New Energy Management System Reveals Issues & Opportunities

April 19, 2016 By Jennifer Hermes

energycap imageThis article is sponsored by EnergyCAP.

One month before Jason Laros stepped into the post of city energy manager for Tucson, AZ, the city began an energy management software acquisition process.

At the time, the city’s energy office was employing interns to help crunch the numbers on the top 20–30 buildings in spreadsheets. Historical utility data was stored in a database which was populated at Accounts Payable. A/P had neither the time nor the subject matter experience to audit the utility bills from an energy management perspective. The database was tracking a very limited data set: total consumption, utility rate, and dollars charged. Available data represented a relatively small portion of the City’s overall utility spend. There was no easy way to obtain more granular information.

“Previously, our organization had very poor transparency of our utility expenditures at the departmental and building levels,” said Laros. “They were paid centrally and budgeted in silos.”

The number and complexity of Tucson’s energy and resource tracking processes posed a significant energy management problem, even if a comprehensive tracking tool was used.

The city’s primary electric bills from Tucson Electric Power were available electronically, but only through print-format files. The city’s utility partners, such as TEP, TRICO and Southwest Gas, all have different billing procedures and formats. At times, the utilities had to tweak their billing formats to support the city’s new bill entry processes. There were also complexities with transport gas provider billing and the city’s own municipal water utility’s billing processes which took time to work through.

An internal audit yielded surprising results. The Fire Department had been paying bills for energy consumed by the Parks department. The city was still paying a lighting bill for a property that had been leased several years ago. Although the main electric meter had been transferred into the lessee’s name, the parking lot lights had not. At the departmental level, there was a general lack of awareness about the number of meters for which the department was responsible, and which meters were linked with which assets.

Tucson decided on EnergyCAP, Inc., as its energy management software vendor. Laros said that there were three main factors that led to the selection of:

  1. EnergyCAP software was highly recommended, and a solution that all parties believed could supply the city with all necessary functions.
  1. Other government entities in the region already used EnergyCAP, and there was a perceived value in having similar tracking systems.
  1. Pima County, AZ was already an EnergyCAP customer, and Tucson had a cooperative purchasing agreement with the county. This allowed Tucson to use Pima County’s competitively-sourced contract with EnergyCAP, avoiding a potentially lengthy and redundant solicitation process.

The rollout is still in process, but EnergyCAP said the benefits are already becoming apparent.

Tucson has already implemented a bill audit process, including reformatters to import and export the bills between EnergyCAP and the city’s accounting system.

Since the EnergyCAP implementation, the city is realizing utility bill process efficiencies, and implementing audits that had never before been completed.

“Sometimes a process gets handed from person to person and eventually everybody forgets why the process exists,” Laros said. “We found accounts that were paid by the wrong department. We found some accounts were paid directly by a department when nearly everything else went through Accounts Payable. In trying to implement EnergyCAP, we had to parse through each of the processes and understand their end goal. Specifically, we were able to find ways that we could remove middle-men from the accounting process.”

As the software implementation has proceeded, Laros and his staff have been able to show internal “customers” how to log into the software themselves in order to track their own bills and make progress toward achieving energy management goals.

These preliminary successes have strengthened the argument for consolidation and central management of General Fund utility accounts which Laros believes will place the city in a stronger position when implementing energy performance contracts.

One byproduct of the EnergyCAP acquisition has been the elevation of the energy management program, and its increased visibility, in the city administration.

Through the goal-setting process, Laros was able to network across the city. In the process, he came to realize that energy managers in large organizations are usually located in positions that make it difficult to succeed.

“Energy managers are often located at same level of an organization as a facilities supervisor or superintendent,” said Laros. “That seems like a logical choice, but often it is inadequate.“ Tucson city administrators have facilitated energy management initiatives by moving the Energy Office out of one of the Facilities divisions (Architecture and Engineering) into the Director’s office.

“With EnergyCAP, I am confident enough to say that if we set some utility performance goals, I will be able to track our progress from the baseline year towards those goals and provide guidance along the way. Before now, that would have been very difficult to say. So now the city has some goals. Really there are only a growing handful of American city governments that have goals, so I view this as a major first step.”

A case study detailing this project is called, Tucson Two-Step: City’s Energy Management Software Implementation Reveals Both Issues and Opportunities.

 

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