In the Quest for Efficiency, Nothing is More Important than Quality Measurement Tools

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Nowhere is management guru Peter Drucker’s observation that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” more pertinent than in energy efficiency.

Of course, measuring energy use is something that has been done for decades. The good news for building owners is that research and advances in energy measure are accelerating. Benchmarking energy use has become more common and is being mandated in more cities.  And it is being taken seriously: Earlier this month, for instance, 94 percent of targeted buildings in Minneapolis filed energy and water data.

There is a lot to be measured. Last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), commercial buildings consumed about 40 percent of the energy used in the United States. That’s a hefty 39 quadrillion BTUs. Last month, the EIA has made available, in beta form, an exhaustive series of charts and graphs that break down energy use by sector (residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, electric power and government by agency and source). The site offers an interactive set of options in which variables can be isolated.

Last week, Energy Acuity – a company that provides energy intelligence through a trio of platforms – said that it will include energy usage and credit risk scoring to their property profiles. The company says that subscribers will be able to use the platform to calculate energy use on an annual basis. Energy Acuity works with 14,200 companies, 2,900 utilities, according to the press release. “Measuring energy usage is important to our clients as it allows them to better understand which properties they should be prospecting in regards to rooftop solar, energy efficiency upgrades and other energy services they can provide to building owners to help them lower their energy spend,” wrote Maxwell Ryan, Energy Acuity’s Vice President of Research and Product Development, in response to questions emailed by Energy Manager Today.

Generating more accurate readings of energy use is possible as the Internet of Things (IoT) and other advances are introduced and gain traction. A generation of new measurement processes – and the sophisticated management tools that will they will make possible – are being introduced at a rapid clip.

The bottom line is that three exciting are happening: Exacting measurements unheard of even a decade ago now are possible. That data can be crunched in “big data” repositories, usually in the cloud. The third leg of the stool is that the same IoT and advanced communications infrastructure that makes the granular measurements possible gives building managers the ability to control energy use just as precisely.

Whether or not measurement tools are cutting edge or old school, the goal is the same: To estimate cost and usage and find ways to increase efficiency without compromising occupant comfort or safety. Three Boston University researchers presented a paper in July at the 4th International High Performance Buildings Conference at Purdue University which proposed an airflow measurement approach to estimating energy use by commercial HVAC systems. The authors isolated the main consumer within the system:

In particular, the model analysis reveals that roughly 40% of HVAC energy cost is associated with running supply and return fans. As such, these results indicate that minimizing airflow rates in buildings while meeting required outside air requirements provides a significant opportunity to improve building energy efficiency.

There also are more modest tools available for smaller facilities. Lighting, of course, consumes huge amounts of energy. Determining how much is important, especially as companies consider LED replacements. A good calculator is available at Bulbs.com. George Brazil Air Conditioning and Heating, which serves the Phoenix area, offers a tutorial in how to choose an appropriately sized air conditioner. A definition of the key metric the piece is Seasonable Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), which is explained at Angie’s List.

Energy managers always measure. The difference is that the tools — for both sophisticated big buildings and smaller facilities — are better than they ever have been.

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