Advanced sub-metering digs deep

New technology makes it economical to unearth granular-level data
Monday, July 31, 2017
By B. Paul Mertes

Facility operators and management are beginning to recognize the opportunity to combine granular-level sub-metering with software that analyzes energy data in real time.

Historically, it was typical to install utility meters that captured the total energy consumption for an entire facility. Some facilities would make limited use of sub-meters to measure key pieces of equipment.

More involved sub-metering systems were installed in high-value manufacturing facilities, where the high cost of the sub-metering solutions could be justified. That’s because substantial cost savings could be attained by avoiding additional and unnecessary maintenance costs and preventing equipment shutdowns.

Sub-meter use has grown over the past decade as its functionality expanded beyond industrial applications into the entire green building sector. Now, a completely new generation of sub-meter technology is emerging in the market.

Its cost has come down enough to be economically deployed at the circuit level. These advanced sub-metering systems are designed to scale and address the needs of entire portfolios of buildings. They also have the ability to drill down and meter the individual circuit or piece of equipment.

Combining real-time communication with cloud-based, big-data energy analytics, this new Internet of Things (IoT) technology has the ability to break down energy usage data to the exact location and time that energy is wasted.

Managing energy in real time

Economically generating raw energy-use data and converting it into useful information is at the heart of an effective energy management strategy. Understanding the trends that real-time data highlight can help to pinpoint electrical waste right at the circuit level. With this information in hand, building owners and managers can make data-based decisions about building operations optimization, carbon reduction and potential capital investments.

Consider the case of a compressor that is operating efficiently but begins to experience wear and tear. With benchmarks and thresholds in the software, and real-time notifications, management can be informed at precisely the point in time when it wants to either schedule maintenance or plan to replace aging equipment. Without this knowledge, building managers will see increasing power consumption, and possibly equipment failure at a time that has costs and/or inconvenience to building occupants.

Using only the energy that is required minimizes a facility’s carbon footprint, making real-time energy management increasingly attractive in business environments where cap and trade or carbon pricing is being established. And in many of these environments, financial incentives are being conceived to encourage and accelerate the roll out of real-time energy management solutions, making green initiatives even more attractive.

Applying big data analytics

Big data analytics is allowing companies to become “leaner” in an ever-competitive market by showing them where they can trim costs and use energy dollars more efficiently. This data can be parsed across an entire portfolio or used to pinpoint an individual circuit, and the benefits are numerous.

Deep energy metering can reveal patterns of energy waste, pointing to smarter ways of using energy dollars. Eliminating unnecessary energy consumption and changing operational procedures are just two of the areas where coupling continuous tracking and data analytics can yield a sustainable return on investment.

As an example, significant savings can often be attained simply by turning off equipment that shouldn’t be on. Detailed energy usage data comparing real time with historical data can reveal errors in control system setup or a lack of attention by personnel having control over the on/off function. And using real-time notifications can ensure that if or when the situation reoccurs, it is caught immediately, leading to a “continuous energy audit” capability.

Energy analytics at the circuit level facilitates the broad use of benchmarking, which will increase productivity and lower operating costs. Historical data can be used to set performance benchmarks for individual pieces of equipment. Real-time notifications based on exceeding those recommended benchmarks can alert facility managers and operators that a piece of equipment may be running sub-optimally which, if not corrected, results in wasted energy and increased operating costs.

Precise, ongoing measurement is mandatory in net zero and net positive buildings. The goal there is to minimize energy demand and avoid higher capital costs associated with the energy-generating side of the equation.

Equipment benchmarking, precision maintenance and carbon/greenhouse gas reporting are just three of the many strategies this big data analytics technology brings to commercial, industrial and institutional facilities.

Reducing operating expenditures

Energy profiling at the individual equipment and circuit level can help facility managers identify ways to create value through changes in their operational strategies. A prime example for facilities is when identical production lines have significantly different energy profiles resulting in greater operational costs from one facility or production line to the next.

The benefits of this analysis — reduced operating expenditures — can be applied across all sectors. That includes municipalities implementing energy efficiency programs in public buildings and private sector companies looking to optimize operations, lower energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

As an energy data-gathering tool for a facility’s equipment and systems, sub-meters can improve a building’s bottom line by giving greater visibility to its overall energy footprint. Circuit-level sub-metering can measure the energy data from every load in a facility, straight from the circuit- breaker or motor control centre. Some of these advanced, multi-circuit sub-metering systems process the energy data in real time and send a full range of power data, including volts, amps and power factor, to safe server locations where it is integrated into real-time energy-management information systems and sophisticated energy analytics software platforms.

In net zero and LEED-certified buildings, energy profiling provides the detailed data, both historic and real time, that enables facility managers to optimize energy resources and minimize the investment in new generation equipment. After all, energy efficiency is the lowest cost energy resource.

As advanced sub-meter technology with integrated real-time energy-analytics software platforms becomes more economical, it is poised to play a major role in helping facility managers use energy more efficiently. Energy efficiency gains can be achieved through continuous monitoring at the circuit level, with smarter energy management for the entire built envelope.

Paul Mertes, president and CEO of CircuitMeter Inc., has led the company since 2014. For the past 10 years, Paul has focused on the cleantech sector, where he served as CEO of CleanEnergy, a geothermal company, and as a business advisor to the MaRS Cleantech Practice. Paul has a B.A.Sc. (Mechanical Engineering) from the University of Waterloo and an MBA (Finance) from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

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