Measuring energy usage and cost is one of the primary steps toward improving a facility’s energy efficiency. Without good numbers – very good numbers – the ability to incrementally grow efficiency is impeded.
Last week, Washington, D.C.-based WGL Energy Services said that it is extending the capabilities of its energy management platform. The free tool is aimed at providing these granular numbers and in other ways extending facility managers’ ability to generate the data that will enable them to cut energy use. The platform is available to the company’s commercial, government and industrial electricity and natural gas customers in Washington, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, according to the company.
The keys are to track energy use far more closely than in the past and to make that data actionable. “The…platform provides the ability to monitor usage and cost data, month-to-month, year-over-year and to see [how it impacts] usage,” said Alicia LaRoche, WGL’s Manager of Green Products. “That’s all done through analytics and calendarizing,” which is the capability of measuring and comparing energy use in discrete time segments.
The platform makes it easy to compare usage against the sequential or same month in previous years. This is a valuable capability: For instance, the system would alert the facilities manager if the building is using the same amount of energy in January 2016 as it did during January 2015 — even though the weather was warmer in the later year. Many facility managers keep such records, but often do so manually, such as in Excel spreadsheets.
The platform also provides efficiency recommendations. For instance, facility managements want to have an office building warm when the bulk of tenants arrive. However, it is a waste of energy to do so three or four hours before the bulk of them arrive. The platform identifies this type of easily missed low hanging fruit. It also ties into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program for benchmarking, updates and usage reporting.
The WGL platform of course is one part of the much broader world of energy management systems. P&S Market Research released a report earlier this month that said the global energy management system market will grow from $21.5 billion to $46.7 billion between 2014 and 2020, which is combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14 percent from last year to the end of the term of the study. The study covers industrial, building and home energy management systems. The growth, according to the press release “is driven by rising awareness for energy efficiency, energy price volatility and stringent government regulation for reducing greenhouse emission and rise in disposable income of households.”
The bottom line is that it is a huge and developing category that still is sorting itself out. Mach Energy pointed out that the results of an October survey indicate that the building energy management ecosystem is not well understood by the people it is meant to serve:
The results revealed widespread confusion amongst property managers, facility managers and directors on the difference between energy management software (EMS), which provides low-cost analytics and reporting software platforms, and building management systems (BMS), which are costly projects that physically control equipment.
It seems that the WGL approach may be a good entry point because it is simple to understand and implement and results in quick easy wins. It also can be extended: LaRoche said that there is new functionality is on the way. Though she wasn’t specific, she implied that one possibility is linking the reporting system with the building management system in order to go beyond notifications to actually automate changes in how energy is used.
At this point, the key for facility managers should be to focus on tangible gains. The big picture will remain confused for a few years to come. The reality is that the advent of the Internet of Things and big data analysis will lead to tremendous efficiencies, but they will not become available in a uniform manner. Progress in big transitions is made in incremental small steps that are understandable to users and fit with legacy technology. The WGL platform seems to be one of those steps.