Dashboards Put FMs in the Driver’s Seat

06/01/2011 | By Janelle Penny

Can a portfolio-wide energy tracker work for your buildings?

Energy dashboards rely on a submetering network that tracks the energy consumption of each building system. Generating simple graphs will show you consumption at a glance.
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An electronic dashboard can not only make an FM's job easier, it can also aid your company's green initiatives. Tying together data on the usage of electricity and other building resources, this tool offers a comprehensive picture of consumption at a glance.

Start Taking Control
A dashboard can play many roles, but in a nutshell, the tool allows you to compare usage between campuses, floors, and departments to spot inefficiencies or drive competition, with energy use as the most common target. It aggregates data from energy meters all over your building and displays it in whatever format you choose to provide.

IBM, which maintains thousands of buildings in over 100 countries, decided to go big when it premiered its energy dashboard project.

"IBM has a portfolio of a little over 100 million square feet of buildings, about 10 million of which is data centers," says Dave Bartlett, IBM's vice president of industry solutions and smarter buildings guru. "If you bring all the data together, you can run analytics on it to see who are the best in terms of energy utilization, who are the worst, and strategically understand where you are, and then work on whatever buildings you select."

As you upgrade aging building systems, you can slowly implement sensors and smarter equipment as you can afford them instead of rolling out a huge metering system with a dashboard all at once.

"You'll gain smarter equipment every time you upgrade the chiller, boiler, air handling unit, or lighting system. Even my toaster has a digital display now," Bartlett says. "There's all kinds of digital data coming out of them, but who's listening?"

Who Needs to Know, and How Often?
After choosing what to monitor and determining the extent of your monitoring program, decide how to control access. Some dashboards can serve multiple functions – building occupants can see whose department consumes the most energy and use that information to change their behavior. Meanwhile, the FM can take that same data and pinpoint the location of a malfunctioning chiller or remotely turn off the lights in unused offices.

At IBM, where the dashboard has the capability to override building systems and generate work orders, system security is paramount. Your dashboard may benefit from a tiered system allowing only the facilities management department to make choices about building systems, while everyone else can only watch.

"You have to have not only identity access, based on who you are and a password, but also a finer grain of security called role-based access," Bartlett says. "Depending on what your role is, what authorization do you have? The most common security exposure is the person in the wrong role affecting buildings, not because they're malicious, but because they don't know any better."

The roles you assign to each person can act as an extra motivator, Bartlett says.

"One of the things we did in our headquarters building was to provide the chairman with the ability to look at our dashboard for our whole portfolio," he adds. "People running those facilities are far more keen to operate their facilities efficiently so they don't end up on the bottom 10 list. Inspection drives action."

Now What?
Once the infrastructure is in place and you've ironed out security and other concerns, it's time to start cutting. Adding wireless metering to your building systems frequently ends up costing about 5% of your annual electricity bill, but energy savings range around 15%, according to Loic Moreau, business segment manager for LEM, a manufacturer of wireless local energy meters that can be linked to a software-based dashboard.

"You'll correlate the temperature measurement with the HVAC consumption, and then you can start to fix discrepancies," Moreau says.

Offer your FM expertise as your organization gears up for improvements. Show your building's occupants where the problems are and encourage them to better their own behaviors. If you can help them feel personally invested in making the facility a greener place to work, your energy efficiency program will really take off – and the dashboard will track your progress the entire time.

"Usually what people do is compare departments, compare floors, or compare similar groups," Moreau says. "They might start a competition between teams. Or, at budget time, you might have some targets for each department."

Janelle Penny (janelle.penny@buildings.com) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.


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