By John Schinter
From the February 2020 Issue
When it comes to energy meters, most people probably think about a device located in their building somewhere, which their utility uses to track their energy use and charge them for it on their monthly bill. What many people don’t know is that there are submeters that facility owners and managers can use to track to see a more detailed picture than even what their utility sees. The technology and cost competitiveness of these submeters has improved tremendously over the past few years. These can measure energy usage with granular equipment level precision.
Deploying submetering is an important first step in understanding power usage. Having a data platform to also manage and analyze the data is important for making operational and investment decisions for retrofits or replacements. Granular equipment level data is an important first step toward being more sustainable, and for buildings, energy meters are the key to cost savings and success.
Commercial and industrial property owners and managers can expect six main benefits from a metering and data platform.
1. Gain operational insight and identify anomalies in equipment performance with a “real-time” view. Finding out that your lighting system is not shutting off when it’s supposed to, or that your rooftop cooling unit is cycling when it should be idling, using more electricity than it should and reducing its effectiveness, is important information.
Discovering that a piece of equipment is guzzling more electricity than it should, gives you an opportunity to repair or replace, generating energy savings but also reducing the risk of a disruption to your business operations. This is especially true if you’re located in a state with high electricity prices, such as California, where the average retail power price rose 3% over the past year, to more than 17 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Even if you’re in a state with lower rates, such as Wisconsin, where the average retail power price rose 4% to over 11 cents per kWh according to the Department of Energy¹, efficiency upgrades can still drive significant savings.
It can be helpful to determine how much electricity equipment, such as lighting or an air conditioning unit, is using. Utility meters and utility bills don’t pinpoint the equipment that drives your building’s energy consumption. Real-time energy usage data can help you compare to the manufacturer’s specifications and Energy Star rating—to determine whether the unit is operating as it should.
Today’s energy meters are better at capturing consumption data along with enhanced data upload rates making this data more accessible. Some metering data platforms can ingest and report interval data on thousands of electrical panels simultaneously. Five minute interval monitoring will collect up to 105,120 data points in a year, according to Energy Tool Base.²
Picking the right meter and data platform to deliver actionable insights is key to an effective metering solution.
2. Continuity of information provides complete portfolio perspective. A metering solution should be able to pull large amounts of data and analyze in a way that gives you a clear and detailed portfolio-wide perspective. Being able to analyze energy usage data from all types of equipment across multiple facilities provides valuable insight that is essential to making informed decisions about how to manage the equipment in your buildings.
Energy usage can vary by the hour of the day, day of the week, and time of the year, based on business operating hours, building occupancy, and external factors like weather, as well as general trends such as weekday activity versus weekend activity, and holidays.
Taking a survey approach, such as looking at a snapshot of energy usage at one time on one day or performing temporary data logging provides only a partial picture of how much energy the building uses at all times of day, and in all conditions. Today’s energy meters provide readings every minute of every day, which allows you to monitor energy usage continuously. This is the ideal way to find and mitigate consumption drivers under various circumstances and time periods.
3. The Internet of Things (IoT) has made energy meters more powerful. Thanks to IoT energy meters are now smaller, cheaper, and capable of sending real-time energy information to the cloud where it can be layered with other data sets, analyzed, and presented to facility managers in a more effective and “actionable” way.
IoT meters can be installed in minutes, not hours, enabling all the equipment in a building to start spitting out data on energy usage data within a day.
Many IoT meters have enhanced data encryption that complies with the latest security standards, to protect company information, and prevent outside access. For additional security, you can choose meters that don’t utilize your local network.
Wireless meters are tamper-resistant, since there are no BACnet or Modbus wires running around the building that could be tapped. These improvements make energy meters safe, affordable, and easy to obtain continuous information on your facility’s energy consumption.
4. Meters provide alerts for predictive maintenance and maintenance needs. Waiting to fix your vital equipment until it fails is expensive and risky. Emergency service call premiums can be quite high, and depending on the equipment, a breakdown can lead to a loss of business in the event of an unplanned outage that causes your business to shut down for a long period of time.
Scheduled maintenance, when nothing is wrong, can be wasteful and an unnecessary expense. Why replace perfectly good parts if you don’t need to?
Energy meters can detect degradation of equipment and alert you to the need for maintenance. For example, if a motor is wearing out, a compressor needs a recharge, a filter needs changing, or a fan belt is slipping, there will be an alert. These alerts are based on actual measured performance changes, that are detectable through the device’s energy consumption patterns.
Facility managers who have access to interval data can detect issues and schedule preventive maintenance for equipment. For example, a facility might have a contract with a maintenance provider to perform quarterly maintenance on the building’s RTUs, to avoid any problems that could lead to a loss of business. The maintenance crew comes out once every three months to clean filters, tighten belts, and check refrigerant charge levels, among other tasks.
Energy meter data lets you know if there is degradation in performance that indicates whether specific maintenance needs to be done. This allows the facility manager to proactively dispatch a fix on an as-needed basis, avoiding having to pay for work that isn’t needed, while also being on top of required repairs. For example, knowing that a filter needs to be replaced after seeing a reduction in performance, is better than finding out after the fact, that the filter has been clogged for months. Energy metering can save time and money by enabling “right time” preventive maintenance.
5. Meters can help you optimize your building’s energy usage. Analyzing your utility bill can tell you how much energy you used at various energy rate tiers, but it can’t tell you what to do about it.
Having granular IoT enabled energy meters allows you to track power consumption before and after an equipment upgrade, providing M&V (measurement and verification) to ensure you are achieving the expected savings from energy conservation retrofits.
Energy meters can give actionable insights on “time-of-use” (TOU) utility rate tariffs that allow you to schedule equipment usage to periods when power is cheaper. Much of your equipment can benefit from low-rate TOU periods, such as forklift battery charging, liquid pumping, or turning down the HVAC system during unoccupied periods.
Many of these operational optimizations—such as scheduling when to recharge electronic equipment and when to cycle up and down air conditioning units—are free, with no investment required. Metering can provide important insight that helps you make these operational changes that will save energy.
6. Energy metering can be free, or even generate capital, that you can spend elsewhere. Today, companies offer energy metering-as-a-service, with no capital investment required by the customer. The provider covers the upfront cost of the equipment and installation, and then shares the savings with the customer that can result from meter related insights and reduced energy usage. These significant energy savings can be reinvested into your business.
Many utilities and government programs offer rebates to install meters for commercial and industrial property owners to more closely track their energy usage. Before embarking on an energy meter project, check with your local utility to see if they have any special programs or incentives for commercial customers that could pay for some or all of the cost of installing the meters.
Whether your organization has a specific energy reduction target or sustainability goals, a metering solution with a sophisticated data platform can help outline the path to success and ensure your team makes the most cost-effective financial decisions for your organization.
Schinter is executive vice president of client solutions at energy efficiency solutions firm Redaptive. He has more than three decades of experience in optimizing energy solutions for utilities, telecommunications, and commercial real estate portfolios, including tenure with AT&T, Exelon, Bank of America, and JLL. At AT&T, Schinter led the group responsible for the operational strategy and execution of programs for energy, carbon, water, and waste across the enterprise. Prior to AT&T, he was founding President of the global energy and sustainability services line of business for JLL.
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