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Energy Dashboards that Meet Your Needs

May 7, 2013 By Bob Zak

Bob Zak

Imagine your company has hundreds or thousands of sites, and you are responsible for identifying those sites that are over consuming energy. You also need to identify sites that are performing worse this month compared to last month; or worse this year compared to last year. AND, you also need to know what’s happening today or this week at your sites. How can you possibly do all this? Two Words: Energy. Dashboard.

What are Dashboards?

According to Wikipedia, “a dashboard is an easy to read, often single page, real-time user interface, showing a graphical presentation of the current status (snapshot) and historical trends of an organization’s key performance indicators to enable instantaneous and informed decisions to be made at a glance.”

This is exactly what facility and/or energy managers need – a snapshot into activity at their portfolio of sites. Unfortunately, dashboards are not all created equally and access to data newer than 45 days is hard to come by. The first question we need to ask is: how recent is the data?

Data from utility bills is useful, but not as helpful for identifying current spikes in energy use. A historical look at usage is a look in the review mirror, not a look out the windshield at what’s happening now. While it’s not easy to acquire interval data, it provides the best view of outliers and usage patterns as they’re happening. This can help ensure that unnecessary energy usage problems are identified quickly before they become costly.

That Is So 1990’s

When I think of a dashboard, I immediately think of my car dashboard. My first car had a very basic dashboard. At a glance, I could tell how fast I was going, how much gas was in the tank, the mileage and RPMs. As technology improved and consumers demanded more bells and whistles, automobile dashboards evolved. Now, I still have access to the same basics, but I’m also alerted if the engine needs to be checked, a door is open or a front or rear light is out. The actionable insight provided by the car dashboard is much more sophisticated than what it used to be.

The most basic energy dashboards can be Excel spreadsheets. When set up correctly, these can provide insight into energy use by site, region, store manager or any other variable that can be populated into your data set and manipulated with a pivot table. While these can be useful tools, they typically require manipulation and additional time to digest, making them a bit more cumbersome than an intuitive and graphic dashboard.

Honda or Lexus?

So back to my automobile analogy, dashboards evolve. But the question is, do you want and need a dashboard with bells and whistles? On the one hand, all the graphics and different ways of exploring data are exciting and make your day job seem just that much more interesting; but on the other hand, they can be more of a distraction than a help. How can you get control of all the functionality some of these dashboards provide?  How do you separate the interesting and informative from the important and actionable? You need to decide where you are in your energy management strategy and identify your needs. Everything else could be just shiny objects.

Highway or Scenic Route

I’m probably stretching this automobile analogy now, but I want to paint a picture of action compared to absorbing information. Data is just that – data. But what you do with the data is what provides the value. A dashboard is valuable in providing insight to energy consumption, equipment health and behavior by site personnel, but if you don’t do anything with the data, it’s a dead end. It just becomes information.

It is important to have a solid understanding of what you are looking for in order to find a dashboard to best fit your needs. For example, if you only have a handful of sites and you’re at the beginning of defining your energy strategy, gathering your historical utility bill data and analyzing it via Excel is a great first step.

If you have numerous sites that you need to roll-up into a portfolio or regional view and want to identify outliers at a glance, then a more sophisticated dashboard (like our new Meter Dashboard) would certainly serve your needs. This kind of view enables you to take action to fix problems as they are happening.

And if you have a strategic energy management program with company-specific KPIs, a custom dashboard solution would probably be the best route for you.

At the end of the day, there are dashboard solutions that exist for companies at all levels on the energy management spectrum. You need to identify your true needs and desired payoff and then, just like purchasing a car, test drive a number of solutions to find the best match.

Bob Zak is the senior vice president of facility solutions at Ecova, the total energy and sustainability management company. For more information on Ecova’s Meter Dashboard, please visit: http://more.ecova.com/l/9912/2013-03-11/d753t.


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