Centralizing Data Saves Money after You Harvest Low-Hanging Fruit
Energy management remains a top focus for organizations that have committed to sustainability. Initiatives such as lighting and HVAC upgrades tend to be the most highly prioritized as they are considered to be low-hanging fruit and a good way to begin. But after the low-hanging fruit is harvested, organizations are increasingly opting for an energy management system (EMS) that goes beyond energy and can also centralize information like building operations data or facility production metrics, and use that information to identify deeper areas for savings.
For example, a company may be using an EMS to analyze energy consumption from various equipment and learns that certain equipment is running when it doesn’t need to be. The company can optimize energy use by shutting down equipment when it’s not needed. From there, a smart energy manager might take the next step. He might think, “I’m reducing energy consumption. Now what other data can I use to improve even more?” By pulling in work-order data, he might see that he’s doing a lot of maintenance on existing machinery, and is offsetting the energy reduction savings by maintaining inefficient machines. More savings might be had by investing in new equipment.
Or a facilities manager might first look at energy costs at each building and how they can be reduced. But the next step might be to look at occupancy data – how much each building is being used – and see how it correlates to energy use. Is a building with fewer occupants using more energy than others? If so, that offers an opportunity for improvement.
“People start asking questions about energy efficiency in the facility as a whole, but soon that leads to questions about how to centralize and use other data,” says Will Coleman, CEO of Lucid, a building energy software solutions provider. “Performance data – whether it’s energy, water, waste or whatever – can give you insights about business operations. You might ask, ‘How do my sick days correlate with the changes we made in how we heat and cool the facility?’ The changes may have had an impact on air quality and health.”
Coleman shares a couple of examples:
- A craft beer brewery used Lucid BuildingOS to monitor energy use in beer production. The company had identified benchmarks in terms of cost per keg and had taken measures to reduce cost; those measures weren’t working. They went on to ask, “How does my energy, water, and waste consumption correlate to the production of a single keg of beer? Where are we being inefficient?” By tying energy consumption to other facility data, the operational cost became more granular, leading to discoveries about inefficiency. The company used that data to make changes in the production process and met its cost reduction goals.
- A property management team for a real estate company analyzed its many buildings, some of which were distribution centers, in terms of energy use. By centralizing energy data and data about cost per unit of production, the team realized there were major cost differences between distinct facilities. By digging deeper, they learned that each facility had a different configuration of equipment. They adopted best practices from the top-performing facility and identified millions of dollars of savings.
How can facilities managers and property managers begin to use technology beyond basic energy management? “Instead of asking what a specific tool can accomplish, ask ‘What questions do I need to answer? What problems am I trying to solve?’ Then begin asking your different solutions providers for help,” says Coleman.
Vendors can help set benchmarks and targets, and help you look at data across different variables for insights. “If you start with what problems you’re trying to solve, you can look at data like energy, water, waste and lighting schedules and start moving the needle for the business,” Coleman adds.
Mining various sources of data does not need to involve a massive infrastructure expenditure. You can learn a lot from basic data. For example, one building manager looked simply at plug load information for the building and found that loads correlated with certain times of day. By discovering when lights were being used, he could determine ways to maximize lighting.
But where to start? “Look at where you have the least visibility and the highest spend,” Coleman says. “If you have a lot of buildings, plug in the data and see whether each building is within the mean. For those that aren’t, identify potential savings. That gets you started on basic building performance.”
Then, consider your hunches. You may have a pretty good idea of where your inefficiencies lie. How it would impact the company if you could move the needle in those areas?
Too often, facilities managers think of the cost of an optimization program and do nothing. “But every building has the opportunity to be optimized. There really is a cost to inaction,” Coleman says. “Start with the base systems in your building. Then decide how deeply you want to go. Using technology to centralize data can really offer insights you can use to improve business performance.”
Will is Lucid’s CEO. Will has been involved in the building technology industry for over a decade as an investor and entrepreneur. He was a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures and founded Onramp Capital. Will has worked with companies including Honest Buildings, Phylagen, Academic Partners, and GE. He has been a leader in clean technology innovation testifying multiple times before the U.S. Senate and Congress. At Lucid Will sees the opportunity to transform an age-old industry with technology. Will is on the advisory boards of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Berkeley Energy & Climate Institute, and the Governing Council of the Wilderness Society. Will holds an AB magna cum laude from Harvard University, an MBA from the Haas School of Business, and an MS in Energy & Resources from UC Berkeley.