Finding the Right Energy Dashboard for Your Facilities

12/01/2015 | By Jenna Aker

Monitoring and managing energy are more important than ever. Do you have the right tools in place?

Legacy Health

Legacy Health, which has five Campuses as well as standalone clinics, starts with the big picture then drills down to the details of each building’s operation. Legacy’s dashboard provides utility costs over time for each site. The costs are then broken down into utility costs per square foot over a 12-month rolling period by energy type.

It’s an exciting time for the building efficiency industry. With an explosion of new, sophisticated tools and data sources for monitoring and managing energy use, owners and facility managers can see the shining destination ahead – a place where the right dashboard not only gives them a view into their operations but also the capability to fine-tune building performance and maximize savings.

The technologies behind Energy Management and Information Systems (EMIS) make managing commercial building energy use – and achieving rapid payback – easier than ever before. EMIS are the road to get you there.

“A Broad Family of Technologies”
Jessica Granderson, Research Scientist and Deputy Director of the Building Technology and Urban Systems Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says that there’s no industry-wide consensus on the precise definition of EMIS. They are “a broad family of technologies” with a whole-building or portfolio-level energy tracking and monitoring purpose (like benchmarking and utility analysis tools and energy information systems) and a system-level focus (building automation systems, fault detection and diagnostic tools, and automated system optimization technologies). The main components are meters, sensors, a communications gateway that transfers data for storage, and a software-based front end that allows the user to run reports, conduct diagnostics, and visualize performance, among other functions, Granderson explains.

EMIS can look different from portfolio to portfolio, but experts agree that the point is finding the tools that are right for your needs. An EMIS should capture enough detailed information to let you evaluate if your buildings are operating with optimal efficiency, making sure to include normalizing factors (i.e. outdoor temperature, site specifics, a product being generated, etc.), recommends Pat Lydon, Sustainability Program Manager at Legacy Health in Portland, OR.

Legacy Health has five campuses as well as standalone clinics and other buildings. It focuses on its larger campuses for monitoring energy use. “You have to identify where the money is going and the critical sites to focus on,” Lydon says, adding that he goes from “high to low” – starting with the big picture and working down to the details of each building’s operations.

First, he looks at the energy use index (EUI) for the buildings with ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager. From there, he studies the energy use of each building using monthly utility meter data. His dashboard provides utility costs over time for each site, which he then breaks down into utility costs per square foot over a rolling 12-month period by energy type. “It’s important for an EMIS to be able to do that – start at a high level then drill down into building level, or, ideally, building system level,” says Lydon.

The reasons for implementing EMIS are obvious to Lydon. “Consuming less energy and water means you’re spending less,” he says. “It reduces your operating costs.” He also notes that the environmental and health consequences of increased emissions should be of concern to everyone and are particularly meaningful for a healthcare company.

Granderson adds that the continuous visibility and feedback from EMIS provides insight into operational measures and no-cost/low-cost ways to improve performance.

Cost vs. Benefits
These systems can come at a high cost – but the potential savings over time from data-driven energy management and operations must be considered when making a business case for EMIS.

“Costs can vary anywhere from free to several dollars per square foot,” says Granderson. “What drives that range is the type of EMIS technology, the size or scope of implementation, the depth of metering, the extent of integration with existing systems, and the degree of customization,” she says, adding that pricing models are rapidly evolving.

To limit costs, Granderson mentions utility and other incentive programs. “Cost is always an interesting issue because these are technologies that enable savings. Beyond initial savings that are achieved, you might consider persistence of performance a revenue stream of its own.”

A guide from the Office of Energy Efficiency of Natural Resources Canada states that a good EMIS should reduce energy use (and cost) by at least 5%. As part of the DOE’s Better Building Alliance, an EMIS team (which included Granderson) conducted a large-scale assessment of the value of EMIS for building owners. It collected data on costs, savings and best practices from 26 organizations. The study found the five-year median price of EMIS ownership to be $150,000 or 6 cents/square foot. The study also found that median building and portfolio savings of 17% and 18% would not be possible without the use of the EMIS. “EMIS can save anywhere from 0 to 20%,” says Granderson. (For more on the study, visit

Savings depends on the technology used, the building’s previous performance, depth of metering, user engagement, and organizational processes for making changes. “Ideally, you’ll have the person who is in charge of making adjustments be the one who monitors the systems every day,” says Lydon. “The best way to maximize savings is to make sure you’re using the system and paying attention.” Other best practices for maximizing savings include:

■ Installation of submetering beyond the whole- building level
■ Load profiling on a regular basis
■ Automated anomaly detection
■ Monitoring peak loads and managing demand charges
■ Regular use over time to accrue and deepen savings

Specifying EMIS
Getting the right dashboard is a matter of establishing a set of functional requirements. Take time to consider your needs.

“What is it you want the system to do?” asks Lydon. “What do you want to measure? What are the important attributes of your environment? What is important about your business, and how can you represent that on the dashboard?”

Learn from people who have already done the front-end work for you, he suggests. Talk to colleagues, utilize DOE and other research resources, and contact professional organizations for advice. “Once you’ve narrowed it down to one or two companies, and before you send out RFPs, talk to people who have actually used those systems,” says Lydon.

In addition to having a needs-driven specification plan, it’s important to know who will be running the EMIS. “It might be a building operator, a facility manager, or a building or campus energy manager,” says Granderson. Another possibility is analysis from a service business, in which the vendor of the tool is the user and periodically reports back to the client, or the vendor can give the client direct access to the information. “It all comes down to who needs to see the data, and what are the most powerful analyses they can conduct on that data to meet their goals and purposes,” says Granderson.
What Is the Long-Term Return?

To understand the long-term value in continuous monitoring and analysis, you have to think beyond traditional building technologies and widgets.

“It’s not about saving energy in the way that, for example, a new LED lighting system would,” says Granderson. Whereas efficient end-use technologies save energy just by being installed, information technologies require a user to take action.

“Without these information and feedback technologies, there can be a backslide in performance. Efficiency improvements can be made, but over time, energy use often creeps back up,” Granderson stresses. “There’s no practical way to achieve continuous efficient operations without the use of these technologies. I think we will see a lot of change in the next 5 to 10 years based on these tools and the growing ability to leverage them.”

Jenna M. Aker is a contributing editor for BUILDINGS.

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