Energy management systems have evolved as the electricity industry has evolved with digital communications making data analytics, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) possible. And, it has created opportunities for new companies to compete with the big guys. Those giants have provided quality service to clients over the years.
But not all companies seeking energy cost-cutting choose to take the route of the big guys. Taking advantage of the new digital world, a variety of smaller companies have grown up over the past 30 years, offering innovative and specialized cost-control programs for clients in industry, colleges and schools, commercial businesses, and government. Three of these companies, The Weidt Group, E-Mon, and Cascade Energy are profiled here.
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Weidt Advocates for Benchmarking
“We are a big believer in remote controls, but the large companies market remote controls as if they worked on all buildings. They don’t,” says Rob Morrow, project executive at The Weidt Group. “Each building has to be looked at individually and benchmarking helps us to do that.”
The Weidt Group was founded in 1977 and has offices throughout the east coast and as far west as Denver, CO. It specializes in demand-side management, energy design assistance, assessing building energy performance, and prioritizing improvement projects. The company has labeled these services B3 Benchmarking. It also provides easy-to-use, real-time apps for comparative analysis of a building’s product-related performance.
B3 Benchmarking begins with a cloud computing system that looks at building energy use data on a monthly basis, says Morrow. He adds that the industry has recognized that benchmarking is a valuable tool for evaluating building performance.
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The benchmarking software analyzes what energy use should be in 98% of the buildings on a college or business campus. The model is based on free, open-source, and cross-platform software created by Energy Plus, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, and US Department of Energy (DOE) software, DOE-2. It is similar to the models used for LEED certification analysis. Weidt’s software compares the building’s energy usage to what similar buildings ideally use.
Morrow says the value of an automated data model can be reflected in the following argument: If you did a spreadsheet analysis of buildings and ranked every energy use in order, it would not indicate where the problems were.
In contrast, Weidt’s software will compare, for example, the energy performances of a college campus’s buildings to energy use in similar buildings. Morrow says this comparison will reveal that 70% of the savings can be found in 30% of the buildings.
Once the buildings are identified with the most potential for energy savings, Morrow explains, the next job is to go through a toolbox of opportunities and choose what is appropriate, given the condition and age of the buildings. How sophisticated are the controls? Is retro commissioning appropriate? Does an energy audit to identify long-term capital projects make sense?
Retro-Commissioning Proves Itself
Morrow uses the example of a new science building on a college campus. Third-party monitoring was used to determine how the building was operating using remote monitoring and commissioning known as retro commissioning. They learned there was no nighttime scheduling to turn equipment off. Variable air volume fans were always on. While these changes can be handled automatically by scheduling equipment off, it requires the coordination of Information Technology (IT) staff and facility managers using benchmarking to assess monthly electricity consumption, which can lead to larger energy reductions, Morrow explains.
Many times, remote monitoring of facility operations may be impossible, Morrow says. For example, a hospital with a 1980s vintage energy management system cannot be expected to communicate with cloud computing.
However, cloud computing won’t solve all problems. “We’re trying to help people focus on the right buildings,” says Morrow. For this reason Morrow is opposed to legislation in some states that requires retro-commissioning of meters, which would connect to automatic black box monitoring.
After projects have been identified and implemented in the 30% of the buildings on a campus, and 70% savings have been secured, Morrow says it may not be economically wise to go back and identify projects in the remainder of the buildings.
Facility managers are under great pressure with shrinking budgets, federal and state mandates, and a series of daily problems to solve. “Having to concentrate on 30% of buildings is a large enough task. Large capital projects take time and the benefit curve is low. The return on investment is very small on the 70% of the buildings not benchmarked,” concludes Morrow.
Credit: Cascade Energy
A Cascade engineer uses a laser thermometer during a troubleshooting tune-up.
As for being able to see energy reductions over time once projects are completed, Morrow says a large museum in a big city revealed that the retro commissioning savings potential came within the 10% benchmarking prediction.
On a college campus, a 1904-built dormitory using 96% of the energy use predicted in the benchmarking analysis was found to have a savings potential of $4,000. But the college had only $16,000 to retrofit the dorm and recover those savings. Morrow says leaky glass windows are probably responsible for the lost energy, but it will cost much more than $16,000 to replace them. The campus will probably wait for a capital project to replace the roof when it will tackle replacing the windows as well.
E-Mon Submeters As Load Profilers
“The goal of a facility management team is to satisfy comfort while saving energy,” says Larry Weber, general manager of the Honeywell Building Automation team for the Americas, which includes the 30-year old metering company, E-Mon. “Metering in-load profiling will give the owner a view into his building by providing real-time and predictive data.”
