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“Data by itself doesn’t accomplish anything,” says Paterson. “You need to learn how to turn data into actionable information.” Adds Rossmann: “You can write a million fault-detection rules, but if there is no process to respond and prioritize, then you’re not successful. You can’t magically fix a VAV box only because you’ve learned a valve is stuck.”
The ability to respond to energy-wasting problems is the most important benefit of real-time energy monitoring. But the question often arises, how can I justify the cost of this complex system that doesn’t use energy itself, and therefore has no direct return on investment?
For Paterson, this question represents outmoded thinking. Today, real-time data is as non-negotiable an ingredient to energy management as computers are to the average office worker. “This is an essential piece of infrastructure if you want to manage energy,” he says. But still, devil’s advocates may wonder what can be done with real-time energy data that can’t be done with the energy data from the monthly utility bill.
Simply put, says Conraud, real-time data allows immediate action. “This is how we catch a ventilation system put on manual load when it shouldn’t have been,” he says. “In this case, a week of 24/7 operation could destroy the savings for a whole year.”
At McGill, Conraud is just wrapping up a five-year efficiency plan that started with the installation of meters and his real-time monitoring system. In that time, McGill has reduced its energy intensity by 20 percent and its greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent. Conraud is now looking at implementing another five-year plan using the real-time monitoring data to find further ways to save energy, including implementing Six Sigma principles, as one possibility.
Yes, the benefits of real-time energy monitoring are many. And even if, from a cost perspective, you don’t buy the “essential infrastructure” argument, Black offers another: immediate ROI. In his case, in New York City, installing the software and infrastructure in partnership with a third-party vendor (i.e., with no upfront cost) allowed his organization to take immediate advantage of incentives from the local utility for demand-response. In regard to the question of real-time versus less-frequent interval, Black says real time is a no-brainer. “It allows for better decisions; decisions at a more granular level. If we don’t have the incremental data, we couldn’t make these decisions.”
And that’s the rub: The true benefit of real-time energy monitoring is allowing a continuous process of optimizing systems, detecting and correcting problems, and ultimately, saving energy.
You might even call this, as Black does, real-time commissioning. Or, similarly, as Rossmann calls her program, “an extension of retrocommissioning.” And not only does real-time monitoring keep systems running smoothly, countering the argument that measuring in real-time and parsing the data takes more facilities staff time, it actually saves time, according to Rossmann and Paterson. If the data uncovers a problem or simply a more efficient way of operating, says Paterson, the solution is something that can be rolled out campus-wide. For instance, the campus has 900 air handlers, and every one has common information, he says. So standardizing operation can have a huge impact on savings.
“Really try to focus on things that give you the most ‘templating’ ability or repetition,” says Paterson. “This gives you the most bang for the buck.”
Using and Managing Energy Monitoring Data
Quick Response to Energy Waste, Quick ROI Among Benefits