Preparedness in Energy Management: Part 3
This is the third and final part of our “Preparedness in Energy Management” blog series overviewing the three critical pillars of strategic energy management.
- People: Who is managing energy?
- Processes: How is energy managed?
- Technology: What do we manage energy with?
In this blog, we will highlight the importance of modern technology as it relates to managing energy.
A sunset is nothing more and nothing less than the backside of a sunrise.
As the “sun sets” on our blog series in Preparedness, the “sunrise” begins for your organization in better energy management. It’s only cheesy because it’s true! Today we will discuss the final pillar of Preparedness in Energy Management – Technology. Tomorrow you will put these pillars into practice (if not already.)
Though technology can reference many, many things, we (obviously) want to narrow the scope and discuss technologies to help you and your organization best steward your energy resources. As building operators, you know the “world” of technology is vast, ever-adapting, and can feel overwhelming. (You likely receive dozens of calls per week from vendors informing you of their newest technologies.) At the same time, this is good! Case-in-point: we no longer use blocks of ice to cool buildings. The challenge, then, is to cut through the noise and identify the best technologies. Not just in the industry, but for your organization. Ie. Solar may yield great returns on your building in the Nevada desert, but is it the best technology for your office space in downtown Seattle? Maybe, maybe not. The good news is: you have options.
Diving in, we will look at two main spheres of technology: Hardware and Software. As a simple definition - Hardware being physical technologies like mechanical assets, metering devices, sensors, etc. Software being technology that analyses and reports on energy data like Brightly’s Energy Manager.
As mentioned above, there is a lot we could talk about in the hardware space. However, let’s use our time to discuss core technologies – foundational hardware – that your organization should consider in the context of preparedness.
1. Assets and Infrastructure
For brevity’s sake, let’s consider asset and infrastructure through the lens of sustainability, or resiliency, versus reviewing a list of products (those resources do exist, however). What we mean, is: Does your organization have a Strategic Asset Replacement Strategy that considers multiple end-goals in its scope? Strategies that factor in things like: Indoor Air Quality mandates, energy and carbon reduction goals, etc. During a recent webinar, Brightly explored the reality that good energy management necessarily entails good asset management. That means having a plan in place to phase out fluorescent lighting with LED, standardizing motor replacements with high-efficiency motors, setting minimum SEER ratings for new HVAC equipment, etc. Award winning energy management strategies would be far easier with unlimited funding, but this reality doesn’t exist. Therefore, it’s critical that your organization has a strategic capital planning process that most effectively maximizes your budget to sustainably retrofit existing buildings. According to the Building Efficiency Initiative and Lawrence Berkely Laboratory, payback on retro-commissioning existing buildings can range from 0.2 – 2.1 years with savings reaching 15%. Your asset and infrastructure plan should include (at minimum):
- Motors, Pumps, Drives
- Compressed Air
- Building Envelope
*A brief note on renewables. We could (and maybe should!) devote an entire blog piece on renewables. For the sake of this article, we will simply note that any retro-commission or new building plan should consider the financial feasibility of on-site or green purchase renewable energy sources.
2. Building Automation (BAS)
Arguably some of the most exciting developments we see in the energy industry are the improvements made in building automation. The ability for an employee to scan an access badge to enter a building, and have their office “prepared” to their desired temperature and lighting comforts as they are riding the elevator can turn any Monday into Fun-day, right? Now, you might be asking, “Wait? Isn’t BAS software not hardware?” Well, yes and yes! BAS is really the best of both worlds. Let’s use BAS as the bridge for the sake of this article. From a hardware perspective, you’ll have things like: occupancy sensors, temperature and humidity sensors, sub-metering devices (hopefully) and the like. These pieces of hardware are what allow the software to control the building. You know this. Yet still, in December of 2021, many organizations only have a portion of their building portfolios controlled via Building Automation – some have no control other than a light switch on every wall and a thermostat in the hallways. Yes, the initial installation of BAS is quite costly, but as the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reports, “30–50% savings in existing buildings” can be realized. With this opportunity it becomes a simple math equation, really. Your job will be to work with your leadership to develop the multi-year plan to move all of your buildings onto BAS, starting with your heaviest loads first.
3. Building Automation (BAS)
No, this sub-section isn’t a typo. We’re simply looking at the software side to BAS. Now, the obvious value of BAS is in the scheduling of building systems. Occupancy equals energy usage, right? So, simply put, BAS schedules allow building operators to program when their systems come “online.” This is critical, as it effectively eliminates the human error of “forgetting to turn the lights off again.” We say “effectively eliminates” because we all have stories of the schedules getting placed in over-ride, and not returned properly. This brings us to the applicability of alarm settings in your BAS, namely, USE THEM! You might be thinking at this point, “have you ever gotten 100 notifications when your BAS is 1-point out of parameter? THAT’S why I don’t use alarms – it’s the digital equivalent of the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf!’” Fair point – though at minimum we suggest you configure alarms for un-occupied times, weekends, and holidays. In the meantime, work with your Controls vendor to more accurately program occupied-time alarms – you don’t want to miss alarms for short-cycling, simultaneous heating and cooling, or damper failures. Finally, in the realm of BAS software, consider investing in sub-meters and the subsequent data trending they provide. This is especially valuable if your building usage correlates to revenue generation (Event Venues, Commercial Real-Estate with tenants, multi-family housing, etc.). Sub-metering allows you as the building operator to recover utility costs through rental or ticket rates more accurately, as well as pin-point abnormal usage trends on the nose. Much more could be said about BAS software, yet this serves as a solid introduction.
4. Energy Information Systems (EIS)
In this pandemic-era, we’ve seen immense pressure placed on organizations to track, report on, and ultimately attempt to recover losses from higher operational costs. Fuel costs are higher, extreme weather conditions are becoming common place, and Indoor Air Quality mandates are overloading HVAC assets not designed for the increased load. All of these factors play a role in your utility costs. Add to this, many global governments and organizations are mandating sustainability goals to impact climate concerns. The snowball is becoming a snow-boulder, and you as the building operator are being asked to push it back uphill. Yet, as the late Mr. (Fred) Rogers always said, “Anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.” Or, said in “software-lingo,” – “If you can measure it, you can manage it!” This is the power of Energy Information Systems. These systems, like the above linked “Energy Manager” by Brightly, allows your organization to collect, trend, and report on data from a host of sources like:
- Utility Bills
- Carbon Emissions
- Capital Projects
- Weather Stations
- Tenants and Occupants
EIS programs greatly reduce the administrative burden of data collection and executive year-end reporting. Brightly's clients utilizing our Utility Bill Population service saw an additional 5% savings versus clients who manually collect this information in-house. The bottom line? Start tracking this data. For additional tips, review a recent IFMA publication on leveraging Big Data for Success.
And now we conclude our series on Preparedness in Energy Management. You have learned how people are your greatest resource, so empower them well. You have learned that having a defined process for energy management will prevent your organization from making “gut-feel” decisions, so take the time to establish your process. Finally, you have learned that technology is your friend, so invest well, and know that you are prepared!