E-Mon was acquired by Honeywell in 2006 and is now located in Golden Valley, MN. It manufactures submeters for monitoring and billing energy usage. The company has created specialty meters, such as demand-smart meters and meters to assist with LEED certification points. In addition, E-Mon software can profile interval data, generate itemized electricity bills, read meters, and export data to spreadsheets.
Credit: Honeywell E-Mon
Honeywell E-Mon’s Electrical Submeter is designed to provide real-time and predictive data and, in combination with E-Mon software, can generate itemized electricity bills.
“The metering business in general is tenant billing and energy analytics and load profiling,” says Weber. For example, at a shopping center, stores will typically have different operating hours and occupancies. The submeters will be tied to individual stores for which it will produce billings for usage.
“In my experience, tenants being billed don’t know [how their energy use is affecting their bills] and the owner is just passing the usage along,” says Weber.
You can tie a meter to a building’s automated system, like Honeywell’s enterprise building integrator, or a Niagara-based web station to provide energy analytics and load profiles, Weber explains. It becomes a way to get maintenance people to look at consumption outliers and correct indicated problems or predict problems proactively. An E-Mon submeter can also provide standalone billing for a tenant when it is connected to a gateway.
Submeters Monitor and Bill Medical Buildings
Landmark Healthcare Facilities, LLC is an example of the typical E-Mon meter customer. It develops, constructs, and manages medical office buildings to serve the healthcare market. The buildings house a wide array of medical uses for clinical groups that provide a wide variety of medical services.
Headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, Stuart Armstrong is executive vice president of Landmark Healthcare’s operations and oversees the property management team there. Landmark owns 30 buildings across the country with the typical medical building being 120,000 square feet. The largest is 270,000 square feet.
Each building has an E-Mon metering system, but it does not link up with the building’s energy management system, says Armstrong. The E-Mon meters monitor 100% of each building’s circuits that serve the equipment through BACnet, a data communication protocol for building automation and control networks. This allows Milwaukee’s project management team to remotely monitor all buildings’ electrical use, says Armstrong.
Armstrong says this capability gives Landmark the ability to break down electricity use for each tenant, from physician offices to surgery centers, imaging and emergency centers, and for common areas.
Armstrong says staff can monitor electricity use through reports and identify such events as power spikes. “We investigate and it usually comes down to increased usage or a problem with a motor,” he says. “We relay electrical consumption to tenants, along with billing, which allows the tenant to better understand his or her consumption and make conscious decisions to reduce energy usage.”
Furthermore, monthly consumption data for each medical office building is used to calculate average usage as a metric for real-time operations as well as to determine what a new facility—once it is built—should use, explains Armstrong.
Dashboards Add Visibility
E-Mon and Honeywell’s Weber elaborates on communicating with tenants who depend on what the owner tells them, to understand their electricity use. Unfortunately, most tenants being billed don’t know how their energy use is affecting their bills, and the owner is just passing the usage along, Weber says.
If tenants want visibility behind their bills—say for load profiling—a building owner may provide a dashboard, which illustrates increasing or falling electricity use throughout a 24-hour period. A dashboard might be located in the lobby of aresidential building showing consumption in individual dorm rooms, for example. This information could be used to create competition between floors to reduce consumption and, in the process, educate the residents on energy efficiency.
Very few tenants are sophisticated enough to know what the root cause of excess energy use is, Weber argues. A building manager viewing the dashboard would suspect maintenance of the cooling system was needed. However, if a tenant looked at the dashboard, it might lead him or her to ask questions. “HVAC is more of a black hole than car noise,” says Weber. “There are tools the contractor can leave behind to look at kilowatt hours.
“Connectivity and data have really developed. I asked a manager, ‘do you go to a job site without first logging into the system?'” The answer is no, says Weber, since this reduces the facility’s labor costs to efficiently and productively operate the building.
Weber believes that most facility managers are trained to use data and develop dashboards. “I’ve been in extremely large buildings with 10 workstations and professional engineers on staff. Typically, the contractor is working with the engineer and his team to provide the view to maintain the building’s comfort.”
IT is making the industry more sophisticated to use meter data to predict what maintenance is needed. For example, Weber says the facility manager can use weather data to determine when hot days are coming and he can then make judgments about HVAC checks and maintenance. “The dream and promise of the Internet of Things is to produce data modeling, and meters play a role,” he says. “Using real-time and predictive data, can I efficiently and productively operate my space? If I can do that, my tenants will be happy and I can make more money,” argues Weber.
