Getting Serious About Energy Metrics

Bridging the gap between collecting data and really knowing what you’re paying for.

As energy costs continue to rise and the pressure to become more environmentally friendly continues to mount, businesses are increasingly looking for ways to use energy more efficiently, lower carbon impact and reduce energy spending. Traditional methods for understanding a company’s energy use and costs don’t provide the actionable information necessary to make informed decisions that will result in the desired changes. Existing energy use data must be captured with the granularity necessary to enable effective financial control, forecasting and allocation of utility costs. This data must also be accurately and reproducibly delivered in real time.

The Shape of the Problem

Government and shareholder-mandated improvement indicators are driving the need for visibility into energy efficiency and reliability. Unfortunately, the EMS/BMS data that is being collected is siloed. All this big data isn’t answering essential questions about the corporate energy picture:

  • How much will the bill be at the end of the month?
  • How reliable is our power? What impact does it have on our operations?
  • Are our suppliers performing to service level agreements?
  • Are we using energy efficiently?
  • What’s the ROI on last year’s energy project?
  • What’s the impact of changing utility providers?

Existing “energy intelligence” offerings rely merely on utilities’ meters and billing data, repackaging the utility provided data. Existing energy “dashboards” cannot accurately confirm utility billing data or performance. These “dashboards” make nice graphics but offer no viable means to truly audit utility bills and performance.

Advanced software systems now focus on myriad business functions—from manufacturing processes to sales and marketing—tracking and analyzing data and increasing productivity. Yet the billions of dollars spent annually by US enterprises on energy costs remain untamed, thanks to the fragmented state of energy management, decentralized decision-making and a disjointed vendor landscape. A fresh, more highly integrated approach is necessary.

Mining Your Own Gold

Why not apply an organization’s existing energy and power monitoring system’s (EPMS) to provide utility-independent, revenue-grade*, real-time data necessary for a true energy intelligence solution? Besides creating a truly independent and accurate alternative to utility-based systems, such an approach will provide information on quality of service by utilizing the quality data sophisticated meters collect.

The essential energy data is already being collected by independent revenue-grade metering systems; however, it is confusingly “meter focused,” making it nearly impossible to get the big picture view you need. What if this data were “liberated,” so that you could gain a clear, timely understanding of energy use, costs and quality of service. What I’m advocating is quite simply leveraging a company’s already very substantial energy data capture investment. There’s a clear opportunity for transforming the wealth of energy data into “golden” answers that can help businesses improve in a variety of ways. When correctly applied, not only does it answer the questions outlined above, it also quantifies information and helps large users, such as data centers, industrial manufacturing, institutional, commercial or government entities save money and devise optimal solutions.

Creating an Energy Use Vision

To leverage your data in this way, you need software tools to analyze data from existing meters, EMS, and BMS installations and then index that data with a centralized report server. With that in place, an analytics system can deliver customized reports that are accessible anywhere, anytime. With such a system in play, all these highly desirable analytical benefits and more become available:

  • Forecasting – Know what your energy use and costs will be long before you get the bills.
  • Efficiency – Understand what you are paying for and develop strategies to lower costs and be more efficient.
  • Share – Provide easily accessible, actionable energy related information across business functions.
  • Accountability – Provide an independent source of accurate data to enable you to truly audit utility bills and hold suppliers accountable for quality of service.
  • Aggregation – Get the big picture view with the granularity of data you wish. Understand energy use and cost by facility, region, project, department or product.

Beyond Metering & Management

“Energy Management” typically implies a system controlling things based on rules or events. “Energy Intelligence” is about providing actionable information to develop those rules or make intelligent decisions regarding energy use, costs and quality of service. Business must access the information to make decisions based on good data.

While an EPMS does an effective job of gathering energy related data, unlocking the benefits of all that data is a considerable challenge that’s not being met. The EPMS’ data is meter-focused, highly granular and detailed, making it difficult to create an enterprise-wide picture. Data must be aggregated, filtered, correlated and then analyzed across multiple sources over time, presenting informative, actionable knowledge. That’s energy intelligence!

Pieter Noordam is CEO at Alchemy Unlimited, a Campbell, California-based expert in energy intelligence.

*Note: All metering systems are not revenue-grade.

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