In my last column, Getting Serious About Energy Metrics, I criticized traditional methods of grappling with corporate energy use, cost, impact and quality-of-service data as tedious, time-consuming and highly error-prone. The key point being that valuable insights are often overlooked or trapped in departmental silos. So called “energy dashboards” do not provide the independent information or depth necessary to effectively audit and control utility costs. This column focuses on challenges encountered in harnessing data gathered from the energy and power monitoring system (EPMS) and using it more intelligently.
What You’re Mining For
Your enterprise requires actionable data for your overall business intelligence. This includes information on the quality of the utility’s delivered service, including power quality event information, which has a huge effect on your equipment’s and process reliability. Can the information you’re getting today help your finance department understand the corporate energy investment? That data is logged in the EPMS database and is ready to be analyzed, understood and communicated where it’s most needed.
Within most organizations, attempts at energy data analysis use Excel spreadsheets. Anyone in finance will immediately recognize how tedious and error-prone that can quickly become. But a lot of companies don’t realize they can significantly optimize here. So the alternative is too often, “unaware, do nothing.“
Working with What You’ve Got
Ironically, mining the energy data that is already being collected by businesses’ large metering systems infrastructure investments can be liberated to gain a clear, timely understanding of energy use, costs and quality-of-service. This aligns incentives from operations and financial personnel by reducing consumption and cost while improving quality.
Instead relying only on the utilities’ meters and billing data, or requiring a new metering infrastructure, why not apply an organization’s existing EPMS to provide utility-independent, revenue-grade, real-time data necessary for true energy intelligence? Besides creating an effectively independent and accurate alternative to utility-based systems, such an approach will provide information on power quality as well. Existing energy intelligence offerings aren’t addressing all aspects of a facility’s energy picture. To truly provide “intelligence” they must!
The virtual meter (VM) concept is a key to effective energy data aggregation. The potential for applying that technology is enormous. It can be adapted to provide real insight. When we use it for analysis, things are suddenly more simple.
For example, when a company we were advising saw the data integrated from 12 meters on its campus in a single graph through a VM approach, reaction was, “that looks so logical.” It’s similar to your first look at the iPhone. Once you see how it works, your reaction is, why didn’t someone think about this sooner?
Energy use and cost forecasting that ties the meter data to the actual utility tariff billed at that meter, regardless of where it is or what it is metering, is necessary. Reports gleaned from the existing utility-independent metering data on energy use and cost can be revenue grade accurate. Financial features should also allow a facility to accrue and reconcile the forecast to the actual bill. An “Energy Intelligence Solution” should also calculate “unbundled” bills if your company purchases energy independent of a utility. The proposed approach is simply a better way of managing utility bills and checking the utility bills for accuracy.
EPMS data is meter-focused, overly granular and detailed, making it difficult to get the big picture. This data must be aggregated, filtered and then correlated across multiple sources over time to provide actionable knowledge. Accomplishing that delivers real energy intelligence!
Virtual metering techniques aggregate meter data and can do so across business functions, departments and projects. It eliminates tedious and error-prone spreadsheets. Any number or combination of physical electrical meters located throughout various facilities are mathematically aggregated as several virtual meter groups or accounts. A virtual meter clearly defines the energy consumption to be attributed to each department, building, project and important indicators like PUE or DCiE. By monitoring energy consumption at the device, department and enterprise level, it becomes clear how to identify energy-saving opportunities.
A View of Energy Intelligence
What if the data locked away in your company’s energy management system’s EMS’s database(s) was automatically aggregated with utility tariff data and formatted into responsibility-specific key performance indicators (KPI’s)? These KPI’s could then be delivered via a real-time web portal to appropriate employees and business partners to view. Suppose you had instant availability of reports designed to meet your organization’s various needs, like consolidating all the energy use in all the buildings at each of the company sites into a single “meter”? Or, a single number that tells the CFO what the corporate energy spend will be for the current month, the aggregate of all facilities in all locations? Some other potential benefits of accessing and applying your company’s big data energy metering infrastructure investment could also include:
- Instantly available pre-configured reports to suit your organization’s various departmental requirements.
- Sharing reports across similar business units or scheduled report generation and delivery.
- Comparing energy use between multiple sites and benchmarking against historical data for best-in-class performance.
- Using the reports to help identify variances and problem areas based on historical data or custom settings.
- Reconciling forecasts to the actual utility bills with an accrual and reconciliation engine.
- Utility rate modeling to understand the best rate to use for a particular facility in a given location or which location would be a better choice based on energy costs.
- Providing the independent data to truly audit utility bills.
These are a few among the host of benefits that can be derived from integrating, analyzing and mining data from your installed metering infrastructure.
The data necessary to realizing greater productivity, savings, risk avoidance and environmental responsibility is already being collected. It can be effectively liberated to gain a clear, timely understanding of energy use, costs and quality of service. An energy intelligence approach aligns operations and financial personnel by reducing consumption and cost while improving quality. There’s gold in the energy data your company already has. Dig it!
Pieter Noordam, is CEO at Alchemy Unlimited, a Campbell, CA-based expert in energy intelligence.