So who might consider investing in a dashboard? Start by answering these two questions:
It may not make sense to duplicate existing capability if merely upgrading EMS graphics might do the trick. And adding a fancy display outside the control room may create confusion and distractions for those managing building systems.
On the other hand, such a display in front of an energy manager knowledgeable about the facility but situated away from the EMS could be a good way to maintain oversight on energy costs and operations.
If the goal is to publicly demonstrate the facility's commitment to energy efficiency or on-site renewable energy production like rooftop PV panels, visitor-oriented dashboards are available for display in a lobby or boardroom. Tenant-based dashboards showing tenant submeter data may also help reduce overall building load. Such is part of the energy upgrade presently underway in New York's Empire State Building.
For most commercial and institutional facilities, financially benefiting from real-time control over energy operations depends heavily on three issues: how one pays for power, how one uses it, and if incentives are available to cover some of the cost.
Many small commercial and residential rates, and those seen in some municipal and co-op utilities, have electric tariffs that charge a flat rate per kilowatt-hour (kWh), with no sensitivity to time-of-day or level of peak demand. In such cases, the ongoing benefit — after finding obvious problems such as equipment left on overnight — may be small.
Where one pays for both consumption and peak demand, however, potentially greater savings may be secured, especially where high demands are created for short periods of time — for example, inefficient air conditioning, or electric resistance heating. If tariff rates for consumption vary based on time-of-day or season, and peak demand charges are high, ongoing potential benefits may become significant. If power is being purchased under a real-time pricing tariff or contract, even greater benefits may result.
If the local utility or state energy agency offers partial funding for devices or services that help cut peak demand, costs for setting up and maintaining a dashboard may be refunded via rebates, grants or other incentives.
Start by determining what needs are not being met by existing systems. For example, where real-time pricing options exist, would the ability to see hourly wholesale grid pricing and hourly demand on the same screen help manage monthly electric bills? If the firm is promoting its environmental sensitivity, would a public real-time display of the output of its PV panels and carbon-reduction efforts help do so? Dashboards may be customized with those and other options, so it's wise to make a wish list before shopping.
One of the certainties about electric rates is that greater emphasis will be focused on cutting peak electric demand and implementing time-sensitive rates. Elimination of the oldest, and often dirtiest, sources of generation will make customer demand reduction worth more as a way to minimize the need to build new, more expensive and clean sources of power. A real-time energy dashboard — in the hands of someone with a clear understanding of facility loads and an EMS to control them —may therefore be a welcome tool for securing real savings.
Lindsay Audin, CEM, LEED AP, CEP, is president of EnergyWiz, an energy consulting firm based in Croton, N.Y. He is a contributing editor for Building Operating Management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Sorting Out Energy Dashboard Software
Who Might Benefit From a Dashboard?