Services & Maintenance: What Energy Where?

An energy dashboard provides facility managers (fms) with a detailed overview of the energy being used at their facilities. Using submeters gives fms additional insight by tracking energy usage for specific areas of their buildings, which provides them with the information needed to determine more efficient ways to operate. (Photo: Courtesy of Holaday Parks)

By Stephen D. Whitaker
Published in the March 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Energy efficiency has become a high priority for facility managers (fms), not only as a result of changing regulations and perspectives on energy use, but also because it pays. Primarily, cost savings in the use of electric power can be achieved in two ways: reducing overall consumption and shifting the time of use. Though a reduction or time shift in energy consumption clearly can save a facility money, it can be difficult to determine and document the potential and actual value of power saving measures. Today’s submetering solutions offer fms a way to measure “before” and “after” numbers and, in turn, demonstrate with concrete figures that consumption reduction strategies are possible and that, after implementation, power saving goals are being met and real cost reductions realized.

Strategies For Energy Efficiency

By Meg Matt
Energy efficiency continues to gain momentum in the buildings sector as facility managers (fms) realize that being efficient delivers more than a “feel good” benefit. When viewed through that lens, energy efficiency is a bona fide revenue stream as well as an opportunity to incorporate sustainable design. So what are current, impactful ways to enhance efficiencies in commercial and institutional buildings? What follows is list of tips and strategies (not in any particular order) intended to help fms move toward their energy goals.

Do not equate energy efficiency with capital expenditures. An easy first step is to stop thinking that energy efficiency automatically necessitates a huge capital expense. Creating changes in human behavior, modifying existing systems, and measuring performance so it can be benchmarked are all effective strategies to increase efficiency without making it a line item on the expense side of the ledger.

Efficiency will, however, become a revenue line item.

Become familiar with the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program, and take advantage of the free tools available to measure building performance. The EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is designed for commercial buildings, and it allows fms to measure and track energy usage. If the building fits into one of 15 predetermined categories, Portfolio Manager will rate the building’s efficiency on a scale of one to 100. If the building does not fit into a category, the tool can still be used to benchmark energy use intensity to track performance and/or compare it to national averages.

ENERGY STAR initiatives are important for another reason: cities, states, and federal jurisdictions across the country are implementing both voluntary programs and mandatory policies that require implementing its guidelines.

A good idea is like a light bulb appearing. Advances in lighting strategies have made this area of building operations one of the easiest and most effective ways to enhance efficiency. In 2011, the winner of the ENERGY STAR National Building Competition was Parking Garage C at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, FL.

According to the competition entry, the parking garage was retrofitted in two phases; interior first, followed by the exterior. For the interior, high performance T-5 fluorescent lights were installed in place of existing 150 watt high pressure sodium (HPS) fixtures.

The installation of all 424 fixtures was completed over a four week period during non peak hours to avoid disrupting daily parking guests. During Phase II, the top deck of the garage was retrofitted with 16 LED 236 watt lights in place of existing 400 watt HPS fixtures.

Ultimately, the lighting retrofit not only yielded a significant energy savings, but it has also provided better visibility for the UCF community. Outreach efforts regarding behavior modifications and energy conservation are continuously being implemented campus wide, raising awareness and inspiring social change.

This is just one example. Improvements in lighting are vast and are being researched by proactive fms.

A utility can be a “utility.” Here is a truth that may seem counterintuitive: utility companies want customers to use less energy. In fact, they are spending at record levels to design and implement programs that encourage less energy usage.

Fms can benefit from their utility’s willingness to help improve energy efficiency, and a first step is to visit their utility’s website or call and ask for recommendations. The staff there can introduce fms to programs that will enable their buildings to function more effectively using less energy.

Make sure the team is properly trained. With all of the new technologies and strategies now available, it is important that fms and their staff are up to date on what’s possible for their organizations. This amounts to no less than the pursuit of continuing education. Team members need to be educated on the relevant issues in order to be effective energy efficiency strategists. The benefits of training will become apparent in their development as well as in the facility’s profitability.

Training also extends to employees working in the facilities that are being managed. Once employees see that fms are serious about efficiency, the culture spreads. Employees will turn off lights, use less water, and generally feel positive about being part of a goal oriented process.

Be “open” minded. A major trend in designing office floor plates today is the use of open, collaborative workspaces. In fact, it is expected that increasingly fewer employees will have dedicated offices. Instead, they will have workspaces that they use one day when they are in the office and that another employee uses the next. According to CoreNet Global, a professional association of corporate real estate and workplace executives, the designated amount of space per office worker will decline from 225 in 2010 to about 150 in 2017.

Changing work patterns have an immediate impact on energy efficiency, as fewer resources are required. This dynamic compels fms to work with space planners, architects, and engineers as a team to create floor plans that maximize worker and energy efficiency.

