Managing Energy Information Comes of Age

Gathering energy information is a lot like the axiom You can't manage what you don't measure. In fact, this task is one of the major components in the efficient operation of a facility, reducing the percentage of energy as a component of a building's overall cost per square foot. However, getting the anticipated savings happens only when someone actually reviews the data and uses it to make intelligent,

Gathering energy information is a lot like the axiom “You can't manage what you don't measure.” In fact, this task is one of the major components in the efficient operation of a facility, reducing the percentage of energy as a component of a building's overall cost per square foot. However, getting the anticipated savings happens only when someone actually reviews the data and uses it to make intelligent, cost-saving decisions. The problem is that the readings or raw data, more often than not, are logged and filed away, leaving little opportunity to manage the information. That's all changing.

Finally, facility and energy managers and executives can easily and quickly reduce volumes of electronic data to useful, actionable information. They are finding that using this information helps them develop intuitive knowledge, which enables them to apply it more effectively to day-to-day operations. Before they know it, facility and energy managers and executives experience an “energy epiphany.” They gain insight and acquire energy intelligence. This translates into an ability to create a competitive edge for their organization.

Case History

The Cox Business Services Convention Center and Arena in Oklahoma City is managed by Philadelphia-based SMG, the largest private facility management company in the world. The company controls more than 1.3 million entertainment seats and 9 million sq ft of exhibit space worldwide.

High electricity costs for a particular event affected the profit margin the facility management wanted to achieve. But in Oklahoma, electricity cannot be a line item cost to convention users. So, each convention service (kitchen, hall, and other areas) became a cost center. We installed five meters and contracted with a Web-enabled energy information management service to monitor and analyze consumption at each cost center. Then we determined rental costs for each center based in part on their respective energy use. Thus, energy information management empowered the convention to protect its profit margin.

In another instance, during preparations for a concert, the facility set peak demand of 3.34 MW for September 12. Later that month, the facility was operating at 95% capacity. Concerned about setting a new peak, the facility manager used the real time monitoring capability of his energy information management service to compare the facility's load profile for the month and the real time readings from the revenue meters.

The manager developed a strategy of raising the discharge temperature on the chilled water by 4°, shifting air supply units and staggering the start-up of other units according to the current load. This action topped demand out at 3.15 MW and averted setting a new peak, saving more than $1000 in energy costs.

The facility saved an additional $2,000 by changing general operating procedures. Traditional practice had been to start a chiller before shutting down another when rotating chillers. Real time meters that monitored the building's four chillers helped track energy consumption during this procedure. The building's load profile, as shown in Figs. 1 and 2, on page 36, indicated a 15-minute interval separating the shutdown of one chiller and start-up of another would reduce consumption and demand costs by more than $2,000.

This type of Web-enabled energy information management is being integrated into another SMG-managed property, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island in New York City. The service includes load profile capabilities that enable facility managers at the 18,000-seat coliseum to collect and manage precise load profile information and review up-to-date energy consumption data at any time from two revenue meters and 12 sub meters via the Internet. The rate tariff functionality and data mining tools that are part of the load profile service provide managers with a better handle on utility billing structures and leverage during rate renegotiation. Bottom line results include better cost control and reduced risk.

In addition, as SMG-managed properties like the Cox and Nassau gain energy information management capabilities, the company can include them in its view of energy consumption enterprise-wide. That's important because SMG is part of the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Partner program, which promotes comprehensive energy management as a way to protect the environment by preventing pollution and reducing energy costs as the incentive to participate.

SMG selected Automated Energy, Inc., Oklahoma City, as its partner in the Energy Star program to help reduce utility costs at each of its facilities by at least 5%. With annual utility costs of about $50 million, that translates to a minimum $2.5 million estimated savings.

Other Applications

Besides convention centers and arenas, energy information management is also finding a home in office and retail complexes. At Plaza of the Americas, a two-tower retail and office complex in Dallas, Web-enabled energy information load profile services are providing energy consumption to manage use, select and negotiate rate structures in a deregulated market, and improve energy efficiency through changes in operating procedures.

