By Martin Flusberg
Energy management systems (EMS) have been around for many years. Most large commercial and industrial facilities, as well as supermarkets and big box retailers, use an EMS to control energy costs. Over the last few years, however, there has been a steady evolution and broadening of the EMS market.
What happened and where is EMS headed?
The terms EMS and BMS (building management system) are frequently used interchangeably, but that can be misleading. A BMS is generally a hardware based system that controls HVAC, lighting, and other facility systems. At some point, these systems were the only form of EMS, but, in recent years the term EMS has been applied to a range of new products that vary significantly. These are as disparate as: analytics-based software systems that connect to the BMS and mine the data to identify equipment issues; software that captures utility bill data across facilities and offers benchmarking plus bill analysis aimed at finding errors; communicating Internet thermostats that remotely control HVAC; systems that monitor electricity on branch circuits and provide equipment performance and efficiency analytics; and software that leverages interval data and modeling to provide virtual energy audits and suggest efficiency improvements.
There has also been a clear evolution in the types of buildings that implement EMS: from industrial to commercial to big box retail—and now to small box retail as well.
Technological developments have fueled these changes. Ubiquitous Internet connectivity and cloud computing have significantly changed what is expected of a traditional BMS. Low cost sensors and wireless communications have decreased deployment costs. The application of analytics to the vast quantities of “big data” that can now be stored cost-effectively has created a range of new value opportunities. And, enterprise-level aggregation provides new visibility.
A blog post by Paul Baier, former vice president of sustainability consulting for Groom Energy added to the discussion by trying to define what they call Enterprise Energy Management Software (EEMS). According to this post, an EEMS must:
- meet the need of senior management to achieve stated energy improvement goals;
- provide P&L owners with visibility into past, current, and expected energy use and costs;
- track energy reduction projects and expected benefits;
- provide insights from interval data;and
- support the facility maintenance team.
Interestingly, this does not mention control, even though a provider of control systems would certainly refer to their systems as an EMS.
There appears to be a paradigm shift occurring; we are moving away from using the term EMS to denote a range of very different types of systems towards an encompassing “all of the above” approach: EMS 2.0. A convergence of functionality is coming from a variety of different directions: traditional BMS vendors adding Internet connectivity; Internet thermostat companies integrating monitoring and analytics; and providers of interval data adding utility bill data analytics. EMS 2.0 encompasses all of these functions in a single application.
How do we define EMS 2.0?
Here is one attempt at defining the key characteristics of EMS 2.0:
- Cost-effective. Incorporating state-of-the-art components and approaches that drive costs well below historic EMS industry norms, EMS 2.0 offers a rapid payback
- Connected. EMS 2.0 must be accessible over the Internet and on mobile devices
- Accessible. Gone are the days where you need to contact your vendor to change temperature settings; if it’s that hard to use, it’s not EMS 2.0
- Intelligent. EMS 2.0 must leverage analytics to drive cost reduction strategies
- Comprehensive. EMS 2.0 combines controls, analytics, dashboards, data sets and other functionality. It may not have all the abilities noted by Groom Energy, but point solutions are not EMS 2.0
- Operational. Businesses don’t buy kilowatt hours and therms because they want them; they buy them to feed the hungry equipment beasts. EMS 2.0 needs to play a key role in managing equipment performance
- Enterprise-ready. Offering enterprise-wide control settings and facility and equipment benchmarking while allowing users to access all locations centrally, rather than each facility individually
Of course, what may be needed for a portfolio of large office buildings will not be the same as what is needed in industrial facilities or small box retail. Therefore, there can never be a one-size fits-all solution. But, EMS 2.0 needs to reflect a more holistic approach than traditional EMS systems, while still being tailored to each individual market.
No doubt, the confusion about what EMS really means will continue until the market sorts itself out. Perhaps EMS 2.0 will need a new name entirely. But whatever term we use, it is clearly the direction we are headed. This is an evolution that could turn into a revolution.
Flusberg is CEO of Powerhouse Dynamics, a Newton, MA-based technology firm focused on using cloud-based controls and analytics to deliver energy and operational efficiencies to its customers. Flusberg has spent most of his career developing innovative technologies that address climate change—the first half in transportation and the second half in energy.