Energy managers, especially those who work in heavily corporate environments and support facilities that are served by multiple utilities, have a problem: CEOs and CFOs are reluctant to take steps to increase energy efficiencies and cut costs because utilities are not doing a good job of providing the very specific data upon which decisions are based.
The absence of high level current and historical usage and pricing data across the company footprint exists – somewhere. But its collection is labor-intensive and it often is error-prone, fragmentary and inconsistently presented. “Most senior people think that energy is not controllable,” said David Arkell, the President and CEO of 360 Energy. “Our belief is that the easier it is to get and report this data internally, the more people in the organization can help the energy manager manage energy.” He added that the same basic challenges exist for water management.
It would seem that providing energy and water billing data to C-level executives would be a fairly easy task. It isn’t. 360 Energy, in conjunction with The Utility Billing Data Access Working Group (UBDAWG), this week released a white paper – “Transforming Energy Management in Canada” – that describes the issues and challenges of utility billing. Arkell said that the issues are much the same in the United States and that Americans had input into the white paper. The ultimate goal of the USBAWG is to create a standardized approach that will enable companies to get the data that they need in a consistent format.
It is a bit counter-intuitive to think that more data is needed. After all, energy management systems and building management systems (EMS and BMS) have emerged over the past few years to create a huge information infrastructure that provides building managers with tremendous amounts of data. In some cases, they have more data than they can deal with. The problem facing planners isn’t quantity, however. It’s the type of data and, in some cases, its quality. The UBDAWG is trying create a standardized platform that can elicit strategic, as opposed to operational, data. “Hourly data is not appreciated in the C-suite,” Arkell said.
There are several ways in which utilities provide data to corporate customers can fall short, Arkell said. Today, data collection is customized for use by energy managers. It is granular and interval-based, meaning that it focuses on short periods of time. In order to help planners make broad strategic decisions, higher level data is needed.
The data collected today often is limited to a specific building or only those served by a single utility. A high level strategic planner often must make decisions that impact geographically dispersed buildings served by multiple utilities. “They have to have access to data,” Arkell said. “That’s the problem for multi-site locations. If a company has 100 locations, a planner needs all data from each location each month. That’s a bottleneck. This working group is trying to come up with solution on how to easily provided [the data] so extracting information can be done more easily.”
It is possible to do all this today. But it is expensive and time consuming. Thus, it often doesn’t happen, and potential energy efficiency and money saving initiatives aren’t attempted. The end game is to create a single platform that provides all the data. There are a lot of potential answers, according to the white paper:
UBDAWG analyzed 6 potential solutions in this paper: Electronic billing, Utility website portals, Barcode/QR Code/IQR Code, Green Button, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), and Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Any of the six potential solutions reviewed in this report could provide the end customer with improved ability to easily capture and input essential data from their utility bills.
Energy efficiency is an almost universal goal. To make it real, however, long-standing processes and procedures must be reshaped. Standardizing utility billing and making the data produced more actionable and relevant certainly is high on the list of things that must be upgraded.