Will Plug Loads Be the Next Frontier in Energy Efficiency?

January 6, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

electric_plugPlug load control holds great potential for facility managers trying to meet efficiency mandates and cut spending on energy. There is a lot of good news: The simple reality is that facility managers don’t have to go too far to find ways to cut energy by managing plugs. All it takes is desire, a bit of discipline and readily available technology.

The first vital statistic is how much energy is being wasted. At Buildings.com, Enlighted Vice President of Business Development Zach Gentry posted the results of a survey of 11 buildings it conducted in San Francisco. The researchers found that 54 percent of computers, 68 percent of monitors and 75 percent of printers were left on after hours.

The next step is getting an idea of how much money that represents. The costs of leaving all that gear humming all night is indeed are great, according to the story:

Commercial buildings use 20% of all electricity in America. This comes at a total cost to American businesses of $180 billion per year. According to the Department of Energy, plug loads in commercial buildings can account for as much as 30-50% of each building’s total annual electricity costs.

This means that it can be estimated that plug loads cost business $54 billion to $90 billion annually. Cutting loads by 20 percent – which doesn’t seem unreasonable considering the heighted attention this topic is receiving and the new tools available – would save $10.8 billion to $18 billion.

The attention on plug load management may be due to the fact that it simply is next on the list, after HVAC and lighting optimization. “What has happened is that plug load as a percentage of building power consumption has increased dramatically over the last 10 years, in part due to an increase in the personal tech plugged in at the office, but mostly due to the optimizations in the rest of the building,” Walter Shimoon, the Vice President of Sales and Operations for Enmetric Systems, told Energy Manager Today.

The potential gains are great – but only will be realized if close attention is paid. Challenges, Shimoon indicates, include the number of devices that must be controlled, their diversity and distribution within the premise. Despite this, he wrote, the overall effort can be less than that of a lighting control system.

Shimoon wrote that the easiest gains are made by ensuring that coffee machines, computers, televisions and other monitors are turned off at night and on weekends. Systematically turning things off, obviously, demands attention to detail — but not advanced training. “In many cases, an adequate amount of plug load control can be achieved without the need for an electrician. A good system will reduce your plug load energy consumption by about 35% with a relatively small amount of effort. With some work, reducing plug load by 50% is achievable.”

The low hanging fruit that is available once managers turn their attention to managing plug loads is illustrated in an Urban Land story from late last year that highlights ways in which computerized technology can supplement building design to promote further efficiencies. DRP Construction headquarters in San Francisco is one such building, and the process is pretty simple:

A plug-load management system allows control and monitoring of power-consuming equipment. The last occupant leaving the building each day can flip a kill switch, shutting off all noncritical energy loads.

It’s not surprising that the Internet in general and the Internet of Things in particular are greatly expanding building managers’ ability to control plugs in their facilities. Available products and services include Enlighted’s Plug Load Controller, WattStopper’s Wireless Receptacle Controls series and Best Energy Reduction Technologies, whose plug load management system has been integrated into Cisco’s Energy Management System. In October, Enmetric stuck a deal with Johnson Controls under which its plug load platform will be available to facilities managers and related professionals worldwide.

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