Saving Energy, One Flicker At A Time

Learn how software technology can monitor energy consumption while improving cost savings and the lifespan of critical assets.

By Kevin Price

Most people flip on a light switch without a single thought about the complex energy grid behind the scenes. However, plant maintenance teams, assets managers, utilities, and facility managers are keenly aware of the substantial costs associated with energy and the critical role it plays in the smooth operation of industrial plants and commercial facilities. In fact, as energy costs continue to escalate, energy consumption is increasingly becoming a key focus of the cost-conscious asset maintenance teams. The data collected can point to opportunities for savings as well as indicators of asset health. Software technology can help monitor energy usage, giving managers a valuable tool in managing this major expense.

A Closer Look At The Issues

More Than a Fad. The terms “smart building” and “sustainability” are buzz words that have become part of the vocabulary of many building and facilities managers. Tasked with controlling operating costs and ensuring optimal performance of assets, managers have learned to apply the insights derived from monitoring energy consumption. For instance, spikes in energy usage can be symptoms of broader asset issues, signaling that a part may be failing, calibration may be needed, or a complete diagnostic evaluation should be scheduled.

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(Image: Infor)

Asset Stress Test. Prolonged high-stress periods for building assets should be noted so that back-up systems can be put into effect, if needed. For example, a streak of multiple 105-degree days will put unusual strain on a hospital’s rooftop HVAC unit. A cautious facility manager will be alert to signs of asset wear and have parts or supplemental units on stand-by for any short-term interruptions to performance. Ultimately, the overly taxed assets may need to be upgraded or tagged for early retirement and replacement.

Investment Planning. Understanding the asset’s energy use and the ability to keep pace with fluctuating demands helps managers plan appropriately for necessary investments. For some types of facilities such as casinos and malls, maintaining a consistent climate is essential for the comfort of customers and patrons. In other industries, such as food processing, temperature control is important for the integrity of the product. Such risk-adverse companies will take special note of assets that impact climate control, making sure funds are available for maintenance, upgrades, and replacements as needed. Although, any asset which has the potential to drain energy and drive higher energy costs, needs to be identified and monitored.

Respond to Demand. Smart buildings are more sustainable, more energy-efficient, and more responsive to varying environmental conditions and usage trends. For example, commercial office buildings may have far different occupancy and traffic patterns during the week versus the weekend. Adjusting timing on automatic lights and climate control to accurately reflect fluctuating needs, can generate huge savings – plus save stress on assets.

Software Technology Makes It Possible

To optimize insights from energy monitoring, organizations can turn to modern Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solutions. Applications such as global asset sustainability (GAS) and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) help leverage data insights, make well-informed decisions, and plan proactive asset maintenance to extend the lifecycle of critical equipment.

A smart (or intelligent) building is one that operates at high performance through a computerized network of digital solutions and devices designed to monitor and control the mechanical, electrical, lighting and other systems in a building. The goal is to achieve greater efficiency—without sacrificing comfort or convenience.

Industrial and commercial buildings incorporate a wide range of systems, from HVAC and plumbing to electrical, security, physical infrastructure, and data management. Assets range from overhead doors and elevators to complex machinery and industrial equipment. Integrating these systems into one end-to-end view achieves real-time visibility into status and condition. With one version of the truth, driven by the EAM solution, stakeholders can make well-informed decisions, seeing how the interdependent processes influence each other.

Eliminate Energy Waste With Global Asset Sustainability

To make the best use of technology in a smart building, many organizations are now focusing on four major areas of waste as they review the asset performance in their buildings: availability, performance, quality, and energy consumption.

This new approach is called Global Asset Sustainability (GAS). GAS provides the visibility and control that organizations need to eliminate the wasteful energy practices that can result from the day-to-day operation of assets in their buildings and facilities. These are the elements that constitute the foundation of GAS:

  • Availability is critical for the asset to serve the organization as intended. Maximizing uptime is a primary goal for maintenance, facilities, and asset managers. If production and facility assets are not available, the organization is hobbled in its ability to generate revenue and effectively serve tenants, patients, and constituents.
  • Performance reflects how well the piece of equipment is behaving or how fast it is operating compared to the theoretical specifications for its operation. When organizations make capital investments, decisions rest on this performance rating. To meet financial goals in both cost and revenue terms, assets must perform as close as possible to that rating.
  • Quality of output can have a material impact on an organization’s margin and ability to execute its mission, whether it is having a retail store at the optimal temperature to drive consumer buying, keeping humidity at a level where machinery and people can work effectively, or ensuring production equipment consistently puts out product at or above specification.
  • Energy consumption is increasingly costly and has become an integral element of asset performance. An asset’s energy consumption may change over time based on the conditions of operation and maintenance, which can cut into margins. For example, a single 100-horsepower motor running continuously at 95 percent efficiency over a five-year period will cost an organization close to $350,000 in energy (10¢/kwh). If the same motor consumes just 5 percent more energy due to sub-optimal operation (e.g., energy waste), it will cost almost $17,500 more to operate.

Gauge An Asset’s Performance With The Asset Sustainability Index

An EAM-based facilities management system — which can also monitor energy consumption — can help an organization to analyze a holistic picture of an asset’s performance, efficiency, value, operational impact, and Return on Investment (ROI). For example, an organization operating across 50 facilities may have an outdated conventional facilities management system that fails to monitor energy consumption. The legacy solution may indicate that the HVAC system is operating within acceptable limits.

In actuality, the chiller at each facility may be consuming more energy than was expected and running at maximum output, even after-hours and over weekends when the demand is less. This added stress could cut years off the life expectancy of the machinery, forcing its early retirement. Making automated adjustments to temperature settings, bringing supplemental units online when needed, and monitoring performance costs, including the cost of energy consumed, will yield a picture that is truly multi-dimensional. Opportunities to achieve savings will become easy to spot.

Actionable Advice

Enterprises need to make smart decisions about assets and management of facilities. Energy costs are often one of the largest expenditures that companies face, and assets which are inefficient and draw more energy than necessary, can eat away at profits. Turning to an EAM-based facilities management system as the single view of the facility infrastructure will provide the fact-based insights that stakeholders need. The EAM system can then play a role as assets are purchased, commissioned, operated, maintained, and even retired.

Now is the time to review existing systems and consider the gains that can be achieved by investing in modern software solutions. An EAM-based facilities management system will help align the asset infrastructure with business requirements and the financial bottom line.

energy consumptionPrice, technical product evangelist for Infor EAM, has more than 20 years of experience in the enterprise asset management (EAM) solution area. He is based out of the Infor EAM development hub in Greenville, SC. He is currently the senior product director for the Infor EAM portfolio, which includes EAM Enterprise, MP2, CloudSuite Facilities Management, and Spear Technologies. Price graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from College of Charleston.