Energy Efficiency Goal for 2016: Bridge the Knowledge Gap

December 24, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

control_roomThe high level takeaway from research conducted by Digital Lumens and Peerless Research Group is that facility managers understand how important efficiency efforts are and have a good idea of what they want to accomplish – but haven’t yet figured out how to achieve those goals.

There always is a gap between the time that an industry accepts a new approach and technology and when it filters down into the actual day to day operational procedures of technicians in the field. This is especially true in the case of energy efficiency because the new approaches rely on the Internet of Things (IoT) and other technologies that are from outside its realm.

The reality that the new year will dawn with a gap between what industry leaders advocate and the awareness of people in the field is clearly illustrated in the study, which is based upon responses from 230 facility managers of warehouse and distribution centers with an average of 330,000 square feet:

  • Ninety-three percent said that “understanding energy consumption is a top priority for their business” – but only 29 percent are fully aware of how much power their building consumes.
  • Only 20 percent of managers are very familiar with IoT concept – but 48 percent are thinking about, planning or implementing and IoT-based strategy.

Taken together the numbers suggest a confusing landscape. How, for instance, can almost half of respondents be on the road to employing IoT technology, while only 20 percent are aware of it? That, on the surface, doesn’t make much sense. However, it speaks to the bigger issue: There is a lot of confusion among managers. It also suggests that current events involving energy efficiency issues – the push for renewable sources, COP21, aggressive federal moves and others – is making an impression on managers and ownership while the specifics of actually moving buildings in that direction still are vague.

The finding that more than nine of ten managers understand the importance of energy consumption while less than three in 10 know what it is in their facility is especially telling. “Everybody wants to be in boat, but they are not all in the boat yet,” said Allison Parker, Digital Lumens’ Director of Marketing.

This suggests that the focus of the year ahead may be filling in the details – some of which are basic. “Interesting but not surprising to me was the low number of respondents who had specific data on the energy intensity per square foot in operations,” Parker said. “That’s a really important number. To me, it means that there is a tremendous opportunity to instrument facilities, get more data and improve overall efficiency.”

The confusion also was identified in survey results released in October by Mach Energy. The firm found that the 800 commercial building professionals who responded are struggling, at least with terminology:

The results revealed widespread confusion amongst property managers, facility managers and directors on the difference between energy management software (EMS), which provides low-cost analytics and reporting software platforms, and building management systems (BMS), which are costly projects that physically control equipment.

The confusion isn’t only about technology. The financial structures also must be fleshed out. Parker said that a key step is financial analysis. She told Energy Manager Today that building managers tend to rely on return on investment (ROI) analysis and bypass the broader and more comprehensive total cost of ownership (TCO) metrics.

The use of TCO may not grow, however. Ron Vokoun, the Director of Mission Critical Design at RK Mission Critical, in late December posted his predictions for the data center industry at DataCenter Dynamics. Growth of TCO measures wasn’t one of them, at least at the design stage:

In 2016, TCO will actually lose ground in data center design consideration. It defies logic, but I have witnessed a movement back toward pure capex driven decisions over considerations of energy efficiency, accelerated depreciation, and other financial factors. This seems to be more prevalent with enterprises, but I have seen examples across market sectors. Kudos to those enlightened souls that understand the benefits to be gained for years to come.

The gap revealed in the Digital Lumens research between what experts say about energy efficiency and what is happening in the field is not surprising. Things are changing quickly, and 2016 clearly will be an important one in efforts to make the lofty goals into action.

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