Using and Managing Energy Monitoring Data
Part 1 of 3-part article on keys to setting up a real-time energy monitoring system
Yes, it’s true that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. But it’s time to attach an addendum to that tried-and-truism. It’s this: You can’t manage what you do measure, but don’t have a plan in place to act upon. These days it’s easier to collect massive amounts of data than ever before, but if there’s no strategy for how to use that data, having unmanaged data is just as bad as having none at all — in either case, nothing good happens. “Just looking at data on a computer screen won’t change anything,” says Jerome Conraud, energy manager at McGill University. “Success is a matter of creating methods and processes to analyze data and do something with it.”
The smart grid, better technology, and less expensive submeters have all combined to make monitoring energy use in real time much easier — the benefits of which are many, from cost savings to identifying malfunctioning equipment quickly. The most successful real-time energy monitoring always begins with a plan of how the data will be used prior to plastering submeters willy-nilly all over a facility.
But where do you start? And how do you set up a system to reap the most rewards? Experts who have been successful in setting up real-time energy monitoring all have one common piece of advice: Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
“It’s about starting small and building sophistication over time,” says Jay Black, director of sustainability for SL Green. “Become accustomed to dealing with this volume of data. Design, implement, learn, and repeat. We keep gradually improving to allow for new opportunities. It’s a process of refinement.”
Choose How to Manage Data
At his 40,000-student Montreal campus, Conraud has deployed more than 400 meters, an unmanageable number to monitor manually. “It’s easy to be overwhelmed with data,” he says. “So that’s why you need a solution that can arrange data for you. That’s what we did first. Before installing meters, we actively looked for a package to analyze data.”
Keeping that software set-up manageable is important as well. “The imagination is the limit on these real-time monitoring systems, but then reality sets in,” says George Paterson, manager of the Energy Control Center at the University of Iowa. His colleague, energy engineer Katie Rossmann, echoes this sentiment: “You can build something you think is really cool, but if it’s not usable or if it’s overly complicated, it won’t be adopted. Don’t keep yourself from being innovative, but be smart about where to spend resources and time.”
What’s more, just as with any piece of facility equipment, a key criterion to choosing how to manage data is how much maintenance of that data will be required — less is almost always more.
Indeed, the human element to managing real-time energy data shouldn’t be underestimated. While it’s important to minimize the time and effort required, it’s also necessary to understand that “there’s no such thing as a set-it-and-forget-it technology,” says Black. Buildings themselves are like people — quirky and mercurial. “It takes time to get to know the buildings,” says Conraud. So no matter how precise benchmarks and standards might be, it still takes a human to make a real-world judgment about what action is required.
And truly, no matter how simple a real-time monitoring system starts or how it evolves in complexity, the critical question about how effective a system will be is how the data can be used to effect positive results.