Energy Efficiency Through Plug Load Control: Not Exciting…But Effective

July 6, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

electric_plugControl of plug loads, which is far from the glitziest tools in an energy manager’s tool chest, can be one of the most useful.

A July feature at Automated Buildings put the topic in context. The piece, written by Alerton’s Kevin Callahan and Kevin Clinger, pointed to two reasons that plug loads should be paid attention to. Ensuring continuity of operations is one. The other, of course, is promoting energy efficiency. The piece says that 15 percent to 20 percent of electricity in new offices flow through the plugs – with the portion reaching 40 percent to 60 percent in some cases.

The percentage is growing for two reasons, the authors write. Since the efficiency of HVAC and other systems is growing, the percentage of electricity used, even if a constant actual amount is being used, would represent a bigger piece of the pie. Real growth – an actual increase in the amount of electricity from plugged devices – is occurring because of the proliferation of office equipment.

The building industry has entered an era of more sophisticated management. Plug loads are no exception:

With the advent of plug load monitoring and management tools, building pros have more powerful and sophisticated ways to reduce such phantom power draws. They no longer have to rely on company memos nagging employees to shut down equipment at the end of their shifts, or stickers exhorting them to “turn it off when not in use” plastered on everything. Instead, equipment can now be turned down or off remotely and automatically.

An article from early this year at Buildings.com focused on both the technical and human side of reducing plug loads. The human side of the equation is pretty straight forward: A device that is not needed should not be plugged in and one that is necessary should be used – and well managed. Handling phantom loads — the electricity that flows through plugged in devices even when they are off — can lead to great efficiencies.

The piece points out that shared equipment – office printers, for example – tend to be more poorly managed because they are no single person’s responsibility. The story says that naming a “plug load champion” who coordinates efforts to have employees cut down on plug use is a good idea.

On the technical side, sub-metering will provide employees with information about the amount of electricity they are using. This, combined with incentives – even gaming approaches – can put the organization on the road to savings. Advanced power strips also are keys to monitoring and ultimately controlling individuals’ energy use.

There is news from the plug load sector. In late May, Alerton and Ibis Networks said that the latter’s InteliNetwork is being integrated with Alerton’s products. The press release says that Ibis’ InteliSocets are BACnet devices and therefore can be integrated into Alerton’s Compass software. The bottom line is that the system will make it possible meter and monitor plug usage in the same manner that HVAC, lighting and other systems are managed, the press release says.

BOSS Controls said early last month that the city of Pittsburgh has placed a purchase order for its Energy Efficiency Smart Plug product. The city first deployed it during the 2015 Global City Team Challenge. The smart plug can be installed to control air conditioning units, vendor machines, water coolers, city buildings and elsewhere. The idea is that it turns these devices off when they are not in use, eliminating the electricity that passively flows through these devices when they are not actively being used.

Energy efficiency through plug load control is not exciting. However, such use is pervasive. Cutting just a bit of use through plug load monitoring and electronic control – a strategy that is coming more easily accomplished due to the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) – can add up to tremendous savings over time.

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