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Energy Management Systems are Great Tools — If Used Correctly

dataTommy Russo, the CTO of Akridge Invested, a full service reality firm that has built, acquired, managed and developed properties in Washington, DC, for more than 40 years, says that the reducing energy use always has been a management goal. That hasn’t changed. What has evolved is the level of success that can be achieved.

Russo says that for Akridge Invested – which now serves a nationwide clientele — energy management systems (ESMes) are the linchpins of efficiency efforts. These platforms have evolved and the number of data points that can be leveraged has exploded. “It’s more sensors in all the mechanical systems,” Russo told Energy Manager Today. “Before, for instance, a variable air volume box may have had, say, 10 sensors. Now it might have 300 sensors. You can see 290 things more than you could see before. Maybe it’s the capacity of the fan, maybe temperature of the refrigerant, maybe it’s the volume of water flow.”

Akridge, which is a MACH Energy customer, was a respondent in a survey that the company released last month. It focused on buildings of more than 50,000 square feet in the commercial, single- and multi-family tenant offices, corporate facilities, government, retail and residential sectors, according to the press release.

Findings from surveys seeking opinions on the type of products that the sponsor sells should be taken with a grain of salt. They shouldn’t reflectively be dismissed, either. That’s especially true if the findings generally track common wisdom.

While the precise percentages are less important than the overall trends, they are interesting. For instance, 27 percent of respondents – a seemingly low number—feel that awareness of EMSes is increasing. Almost half – 47 percent – cited energy cost savings as the key reason for implementing an EMS.

Pressure from management and ownership to optimize operations and reduce costs was cited as the main reason by 35 percent. Interest in tenant billing rose 29 percent – from 16 percent to 45 percent – in just the last year. The favorite feature was intuitive use (67 percent) of systems. Reducing energy use and real-time monitoring both curried favor with 59 percent of the respondents.

EMSes are great tools, but companies must know how to use them. There are a lot of common sense elements to this. Spending money moving from X number of sensors to 5X that number is a waste – if only X sensors are needed. Thus, a game plan carefully based on the organization’s needs must be the first step. The key is to be prudent and not drawn in by the glitz “Don’t overdo the tech just to do technology,” Russo said.

Assuming that the more robust EMS is necessary, a company shopping for systems must be sure that the ability is in place to actually use it. A proliferation in the number of sensors leads to an equal proliferation in the amount of data that is generated. Thus, a cloud-based big data platform must be part of any system that platform that is put in place. The importance of this is emphasized by the fact that the number of sensors is not the only thing likely to multiply. Each likely will send data more often.

Russo suggested that careful planning and needs assessment are necessary. In some cases, devices that are in the field have the capability to generate more data than they currently are being asked to provide. It is possible, therefore, to avoid incremental costs simply by adjusting them. If that is not possible – or if there are no sensors at all on a piece of equipment that the energy manager wants to track – Russo says that it is much more cost effective to deploy them before the device or equipment is installed. Retrofitting should be avoided when possible, he says.

Russo ended with an anecdote about what EMS systems can mean. He knows of a building manager whose compressor failed in Washington. It was typical DC summer weather: 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity. Over the weekend, the landlord had to have two compressors flown in from the west coast – to the tune of $27,000. The building also was shut down for a day for the installation. If an EMS system had been place, Russo said, the problem likely would have been anticipated and the $500 repair done without any operational disruption.

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