Energy Manager’s Project Notes
As the concept of energy management is becoming more mainstream in a corporate setup, the roles and responsibilities of the energy manager have been evolving as well. In order to layout the techniques and tips for the energy manager, I use the project sequence followed by PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge, published by Project Management Institute, a standard document that describes established norms, methods, processes and practices for the project management profession), wherein a typical project has five process groups namely; Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing.
As part of initiating the project, you set out to identify project stakeholders. There may be lot more reasons and motivations than you may think of, for initiating an energy management project. Those reasons and the people behind it may or may not be immediate stakeholders but it’s a good idea to bring them under the fold of stakeholders and provide them regular updates. It will be well worth it to have them on your side of the table especially when you are proposing an innovative plan or when things are heading south. The question is, how to find those stakeholders sitting on the sidelines? Here are some ideas;
- Jump on the opportunity to quickly review project utility bills and supply contracts. High long term contract rates and unusually high bills may help you find energy management sympathizers like the CFO or Account Payable department.
- Explore trends in real estate market rates and cap rates in general. High vacancies, regulations, tax disincentives can all lead to greater motivation for reducing operating expenses. The company’s financial statements can also give some quick guidance about cash flows (per SFT cost is a good metric for comparison) towards operations and maintenance. The facilities department may love your thoughts about trimming down operational costs.
Planning a project always comprises of multiple activities. Besides site assessments, report generation, cost estimates, and work scope development, there is a boat load of documentation to be done. It is easy to get into the minutia of things and not think big. Being a profession which is evolving by the day, it’s highly unlikely to see an energy management firm survive into the future using techniques of the past. Employ disruptive technologies wherever possible. In a world where we cannot fathom an existence without iPhones and iPad, which did not even exist a decade back, cognizance of upcoming technologies and the flexibility to incorporate them in your project is critical. For instance, some of my colleagues outfitted a building with a system of data acquisition and gateway equipment using power line communication protocol as part of their idea of an Energy Management System, 4 years back. Today, the equipment and protocol are nothing but relics of the past because the system cannot be used for real-time, continuous commissioning as no one has the time to use the system the way it was originally designed for (which is to analyze data one day after the event). Retrofitting those systems is more expensive than deploying an all new IP-based wireless communication network and associated data acquisition equipment. Imagine the bad taste it leaves behind with the client, who is all invested into a system which doesn’t work.
Execution of your plan is the first tangible step towards managing energy. Some of the things to be aware of during execution are the following;
- Be aware of the fact that there are certain days or months in an year when certain type of activity(ies) can or cannot be performed. They may not be talked about during project kickoff, but are very much a time constraint or risk from the start of the project. For instance, retail stores such as Staples, Target etc. may not allow on-site equipment installs or testing starting a few weeks prior to holiday season, a building steam distribution system cannot be fully tested until the boilers are operational or put on high-fire, which will not happen until winters arrive (temp below 50-55 F), and a utility may not upgrade your building’s meter until connections are restored to all its customers in the aftermath of a regional storm.
- Clients love your plan B and Cs. Sometimes, circumstances are such that your stakeholders cannot clear roadblocks which are impeding smooth execution of the project. Sensing the futility of your efforts and proposing a plan B to the stakeholders is a welcome relief to all.
Besides keeping a check on cost, scope, time, risk, and quality, there are other reasons for Monitoring your project as well. Some reasons are the following;
- Due to big investments made in energy projects, your company or stakeholders or investors may require some kind of reporting mechanism to measure & verify that the project is performing as planned.
- Disruptive technologies may not be investment ready. Proof of their effectiveness is encouraged in the funding arena of private investors, clients, or government agencies. Monitoring the project, measuring its performance, and verifying it with respect to set parameters or benchmark (such as IPMVP) helps during funding.
If the Closing of an energy management project doesn’t leave you a tad smarter than before, you haven’t given your best. Given the changes in technology, new legislations, advancement in building materials and systems, there are always things to learn and improve upon. Looking back at your projects and trying to see what could have I done better provided I had the latest technology, techniques and knowledge, is not a bad thing to do. A good help in this exercise could be developing short case studies of your projects. Not only does it help your resume, it helps forward your employer’s marketing efforts.
Abhay Ambati is Senior Project Manager with Energy Technology Savings (ETS). His job is to assess, conceptualize and design a technologically intensive solution for buildings to make them more responsive, efficient, and cheaper to run. His profile is on www.linkedin.com/in/abhayambati/
ETS is Con Ed Green Team market partner, FERC and NYSPC licensed, and PJM member.
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