One of the striking aspects of modern building management is the number of new data tools to which energy managers have access.
Intuitively, that’s a great thing. After all, the more tools that are available, the better the energy managers will be able to their jobs.
It is not that simple, however. Many of these tools are complex and have subtly different goals. They also are not easy to use. Complexity and cost may lead companies to bypass the opportunities or use the tools incorrectly or incompletely. In other words, the availability of potent platforms is only half the battle. The other half: Implementation.
Energy managers and the people to whom they report must create a very detailed game plan. The Institute for Market Transformation this week released a report on the category — energy management information systems (EMIS) — that is based on interviews with owners and managers of commercial real estate property, retail offices, multifamily homes, industrial properties and higher education venues. The researchers also spoke to developers and managers of energy management software products.
There is a danger that market confusion will slow adoption. The category could divide into haves, the have-nots and the “may-have-laters” segments.
The bottom line is that a lot of educational work has to be done, according to Alexandra Harry, IMT’s Senior Program Associate. “[They] are bombarded by options,” Harry said. “There are a lot of products out there but they find it hard to understand what the products do. Some understand what an energy management information system is but need more tutoring. Those are in more class A buildings…They just need a clearer picture of what will work for them.” The report was co-written by Erin Beddingfield, IMT’s Manager of Data Strategy and Application.
Harry said that there is a segment that is confused, put off by the cost and suspect that they don’t have adequate knowledge on staff to optimize and operate the platforms. They fear that the tools would fail to deliver the promised benefits.
That’s not the problem among operations with knowledgeable staffs or access to outside consultants. “We found that people adopting EMIS tend to be those in class A offices,” Harry said. “They have the specialized staff to investigate these opportunities, so more have bought into wanting to pursue EMIS. Because of the split incentive issue, landlords tend to have more control over buildings. They are paying for utilities so they have the most influence over energy use.”
The middle group is divided. Owners and managers of multifamily facilities are using EMIS to benchmark energy usage. Other types of facilities, however – higher education, healthcare and industry – are struggling. “A lot of those people were starting their journey on energy management,” Harry said. “They are focusing more on low-hanging fruit and wanted to see how EMIS fit into that. They are familiar with EMIS but still are wondering what the next step is to incorporating it into their portfolios.”
The report also explores what is needed to make this inherently complex category more accessible to organizations. Those interviewed by IMT said that educational awareness is a key. “People are unclear and asking: Does EMIS really work? What business case can you point me to? Are there case studies?”
Potential EMIS users also would like the ecosystem to be more proactive in educating potential EMIS users. The Department of Energy does this at the federal level. Potential users want that activity to be extended regionally. “On the local level, they don’t know if people are doing the same thing” as the DoE, Harry said. She added that the education should touch on whether startup costs can be partially offset by incentives and other financial inducements.
Finally, IMT suggests pairing incentives from the government and/or the utilities and associated organizations with a commitment to be involved in two things: Education and long-term reporting and benchmarking. Creating financial incentives for the organization – in essence, paying them to be proactive about EMIS – is a strategy that can help everyone in the ecosystem.