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The Lowest Hanging Fruit: Saving Energy By Finding Easily Fixed Problems

June 16, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

electricity-energy-manageInformation is power. Information also enables more efficient use of power.

Organizations interested in the financial and environmental benefits of energy efficiency go to great lengths to reduce consumption. Some approaches – such as LED retrofits – are relatively easy. Others, such as the deployment of the Internet of Things (IoT) — are more intensive and carry a steeper price tag.

What about just turning off and disconnecting the things that shouldn’t be turned on?

The ability to identify equipment that is using energy — but shouldn’t be — is one of the benefits promised by CircuitMeter, a company headquartered in Toronto. The idea, according to President and CEO Paul Mertes, is to monitor at the circuit level.

A meter capable of real time monitoring voltage and amperage on 36 circuits is wired into the circuit box or motor control center (MCC). This device transmits data to the cloud every two seconds. At that point, the data is analyzed. Output from multiple meters can be combined, allowing measurement of large buildings – or portfolios of buildings – to be done.

Some expertise, from within the company or third parties, must be used. An electrician must wire the multi-circuit meter to the circuit box or MCC. More specialized expertise – likely from third parties associated with CircuitMeter – is necessary to create the profiles, warnings and alerts that turn the raw data delivered and analyzed in the cloud into usable information for the energy or building manager.

The system is commercially available and has gone through extensive testing in commercial and industrial settings in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia, Mertes said. The bottom line is that there seems to be a lot of problems to be found.

Mertes said that the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) estimates that 30 percent of energy in buildings simply is wasted. He offered interesting examples of this pernicious problem that CircuitMeter found. For instance, he said that “the second we turned on the system in a big box retailer” during testing it showed that two of seven air handling units on the roof — which were supposed to be turned off during the winter — were running. The others were turned off five months previously, so the assumption is that the energy to power the two was being wasted for almost a half year.

In general, the tests and early rollouts have shown that what energy managers didn’t know was hurting them. “What we are coming up with are user cases or anecdotes of how this creates value,” Mertes said. “In every case, the reaction was, ‘We had no idea.’ ”

Another examples: In a moderately sized government building in Ontario, the system detected that photocopiers were left on standby during evenings and weekends. In another building, fax machines — which were not being used any longer — were plugged in and using electricity. In a third building, the stairwells were being heated — in May. The problem was identified by CircuitMeter and corrected. It recurred 14 months and again was corrected.

One of the fruitful areas for CircuitMeter and other diagnostic tools is in assessing equipment performance. For instance, it is not uncommon that motors installed for a particular task are needlessly powerful, which wastes electricity. CircuitMeter – as well as sensing equipment from ABB Motors and Generators, which calls itself “a Fitbit for motors” – can measure the job against the strength of the motor and help the energy manager find and eliminate the waste.

In most cases, buildings – especially older ones – were not designed with energy efficiency in mind. Neither was the equipment within the structures and the way in which it is utilized. Finding these and correcting them can be a game changer – even before the low hanging fruit of LEDs and automated lighting sensors are brought to bear. “It all comes back to the fact that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage,” Mertes said. “In all these cases management had no idea this was going on.”

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