The complex is one of 16 buildings in the portfolio of Trizec Properties, one of the largest publicly traded commercial property investment companies in the United States. More than 100 meters and tenant-owned sub meters track energy use for developing facility load profiles and accurately allocating costs. The load profile software's rate tariff functionality and data mining tools identify energy-related cost-reduction opportunities.

Companies like SMG and Trizec, which have multiple facilities and multiple locations, can aggregate those facilities' loads for even more leverage during rate negotiations. Mixing and matching loads in ‘what if’ scenarios that managers can run with the energy information management service enables them to combine the load profiles they manage into higher volume “packages” that can qualify for lower rates. And this capability isn't confined to commercial buildings.

Capitalizing on Deregulation

A premier company in the oil and gas industry in Texas wanted to aggregate the loads of eight major facilities in the state. These facilities ranged in use from heavy industrial operations to office work. The company requested the load profiles of those facilities from the utility and received spreadsheet data that wasn't helpful. Then the company decided to develop its own accurate and timely information that would be readily accessible by a variety of personnel. One thing it didn't want to do was invest in software and hardware requiring ongoing maintenance, upgrades, and training expenses.

The company selected an easy-to-use, Web-enabled energy information service, avoiding high initial costs and the problems of maintaining its own system. It quickly developed load profiles of each facility and combined them to earn more favorable rates. Company officials report that with deregulation, accurate and timely load profiles, and watching rate structures, they have cut utility bills by $1.5 million. As is often the case with good energy information management, the company also uses it to reduce operational expenses. In one case, a plant manager suggested the company could reduce energy costs through thermal storage and used the energy information to rationalize the project. Management gave the green light, and the energy information service has validated the savings. Operational changes like this have saved a total of $400,000 in energy costs.

Ensuring Accurate Usage Billings

In addition to controlling demand, Web-enabled energy information management can ensure accuracy of utility billing and charges from energy service companies. Two examples validate this point.

Example 1. A local utility bill for an office building in Tulsa showed an unusually high kW demand charge. Management contacted the utility and asked them to review the bill. The utility's records indicated an accurate bill.

Management pursued the matter, however, requesting that we compare the demand and consumption shown on the bill with that measured by the load profiler, which is available as part of the energy information service.

Further discussions with the utility identified a meter change-out during the billing period. Demand had been calculated from both the original and the new meters, essentially “double-counting” the demand used for the block-use calculation. Recognizing the mistake, the utility rebated $3,766.21 to the customer.

Example 2. Another customer asked for help in determining why their utility bills climbed higher than in the previous year. Could the weather be affecting the building's HVAC load? Not according to Fig. 3, which shows an overlay of ambient outside temperature and the facility's demand profile. The load profile as shown in Fig. 4, on page 39, however, did show why. The company started all the chillers at about 5 a.m. each morning.

In addition, comparing the current month's bill with that for the same month the previous year identified a power factor penalty on the current bill. The starting of chillers at the same time caused the penalty. We suggested starting the chillers gradually. The next week's load profile showed that soft starting the chillers indeed solved the problem and saved the customer about $600 annually.

Addressing Some Concerns

While energy information management is coming of age, there are still some lingering concerns. For example, most managers say they can't be strapped to a desk all day watching a computer monitor. Now they don't have to; they can wear a pager that alerts them automatically of any pre-set conditions.

Although many managers believe energy information is for deregulated areas only, it's not. Aggregating loads to qualify for more favorable rate structures, improving operational procedures to cut energy expenses, and verifying utility bill accuracy justify the relatively small service charges for Web-enabled energy information. Also, managers can access the information 24/7 from anywhere in the world via the Internet.

William Novak has more than 40 years of experience in facility management and now advises customers on effective energy information management. You can reach him at [email protected].

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