Cascade Energy Uses Utility Meters
In contrast to E-Mon’s submeters, Cascade Energy uses a building’s standard utility meter in its energy management information system because it encourages the facility manager to concentrate on demand-side energy use.
Credit: Cascade Energy
A Cascade engineer confers with a customer during a facility tune-up. The focus is on optimizing existing equipment and identifying opportunities for increasing low or no-cost efficiencies.
In business since 1993, Cascade Energy, headquartered in Portland, OR, with additional offices in western states and in Chicago, specializes in energy management consulting, engineering, and training for industrial companies. It has developed its own energy management information system software package called SENSEI.
“When measuring energy savings, you are measuring what you’re not using, and you have to have a reliable way of doing this,” says Barbara Dusicka, vice president of software at Cascade. “Software provides accountability and services. Elevating Key Performance Indicators (KPI) normalizes product throughputs, such as weather data, to answer the question, ‘Am I saving energy?'” she adds. “This gives customers the confidence and knowledge they are taking the right actions.”
To do this, Dusicka says that Cascade Energy staff builds up models or equations that predict what the customer would have been spending a year ago. “We can take in multiple variables and weigh them. An engineered regression approach is a more accurate predictor of energy use, and is a better predictor of KPI.”
Cascade Energy’s approach with customers may involve short-term recommendations produced by energy audits or capital project consulting, but most customers are interested in long-term relationships. This involves sending engineers to the site to partner with facility staff. The goal is to put an energy lens on the facility and, in the process, teach staff how to find their own savings, Dusicka explains.
“We’re very much [believers in] software and webinar training with corporate staff. Habitualizing the facility staff to find savings and keep energy savings going,” is the goal, says Dusicka.
When cloud-based SENSEI software is installed, production data is added along with the electrical use from main electrical feed into the building. Energy performance is then monitored.
The Cascade Energy engineers meet weekly with facility staff and study SENSEI reports. “When you look at reports over several months you can identify and share anomalies with staff,” says Dusicka. “From the main meter information we can infer what equipment might be the high energy user. For example, we can look at weekend energy use and see what is operating during a specific time period. Maybe a compressor was left on or an operator left lights on.”
Changes in ambient temperatures can affect usage of the refrigeration system in a cold storage facility, and Cascade Energy has several of those as clients.
A facility that runs different products on a production line, on different days, may discover that product A used significantly more energy than product B. Cascade Energy’s analytical approach allows customers to understand production on an overall energy cost basis. This produces actionable business information, says Dusicka.
A question arose concerning submetering. Kim Miller, senior account manager, says if a customer is interested in submetering equipment, the company installs the meters and provides software to connect them to the energy management information system. Dusicka observes that if you submeter every machine, it becomes prohibitively expensive and you will be concentrating on supply-side energy use instead of the demand side. However, if the facility already has submetering for monitoring, the data can be included in the EMIS reporting.
Dusicka says if only the SENSEI software was installed and did not add staff training, the customer could expect to see a minimal 2% savings. With training, usually in webinars with corporate staff, “you are coupling software accountability with the tools to take action,” she observes.
Customers usually get paybacks on Cascade Energy contracts within one year, Dusicka says.
OSI Rolls Out EnergyReduction Program
OSI, an international food service company with headquarters in Aurora, IL, supplies products and custom solutions for the food industry. It is expanding its energy management program into five US facilities after completing a pilot program with Cascade Energy at its Oakland, IA, facility to help meet a company-wide goal of reducing energy use by 10% by 2020.
Cascade Energy set up an energy measurement, tracking, benchmarking, and reporting system at the facility and performed a tune-up of the facility’s refrigeration, compressed air, and high-pressure water pump systems.
OSI engineers used Cascade Energy’s SENSEI software to assign, record, and track action items, and monitor the facility’s energy savings. After observing how the engineers identified sources of inefficiency during the initial tune-up of the plant,Oakland’s general manager decided that he wanted his engineers to learn more about spotting other system inefficiencies.
Cascade developed a two-day industrial refrigeration best practices training program for the OSI team to learn more about the refrigeration system, and give the team the ability to propose appropriate solutions for their facility.
Cascade Energy reports that as of November 2014, OSI Oakland saved over four million kilowatt-hours and over $295,000. OSI is now planning to roll out a three-year program at five more facilities in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Utah.