Matt is the president and CEO of the Association of Energy Services Professionals, which provides professional development programs, a network of energy practitioners, and promotes the transfer of knowledge and experience. Founded in 1989 and based in Phoenix, AZ, AESP is a member-based association dedicated to improving the delivery and implementation of energy efficiency, energy management, and distributed renewable resources.

Case For Submetering

Electric power submeters perform their metering functions on the building side of the utility meter. Utility meters are mainly used for billing for energy use for an entire building, usually on a monthly basis. Submeters can provide detailed information about electric power consumption within the building—categorized by location, function, and time.

It is this detailed information that enables the creation of a cost saving energy consumption strategy. And the permanent presence of the submeter allows for continuous commissioning and cost saving verification.

When setting goals for a submetering system, fms will want to understand the benefits the meter offers to help reduce costs and provide a solid return on the investment. Providing real-time energy consumption measurements, the submeter becomes the primary sensor in an energy management system. And when used correctly, the detailed submetering data can help fms take better advantage of rate structures by identifying the facility’s patterns of power usage, by distributing power use more intelligently over the course of a day and by limiting loads at expensive peak hours.

When choosing a submetering solution, fms might want to look for a meter that will help them quickly and accurately identify and change wasteful usage. A submeter that reports true RMS (Root Mean Square) power and energy at frequent intervals is essential to this goal. In most cases, it is true RMS energy consumption for which the utility bills; other measures of power and energy consumption can be misleading. Measurements at frequent intervals combined with trend logging can help fms quickly determine, for example, which power consuming activities might need to be shifted to a different time of day in order to achieve a better billing rate. In another scenario, a manager may stagger the power up sequence of systems in order to avoid expensive peaks in consumption.

With the trend toward lower cost and more feature rich electric power submeters, it may be easier for fms to justify the investment in submetering. For organizations with considerable electric power consumption, payback times for such an energy management solution can be less than a year.

Energy Cost Allocation

Accurately allocating electric power costs is an important consideration for fms. In shopping malls, for example, different areas will have different usage patterns, so there is a distinct advantage to billing these areas or occupant groups individually. It is important that the meter makes this process as seamless as possible, allowing precise usage information to be quickly reported back to the fm who can then bill for power by actual use rather than by square footage.

Choosing a meter that supports BACnet®, LonWorks®, Modbus®, or other common protocols used for building automation systems saves time and money in the long run. Meter measurements need to be easily accessed by third-party systems that manage data storage, billing, and collection. The data is the basic element that makes the invisible visible for the purposes of energy management or occupant billing, whether in an office building, a mall, a large organization, an RV park or marina, and even on-site car charging stations. [To read more about energy strategies, read “‘A’ Is For Agriculture,” also from the March 2012 issue.]


When considering a submetering selection, the long view is recommended. While the initial requirement may be a single meter for a service entrance, the eventual growth of the metering system may require a distributed network of meters that support different voltages and currents and are able to communicate over a standard network. Selecting a product family that supports a wide range of metering requirements will pay dividends in the long run. The familiarity created by using a common metering platform will reduce installation, commissioning, and maintenance cost.

Fms should ensure the metering company they choose has the experience and knowledge to support their installation—whether it is a networked multi-point, multi-circuit, or single-point meter system.

With meters becoming more affordable and capable, multi-circuit metering is becoming a more attractive model of submetering. A device located in one area effectively measures dozens of separate points. As a result, an fm could monitor the entire panel in a commercial installation with a single device. Configured by an experienced vendor or system designer, multi-circuit or multi-point metering can identify how much energy is going to lighting, air conditioning, refrigeration, compressors, and so on. Usage can be broken down into categories as circuits are associated with different functions across the facility. With these costs identified and isolated, fms can prioritize areas in which to reduce consumption or to shift operating times.

With real consumption information classed by category, fms can compare energy use across multiple facilities. This information can help to identify differences and, in turn, areas that may require attention. When designed from the start to support networked multi-point metering, multi-circuit metering, and circuit grouping, a submetering system can be implemented cost-effectively.

Once the goals of the submetering system have been defined, it is time to seek out the appropriate solution. As with any significant purchase, fms should look for a metering system from a company with experience and success across multiple applications and the expertise to implement a new metering system into an existing building automation system. A good warranty and responsive customer support can provide peace of mind, help the user operate the system properly, and ensure that the metering solution meets the needs of the facility.

Whitaker is CEO and co-founder of Continental Control Systems, a Boulder, CO-based developer and manufacturer of electric power metering and monitoring equipment. He has a Bachelor of Science in physics from University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Master of Science in meteorology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has worked at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Atmospheric Instrumentation Research.