services discussed above, and more. For more information about watchwire’s capabilities, download the 2020 watchwire solution brief.